We set out to find the best softshell jackets for cold weather activities. We researched over 50 models and bought 11 for side-by-side tests. With a permeable and breathable shell fabric, these jackets can protect you from light to moderate weather conditions, while keeping you much drier inside than their waterproof equivalents. Our testers climbed, biked, hiked, ran and skied during all four seasons to bring you this thorough review. We also tested women's softshell jackets and wrote a Buying Advice Article, to educate you about what makes an excellent softshell jacket and what to consider when shopping for one.
The Best Softshell Jackets for Men
|Price||$239.00 at MooseJaw||$82.93 at Backcountry|
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|$94.73 at REI|
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|$349.00 at REI|
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|$149.99 at MooseJaw|
|Pros||Lightweight, super mobile, excellent weather protection.||Inexpensive, great breathability, stretchy||Soft and stretchy fabric, lightweight, great wind protection, internal zippered pocket||Athletic fit, intelligent pocket placements, stylish look||Trim fit, abrasion resistant material, harness and helmet friendly.|
|Cons||Small pockets, too long in the arms.||Limited weather protection||Baggier fit than others, pockets interfere with harness use||Fitted cuffs, shorter waist cut, expensive||Not as wet weather resistant, UK zippers can be awkward to use.|
|Bottom Line||The Psiphon FL is a lightweight, all-around softshell jacket that is a great choice no matter what the season or the sport.||For summertime rock climbing where cool winds and rough surfaces are expected, the durable and stretchy Ferrosi is a good performer at an affordable price.||The ROM is a stretchy softshell that excels at keeping cold winds at bay, complete with a Windstopper shell material.||The Gamma MX is a clean cut jacket equally at home on the trail or on the way to the office.||The Torque easily wins our Top Pick Award for Climbing with its well thought out designs that appeal to both summer and winter climbers and mountaineers.|
|Rating Categories||Psiphon FL Hoody||Ferrosi Hooded||Marmot ROM||Gamma MX Hoody||Rab Torque|
|Weather Protection (30%)|
|Specs||Psiphon FL Hoody||Ferrosi Hooded||Marmot ROM||Gamma MX Hoody||Rab Torque|
|Type||Stretch woven||Stretch woven||WINDSTOPPER stretch woven||Stretch||Stretch woven|
|Weight (size medium)||0.74 lbs||0.79 lbs||1.05 lbs||1.3 lbs||1.03 lbs|
|Material||Main fabric: TerraTex (94% nylon, 6% elastane blend) Fabric on key areas of wear: Fortius 1.0 (84% nylon, 16% elastane)||Body and hood: 86% nylon, 14% spandex 90D stretch woven ripstop
Shoulders and lower sleeves: Cordura® 91% nylon, 9% spandex 120D stretch weave
|100% polyester stretch||Fortius 2.0 - Face: 85% nylon, 15% elastane.
Backer: 94% polyester, 6% elastane
This year we have updated our review with new models from Arcteryx, Rab and Mountain Hardwear, all of which certainly have their place in an adventurer's wardrobe.
Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody
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
See women's: Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded
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 good reasons to heartily endorse this softshell layer as our new Best Buy Winner.With exceptional breathability and mobility, the Ferrosi Hooded Jacket is a perfect choice for when climbing, hiking biking or cross-country skiing. It offers great durability against rough rock, so even in cooler weather can act protect your warmer, more fragile inner down layers. It is not very good at keeping wet weather at bay, however, so this jacket is best used in either dry or cold conditions.
Read review: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded
See women's: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody - Women's
Top Pick Award for Climbing
The Rab Torque softshell jacket is a slim-fitting durable layer that is highly abrasion resistant and offers excellent mobility when climbing. With additional patches of reinforced Ripstop Matrix fabric on high-wear areas like the elbows and hood, you can scratch your way up your favorite alpine testpiece without having to worry about your jacket failing you.We appreciated the pocket layout on the Torque as it is easy to use with a climbing harness or a backpack's hip belt. While it is a useful alpine climbing jacket for summer months, we tended to want a bit more warmth and protection when winter weather came around, and this unlined, relatively lightweight jacket did not have as much winter utility as the thicker Mountain Hardwear Touren Hooded Jacket.
Read review: Rab Torque
Notable Performance in Cool Weather
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody
The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody is a hybrid jacket that can serve the function of both a mid and an outer layer, depending on conditions. It features light insulation, which makes it warmer than any other jacket in this review, but it still breaths well. It also remains one of the lightest weight jackets we tested. With a Pertex shell that is adept at shedding light rain and snow, the Ascendant can be worn as an insulating yet breathable jacket during aerobic activities in cooler weather, or underneath a durable hard shell jacket when conditions are more severe. We also loved this jacket as part of a "double-puffy" system, in which two medium weight insulated jackets are brought in the place of one heavy one, increasing options for layering.
