Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody
: 0.74 lbs | Number of pockets
Mobile, stretchy fabric
Excellent all-weather shield
Quality, detailed construction
Pricier than others
For the second year in a row we gave the Editors' Choice Award to the Arcteryx Psiphon FL. This ultralight softshell jacket performs well in virtually all of our review metrics, being most successful as a weatherproof and breathable jacket. Stowed away in the backpack when not needed, this scant .74 pound shell takes up hardly any space and is easy to forget about until you need it.
This jacket is on the roomier side and fits large, so might be just the ticket for taller and skinnier folks, though most might want to size down. Beyond this minor sizing issue, we have no trouble recommending this softshell as a truly functional layer that despite its light weight adapts to difficult conditions and keeps you moving fast.
Read review: Arcteryx Psiphon FL
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded
: 0.79 lbs | Number of pockets
Breathes very well
Does not restrict movement
Hand pockets not accessible when wearing a harness
Below-average wet weather protection
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket is a new model for our review this year, replacing last year's Best Buy winning hoodless model, the Ferrosi Jacket. Now, with a hood that comfortably fits over a climbing helmet and has cinch cords to seal out gusty winds, we have even more solid reasons to strongly endorse this softshell layer as our new Best Buy winner.
With great breathability and mobility, the Ferrosi Hooded Jacket
is an excellent choice for climbing, hiking biking or cross-country skiing. It offers great durability against rough rock, so even in cooler weather it will protect your warmer, more fragile inner down layers. It's not so good at dealing with wet weather, however, so it's best for either dry or cold conditions.
Read review: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded
Top Pick Award for Climbing
: 1.03 lbs | Number of pockets
Combines exceptional breathability with water resistance
Abrasion resistant patches
Harness-friendly Napolean pocket layout
Specialized for alpine use
The Rab Torque softshell jacket is a slim-fitting durable layer that is highly abrasion resistant and offers excellent mobility when climbing. The added patches of reinforced Ripstop Matrix fabric on high-wear areas like the elbows and hood, mean that can scratch your way up your favorite testpiece and not need to worry that your jacket will fail you.
The jacket's well-designed pocket layout means that it's easy to use with a climbing harness or a backpack's hip belt. It's very useful for summer climbing but we wanted a bit more warmth and protection when winter came around — this unlined, relatively lightweight jacket did not provide the winter utility that came with the thicker Mountain Hardwear Touren Hooded Jacket
Read review: Rab Torque
Notable Performance in Cool Weather
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody
: 0.71 lbs | Number of pockets
Trim fit is perfect for layering
Durable fabric sheds moisture
No zippers on pockets
The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody is a hybrid jacket that can be both a mid and an outer layer, depending on conditions. It has light insulation, which makes it the warmest jacket in this review, but it still breaths well. It also is one of the lightest weight jackets we tested. Its Pertex shell sheds light rain and snow, meaning that the Ascendant works as an insulating yet breathable jacket during aerobic activities in cooler weather, or underneath a durable hard shell jacket during more severe conditions. We loved this jacket as part of a "double-puffy" system, in which two medium weight insulated jackets replace one heavy one, increasing options for layering.
This jacket, alongside insulated versions, does not fare as well because its lightweight construction isn't as insulated as many of those jackets. Other downsides are a hefty price tag and the fact that the pockets are without zippers. Still, it's a compelling option that straddles a few categories — it's a great warm but breathable mid-layer.
Read review: Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody
Our lead tester while out on a fast-paced jaunt, testing breathability.
Why You Should Trust Us
Fulltime mountain guide and OutdoorGearLab Review Editor Ryan Heutter is the mastermind behind this review. After earning a degree in Outdoor Adventure Management from Western Washington University, Ryan relocated from the Pacific Northwest to California's Sierra Nevada. He is currently pursuing IFMGA guiding certification and has many climbing ascents all over the world, including over 20 big wall routes in Yosemite and Fitz Roy in Patagonia. Softshell jackets are a part of Ryan's daily life, whether he's spring skiing or needs a versatile layer for a climb.
In our search for the best soft shells available, we checked out the 50 prominent offerings, then whittled it down to the most promising 11. We tested for two months around OGL home territory in the Sierra on a variety of outings ranging from bike rides to climbs. We think you will find the results to be a comprehensive guide to finding the best softshell for your needs.
Related: How We Tested Softshell Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
Related: Buying Advice for Softshell Jackets
Each softshell jacket's functionality falls somewhere between that of a waterproof/windproof layer and a fully breathable layer and you pay more for a model closer to the waterproof end of the spectrum. For good weather protection, the Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody or Rab Torque are good options. Less expensive is the Outdoor Research Ferrosi. It does well in the wind, but you'll have to step up to one of the higher priced options for better water resistance.
The Terretex and Fortius fabrics composing the Psiphon FL do a great job of repelling water and snow, without soaking the fabric at all.
We measured how well these jackets keep you comfortable in windy and wet conditions on alpine ridges and in snow and sleet. We also used both a spray bottle and shower test to establish baseline water resistance. We did not factor warmth into our scoring since most softshell jackets are meant to be worn on top of base layers in colder climates.
