The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Softshell Jackets

By Ryan Huetter ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday November 13, 2019

Testing has occurred over several seasons of use in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, the North Cascades in Washington, and the Coast and Interior Ranges of British Columbia. Our goal is to test in as many conditions as we can, finding harsh mountain conditions to be an excellent indicator of weather protection, and we test while hiking, climbing, skiing and running to gauge how well the jackets can move and breathe.

Weather Protection

To assess the weather protection afforded by each jacket, we sought out inclement weather conditions wherever possible. To test the wind protection given by the fabric, we hiked in strong, gusty winds in late fall. With a drier than average fall in the Sierra Nevada, we substituted a shower test for the real thing. This involves putting on a t-shirt and getting into the shower for one minute to see how much water leaks though.


We wore these jackets on a variety of activities, from casual day hikes to local lakes, to enduro mountain bike rides with lots of huffing and puffing. We collected lots of data on the ability of these jackets to breathe overall and correlated those findings with other reviewer's feedback.

Let 'er rip! This jacket breathes on the way up and offers top notch protection in inclement weather.
Let 'er rip! This jacket breathes on the way up and offers top notch protection in inclement weather.

We scored the jackets on a scale of 1-10 using cause and effect to determine breathability. For instance, we wore The North Face Apex Bionic 2 on a brisk afternoon walk, and found ourselves sweating in excess of what the activity should have demanded. We felt pretty dry after pedaling our local XC trail while wearing the Arc'teryx Gamma LT, which would typically result in more sweat than we experienced.


Mobility was tested by spending many hours wearing the jackets and taking notes about when the jacket rode too high on the hips, let the cuffs slip down when grabbing overhead, and stretching with pronounced body movement. We took standardizing measurements while reaching overhead to see how high the hem rose (to test for harness compatibility), and to measure the cuff drop experienced.

Stretchy and nimble  this jacket moves well in climbing situations.
Stretchy and nimble, this jacket moves well in climbing situations.


Using our scale, we weighed each one of the jackets in our test to verify them against the manufacturer's reported weights, all in a men's size medium.


Cataloging all of the different features, we were easily able to see which ones had the features we feel are necessary for a good softshell jacket. Features we looked at and scored included hoods, hood cinches, pockets, zippers, zipper tabs, two-way zippers, inner lining, insulation, cuff closures, hmm adjustments and abrasion or waterproof fabric mapping.


To test for style, we put on each one of the test jackets, stood in front of the mirror, and asked ourselves, "How amazing do I look right now?!" OK, so maybe that isn't exactly how we did it, but we did consider the fit of the jacket, how baggy or trim-fitting it felt, the available colors, the casual or athletic design, and the "in town vs. on trail" look. Style is largely subjective, so we tried to give as much information to make your decision on your own.

As seen in our photos, we used the jackets for rock climbing, downhill skiing, hiking, rock climbing, alpine climbing, biking, and around town. We were intentionally abusive to these jackets and scraped them against rocks and brush whenever we had the chance. One tester even jumped into a freezing waterfall to compare water resistance! We had a lot of fun testing this round of jackets, and hope you find it informative and helpful in choosing the best jacket for you.