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

How We Tested Softshell Jackets

By Ryan Huetter ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday November 20, 2018

Testing occurred over a two-month period in the Sierra Nevada of California. We spent countless hours on and off trail, hiking, biking, climbing and more. We gave these jackets to friends and colleagues to gather more informed opinions and used this collected feedback to provide a more rounded review of the jackets we tested.

We used these jackets under a range of terrain types and weather conditions so that we could accurately record feedback on each one under a set of testing metrics. Below we identify these parameters and discuss the testing methods that we used.

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.

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 Arcteryx Psiphon FL, 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.


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.