We reviewed this jacket alongside insulated versions. And it doesn't fair as well in that review since it's lightweight construction isn't as insulated as many of those jackets. We also don't love the price tag or the fact that the pockets don't have zippers. Still, it's a compelling option that straddles a few categories. We think it's a great warm but breathable mid-layer.Read review: Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody
Analysis and Test Results
For months, our testers wore these softshell jackets in almost every conceivable weather condition, during every season of the year. After this thorough testing period, we correlated out real-world results with a set of predetermined metrics so that we could analyze each jacket's performance as well as have data with which to compare jackets to one another.
Each softshell jacket's functionality falls somewhere between the extremes of a waterproof/windproof layer and a fully breathable layer. You pay more for a model closer to the waterproof end of the spectrum than the breathable end. If you do need good weather protection, the Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody or Rab Torque (climbing emphasis) are good options at $239 and $200, respectively. At the $100 mark, yet scoring better than most is the Outdoor Research Ferrosi. This one does well in the wind, but you'll have to step up to one of the higher priced options for better water resistance.
In this metric, we evaluate how well these jackets keep you comfortable in windy and wet conditions. During our testing period, we used these softshells on windy alpine ridges, in snow and sleet, and to ensure that each jacket was being tested in a similar manner we also used both a spray bottle and shower test to establish baseline water resistance. Some of our test jackets such as the Arcteryx Gamma MX Hoody are lightly insulated with a fleece backing material, though 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.
Over the years, we've tested weather resistance in a myriad of conditions, from mountaineering in Alaska to ice and alpine climbing in Maine and New Hampshire. In our most recent update, 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 those seeking a jacket for above-treeline adventures, we strongly recommend a hood. While some of the jackets we reviewed are excellent choices for aerobic activities during fair weather where a hood might be cumbersome or unneeded, these hoodless models did not inspire confidence in inclement conditions.
While some hybrid softshells employ taped seams and waterproof membranes, these jackets tend to be very specialized and expensive. In this year's review we mostly feature jackets which use typical, DWR treated stretch softshell materials. Some jackets, like the Adze, fell behind as water leaked through the untaped seams. It didn't breath well either. On the other end of the spectrum, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket defended against the torrent poorly; however, both of these jackets are very breathable, and therefore allowed us to dry out quickly. These pieces are best for winter running, cross-country skiing, and spring/summer alpine, rock climbing.
Breathability is the calling card of a softshell jacket and one of the most important benefits of a softshell jacket. In fact, we think that that breathability is 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. When being active in marginal conditions, 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. You might be surprised that most cases of hypothermia occur in temperatures above freezing. When temperatures are lower, water freezes and it becomes harder for us to get wet and subsequently 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.
As you increase your output (i.e., your level of aerobic activity), having an outer layer that can breathe well becomes more and more necessary. For example, cross-country skiing and backcountry ski touring demand highly breathable jackets, but activities like 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 compared to jackets that don't have layers or liners. The Arcteryx Gamma MX Hoody features additional fleece backing that improve the inherent warmth of the jacket when sedentary in cooler temperatures. Additionally, the thickness and weave of the fabric influence breathability; thin loose knit fabrics are the most breathable and thicker fleece insulated jackets are less breathable.
After every outing, we gathered breathability feedback from each tester. These scores are subjective and reflect our testers' personal opinions about the level of breathability of each jacket. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Jacket is one of the most breathable jackets we review. It also, however, 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 in turn, offers more weather protection.
The right shell for you largely depends on the amount of sweat you generate while playing in the mountains. Our bodies vary, which means that some of us need more breathable jackets than others. If you sweat a lot or frequently engage in highly aerobic activities, you'll love the excellent 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.
Mobility & Fit
If you enjoy the restrictive feeling of wearing formal clothing, disregard our comments on mobility. But if you're like most people, then mobility is a key factor to consider when buying technical clothing. 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.
Our mobility metric assesses 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. During our testing, we not only studied the design of each product's arms and shoulders but also how they performed during all our day-to-day outdoor activities.
Some jackets were mobile enough in the body for activities like skiing, but when we took them 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Cross-country skiing: Arcteryx Gamma LT
Around town: Patagonia Adze
Ice climbing: Mountain Hardwear Touren
Resort skiing: Black Diamond Dawn Patrol
Backcountry skiing: Black Diamond Dawn Patrol
Backpacking: 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. We hope that this review as well as our Buying Advice helps to educate you on the ins and outs of this hard-to-pin-down category and gets you outfitted with a new softshell jacket that fits your needs.
— Ryan Huetter