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

How We Tested Softshell Jackets

By Ryan Huetter ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday May 14, 2019

Testing occurred during two months in the Sierra Nevada of California, doing countless hours on and off trail, hiking, biking, climbing and more. Jackets were used within a range of terrain types and weather conditions. Below we identify these parameters and discuss our testing methods. Friends and colleagues were given jackets so enlarge our pool of informed opinions to provide an even more rounded review.


Weather Protection


We sought out inclement weather conditions wherever possible. To test the wind protection, we hiked in strong, gusty winds in late fall. There wasn't much rain last fall in the Sierra Nevada, so we substituted a shower test. This meant putting on a t-shirt and getting into the shower for one minute to see how much water leaked through the jacket.

Breathability


We wore these jackets casual day hikes to local lakes and to enduro mountain bike rides with lots of huffing and puffing. 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. At the other end of the scale, we felt surprisingly dry after pedaling our local XC trail while wearing the Arcteryx Psiphon FL.

Mobility


Mobility was tested by noting when the jacket rode too high on the hips, let the cuffs slip down when grabbing overhead, and stretching with pronounced body movement. We measured while reaching overhead to see how high the hem rose (to test for harness compatibility), and to measure the cuff drop.

Weight


We weighed each jacket to verify them against the manufacturer's reported weights, all in a men's size medium.

Features


Features assessed included hoods, hood cinches, pockets, zippers, zipper tabs, two-way zippers, inner lining, insulation, cuff closures, hem adjustments and abrasion or waterproof fabric mapping.

Style


We stood in front of the mirror in each jacket 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.

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!