The weather resistance of the softshells we tested varies. Some models are almost fully waterproof while others are barely wind resistant.
We wore our test jackets in the high alpine, late-season conditions, climbing rock and ice routes in the High Sierra, and skiing during the cold beginnings of winter.
For above-treeline adventures, we strongly recommend a hood. Some of the jackets we reviewed are excellent choices for aerobic activities during fair weather where a hood might be cumbersome or unneeded, but these hoodless models did not inspire confidence in inclement conditions.
Heavier duty jackets like the Touren are better for days with wetter conditions.
While some hybrid softshells employ taped seams and waterproof membranes, these jackets tend to be very specialized and expensive. We mostly feature jackets which use typical, DWR treated stretch softshell materials. Some jackets, like the Adze
, had water leak through the untaped seams. It didn't breath well either. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket
defended against the torrent poorly. However, both jackets are very breathable, allowing us to dry out quickly. These pieces are best for winter running, cross-country skiing, and spring/summer alpine, rock climbing.
When the storm clouds start building, you want to make sure that your softshell can handle light snow and rain.
Breathability is one of the most important benefits of a softshell jacket, the main reason to choose this type of layer over a waterproof jacket. The term breathability describes the ability of a material to transport moisture. Even if a waterproof jacket helps you stay dry from the rain, during high activity our bodies can perspire two liters per hour! If you sweat that much while wearing a hardshell rain jacket, you probably feel wet and clammy. If you sweat that much in a lightweight softshell, you feel much drier and much happier. You often need to choose whether you want to be wet on the inside or wet on the outside.
Staying dry is also one of the biggest keys to staying comfortable and warm in cold climates since water transmits heat much faster than air. This fact is of critical importance in cold climates — most cases of hypothermia occur in temperatures above freezing. At lower temperatures water freezes, making it harder to get wet and chilled. One great way to get chilled in the snow, however, is to get soaked in sweat by wearing too many clothes or clothes that aren't breathable enough. Once your cardio output declines, you will chill rapidly.
Aerobic activities like running benefit from having a lightweight shell that breathes exceptionally well so you don't get wet.
As you increase your aerobic activity, having an outer layer that can breathe well becomes more and more necessary. Cross-country skiing and backcountry ski touring demand highly breathable jackets, but moderate hiking and downhill skiing do not. Breathability is primarily determined by the presence or absence of a laminated membrane and/or a fleece liner, both of which decrease breathability. The Arcteryx Gamma MX Hoody
features additional fleece backing that improves the warmth of the jacket when sedentary in cooler temperatures. Additionally, thin loose knit fabrics are the most breathable and thicker fleece insulated jackets are less breathable.
Uphill to downhill sports like mountain biking and ski touring need the right blend of breathability on the up and wind protection on the down.
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Jacket is one of the most breathable jackets we review. However, it also earns a really low weather resistance score. The Rab Torque balances the two demands better, received a top breathability score and doing a much better at providing some protection from the wind and falling snow. The Patagonia Adze is much less breathable, but offers more weather protection.
In the mountains, we don't always have the luxury of drying our baselayers out if we overheat and get wet from perspiration, so it's important to keep them as dry as possible with a breathable shell if a shell is needed at all.
The right shell for you largely depends on the amount of sweat you generate while playing in the mountains. If you sweat a lot or frequently engage in highly aerobic activities, opt for the breathability of a jacket like the OR Ferrosi or Rab Torque. If you're not planning to wear your shell during high output activities, then consider a more weather-resistant shell, like The North Face Apex Bionic 2 Jacket.
The summit block of Thunderbolt Peak requires lots of mobility (and a good deal of friction). The Rab Torque and Garmont Dragontail GTX shoes don't hold you back.
Mobility and Fit
For most people, mobility is a key factor. Most outdoor apparel is moderately mobile and is comfortable if you're walking around. However, many outdoor sports involve things like stretching your arms above your head to reach an out-of-reach climbing hold, twisting your hips into a joyous powder turn, or looking up with a hood on to see a magnificent mountain peak. Because we are searching for the highest performing gear for outdoor activities, we rank mobility as a high priority for our needs.
Often, product manufacturers will describe the intended fit of a garment, labeling it with descriptors such as "standard", "trim" or "athletic". This can help you in selecting the right product, since an athletic fitting jacket is probably going to be form-fitting, and not allow for lots of layering underneath.
We assess each product's overall comfort during aerobic activities. We took into consideration whether it rode up when lifting our arms if the shoulders allow for full rotation and whether we could layer underneath it without feeling restricted.
If a jacket fits you perfectly, the wrist cuffs should not fall when you reach up, and the hem should stay below your waist.
Some jackets were mobile enough for activities like skiing, but during ice climbing, the jackets either pulled out of our harnesses when reaching up, or our cuff fell below our gloves exposing our wrists to the cold and snow. Longer wrists and underarm gussets are both designed to help counter this problem.
