Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Softshell Jackets for Men

By Ryan Huetter ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday May 4, 2023

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.

softshell jacket
Credit: Ryan Huetter

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 each fabric, we hiked in strong, gusty winds in late fall. We also used a shower test for some serious water-resistance testing. This involved putting on a t-shirt and getting into the shower for one minute to see how much water leaked through each jacket.

softshell jacket - weather protection is one of the key reasons to have a shell in the...
Weather protection is one of the key reasons to have a shell in the first place, so it needs to block wind and shed light moisture.
Credit: Ryan Huetter


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 extensive data on the ability of each softshell to breathe 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. We wore each jacket during a variety of different activities, from aerobic ones like trail running to more anaerobic ones such as going for a walk. We also tested each jacket using different base layers to see how that affected each model's performance.

softshell jacket - let 'er rip! this jacket breathes on the way up and offers top notch...
Let 'er rip! This jacket breathes on the way up and offers top notch protection in inclement weather.
Credit: Ryan Huetter


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

softshell jacket - stretchy and mobile, we want to be able to use these jackets for a...
Stretchy and mobile, we want to be able to use these jackets for a variety of athletic activities.
Credit: Ryan Huetter


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

softshell jacket - light is right, and on fast and light ski missions like this one...
Light is right, and on fast and light ski missions like this one, having the most protection for the least weight is key.
Credit: Ryan Huetter


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.

softshell jacket - use a softshell for whatever activity you want! whether it be...
Use a softshell for whatever activity you want! Whether it be skiing, hiking, climbing or just taking the dog for a walk, they are a great choice for versatility.
Credit: Chad Beulow

In assessing versatility, we also consider style. We put on each jacket, 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 as posisble so you can make this 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 our review informative and helpful in choosing the best jacket for you.

softshell jacket - extremely breathable and lightweight, the black diamond alpine start...
Extremely breathable and lightweight, the Black Diamond Alpine Start is a great lightweight softshell crossover that's great for trail running.
Credit: Jen Reynolds

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