Another factor that has a significant influence on mobility is stretch. Stretch allows a model to fit snugly without impairing mobility. A great example is the Arcteryx Gamma MX
which fit nearly as snug as the Columbia Ascender
but was far more mobile because of the exceptional stretch. Another benefit to stretch materials is that they are less noisy than windproof fabrics.
Overall, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi was the most mobile contender. It was the only model that allowed full mobility without the cuffs falling or hem rising. Surprisingly, it even beat out models made with stretchier materials. The Marmot ROM and Arc'teryx Gamma MX all performed admirably as well. The North Face Apex Bionic 2 scored lowest in this category.
The Ferrosi is lightweight and packable, making it an easy choice to bring along just in case. Here it is, stuffed into its own hand pocket, but it can compress to about half this size in your pack.
Weight and packed size can be essential attributes especially on long trips or anytime you have to put the jacket in your pack. We don't place as much of an emphasis on the weight of these products as we do on many other types of outdoor gear. The reason for this is that these products are designed to be breathable enough that they can be worn all day without having to throw them into your pack.
Fast and Light alpine pursuits require clothing that will not slow you down. The Psiphon FL is our Editors' Choice for overall outstanding softshell jacket.
Weight carried on your body isn't as noticeable as weight in a backpack. For this reason, we do not think that weight and packed size are the most important factors when choosing a softshell jacket. Our scores range from one to ten and reflect the full range of weights we tested.
When traveling deep into the backcountry, weight will be more of a concern to you than if you were only using your jacket for hikes close to a trailhead.
Here we assessed the quality and quantity of each jacket's features as they contribute to its specific end use. We looked at the design of hand warmer pockets, chest pockets, zippers, zipper pulls, pit zips, interior pockets, hoods, thumb loops, and adjustment cords. Well-designed features are critical for overall comfort, ease of use, and storage. Whether you're hoping to stash an entire day's worth of energy bars into your chest pocket or tote around your wallet and keys, great features can make your life easier. To rate each product in this metric, we included the feedback from the dozen or so people that contributed to testing.
Hoods are one of our favorite things, especially on softshells. If you're strolling about in the hills and it starts to snow, you are going to need something on your head to keep you from getting soaked. If you don't have a hood on your softshell, you're going to need some other layer to cover your head be it an insulated jacket, rain jacket, or helmet.
The Touren is the only jacket in our review to feature a two-way zipper for belay loop access.
Hoodless softshells are less versatile but still work well in many instances. If you are carrying a rain jacket (which will have a hood) to put on over your softshell, you might be entirely comfortable without a hood. The Arcteryx Gamma MX is a fantastic hoodless option. For cross-country skiing, we rarely put on our hood and instead prefer a toque or balaclava. Finally, if you're only cruising around town, we think that hoodless models are more stylish.
The thumb loop on the Ferrosi Hooded Jacket is a great feature that works well with gloves too.
Pocket design is also essential. For climbing and backpacking, Napolean style chest pockets are best, like the Rab Torque, since they won't get in the way of your harness or hip belt. Meanwhile, hand warmer pockets are best for around town and general use, like found on the sweatshirt styled pockets of the Patagonia Adze. Fleece-lined pockets can add extra comfort and coziness, but can also add unnecessary weight and warmth. All of the pockets in this review have zippered closures; without this, snow and water can enter the pocket and make you wet. If you plan on using your jacket with big gloves on, you'll want to look for big zipper pulls that can be easily manipulated.
A unique snap closure locks the hood in place on the Psiphon FL when not in use.
We feel that it's important that you look good in a jacket you spend a lot of money on, especially one that works so well around town. Therefore we scored each jacket based on our testers' perception of its aesthetic appeal. We recognize that our assessment is subjective and, consequently, we make it a mere five percent of each jacket's total score.
In our opinion, simple exteriors look better than complex multi-color patterns. For around town, our testers prefer basic, handsome jackets like the Arcteryx Gamma MX and The North Face Apex Bionic 2 over models like the Rab Torque, which has offset colored zippers and duo color fabric designs. It's also important here to consider the fit of your jacket.
If good looks and around town use are a top priority, consider the Arcteryx Gamma MX or another clean-cut model that offers high technical performance as well.
Not only is it a good shell for the mountains, but the Gamma MX is stylish enough to wear on a popular walk in our local park.
Softshells, especially uninsulated models, are great to pair with other layers, like a fleece, to increase the warmth. Most softshells pair well with our Top Pick Award winning fleece jacket, the OR Deviator Hoody. As we've mentioned multiple times in our review, we recommend purchasing a hard shell or rain jacket and an insulated jacket before you invest in a softshell.
Best for Specific Applications
Arcteryx Gamma LT
Mountain Hardwear Touren
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol
Arcteryx Gamma LT
Most versatile: Arcteryx Psiphon FL
Softshell jackets are one of the most popular items in an outdoor enthusiast's wardrobe for a good reason. Unlike a hardshell, which does a great job at repelling rain and wet snow but are generally horrible to wear during athletic activity, softshell jackets are comfortable and adaptable to many different weather types. Breathable and mobile, these jackets are effective and useful.
Here's a perfect day for a softshell: cold temps, a cool breeze, and lots of activity.