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The 6 Best Softshell Jackets of 2024

We've adventured through all types of terrain and weather in softshell jackets from Arc'teryx, Patagonia, Rab, Outdoor Research, and more to find the best options
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Best Softshell Jacket Review
Credit: Ryan Huetter
By Ryan Huetter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 24, 2024

The Best Softshell Jackets for 2024


Since 2011, we've tested the best softshell jackets, putting 70 unique models head-to-head. We highlight the top 11 in this review to help you zero in on that perfect balance of weather resistance and breathability. Softshells are highly breathable and mobile while still protecting you and your layers from the elements. Not as waterproof as a true rain jacket, softshell jackets are much better suited for athletic activities like hiking, climbing, biking, and even running. We tallied up our scores over many months and weather conditions and now offer a seriously in-depth and honest review.

Softshells aim to marry some of the best attributes of a jacket into one layer, but they don't always fit the bill for more inclement weather. If you know precipitation and wind are on the horizon, a top-rated technical hardshell jacket or one of the best windbreakers from our review may be a better choice, with a cozy fleece underneath for good measure. Because we know men's and women's garments don't always perform the same, we also conduct in-depth testing by female reviewers in our best women's softshell jacket review.

Editor's Note: We updated our softshell jacket review on April 24, 2024 to include more info on how we test.

Related: Best Softshell Jackets for Women

Top 11 Softshell Jackets - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 11
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Awards Best Buy Award   Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award 
Price $74.48 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$260 List
$260.00 at REI
$110.07 at Amazon$300.00 at REI
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$182.00 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score
76
73
68
81
80
Star Rating
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Pros Super breathable, durable, inexpensiveLightweight, durable, stretchyLarge storm hood, great range of motionDurable fabric, great fit, all-around usefulnessWaterproof, comfortable, stretchy
Cons Poor wet weather protectionLimited weather resistance, only two pocketsSomewhat heavy, retains odorsLimited water resistance, fitted cuffsSmall hood, light on features
Bottom Line This budget-friendly softshell is one of our favorites for summertime rock climbingThis is a durable and lightweight softshell that we love for climbing and cardio days in the mountainsThis ultralight layer is breathable, comfortable, and offers decent warmthThis is a great medium weight softshell jacket that will hold up to rugged use thanks to its durable fabricThis waterproof softshell jacket is one of the few hybrid models that we have found to be highly breathable
Rating Categories Outdoor Research Fe... Arc'teryx Gamma Lig... Black Diamond Alpin... Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody Rab Kinetic 2.0
Weather Protection (30%)
4.0
5.0
3.0
8.0
9.0
Breathability (30%) Sort Icon
10.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
Mobility (25%)
10.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
Weight (10%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
Versatility (5%)
4.0
6.0
6.0
7.0
7.0
Specs Outdoor Research Fe... Arc'teryx Gamma Lig... Black Diamond Alpin... Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody Rab Kinetic 2.0
Measured Weight (size medium) 13.4 oz 10.2 oz 7.4 oz 17 oz 11.6 oz
Material 86% nylon (46% recycled), 14% spandex 87% nylon, 13% elastane Schoeller stretch-woven: 93% nylon, 7% Elastane, Schoeller Eco-Repel Bio DWR Wee Burly (56% nylon, 34% polyester, 10% elastane) 100% recycled polyester
Type Active Active Technical Active Technical
Lined/Insulated Yes, lining 91% nylon, 9% spandex No No No No
Hood Yes, climbing helmet compatible, adjustable, stowable Yes, adjustable Yes, adjustable Yes, helmet compatible, adjustable StormHood Yes, under helmet with rear hood adjustment
Number of Pockets (zippered unless otherwise noted) 3 (2 hand, 1 chest) 2 zippered hand pockets 1 chest 3 (2 handwarmer, 1 internal) 2 (hand)
Adjustable Cuffs Elastic cuffs Elastic cuffs Elastic cuffs Stretch cuffs Yes, velcro
Available Sizes S - XXXL XS - XXL S-XL XS - XXL S - XXL


Best Overall Softshell Jacket


Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody


81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 8.0
  • Breathability 8.0
  • Mobility 9.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Versatility 7.0
Weight: 17 ounces | Number of pockets: 3
REASONS TO BUY
Mobile, stretchy fabric
Excellent all-weather shield
Quality, detailed construction
REASONS TO AVOID
Pricier than others
Minimalist features
Less waterproof than other models
Name Changed
Arc'teryx revised its naming scheme for many of its products. The Gamma LT is now simply dubbed the Gamma Hoody. The two jackets are very similar with only a slightly revised fit.

The Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody remains a top performer in this category, and we heartily recommend it with our highest accolades. This jacket is everything you want in a piece of clothing meant for activity in the mountains while also being stylish enough to use in casual settings. It fits well thanks to expertly tailored panels, moves with your body during the most aerobic activity, and breathes well thanks to an unlined, wicking softshell fabric.

Arc'teryx garments have a reputation for being expertly crafted, and the Gamma LT is no exception. Still, certain features, such as adjustable wrist cuffs, would make it even better. Minor critique aside, we think it is one of the best softshells money can buy and recommend it. If you need a burly softshell for inclement weather, look to this jacket's big brother, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody.

Read more: Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody review

softshell jacket - our lead tester while out on a fast-paced jaunt, testing...
Our lead tester while out on a fast-paced jaunt, testing breathability of the award-winning Gamma LT.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best Bang for the Buck


Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 4.0
  • Breathability 10.0
  • Mobility 10.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Versatility 4.0
Weight: 13 ounces | Number of pockets: 3
REASONS TO BUY
Breathes very well
Lightweight
Does not restrict movement
REASONS TO AVOID
Cuffs not adjustable
Below-average wet weather protection

The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie is a really great deal. This softshell jacket is lightweight enough to be perfect for cycling, rock climbing, and hiking but still durable enough to provide protection and abrasion resistance from the terrain and environment. With a helmet-compatible hood and a roomy cut, it's easy to layer underneath, which can be difficult under other lightweight softshells.

The Ferrosi may not be the most waterproof option, but it provides terrific 3-season protection from light precipitation and winds, making it a good choice for backpacking, alpine climbing, and mountain biking. The cuffs are elastic, but we wish they were adjustable. Nevertheless, the Ferrosi is a staple of the softshell category and one of the best deals on the market. Another affordable option worthy of consideration is the Rab Borealis, which is even more lightweight.

Read more: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie review

softshell jacket - trail running is another favorite pastime of the ferrosi, it is so...
Trail running is another favorite pastime of the Ferrosi, it is so breathable we can run uphill in the high desert without a sweat!
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best for Wet Weather


Rab Kinetic 2.0


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 9.0
  • Breathability 8.0
  • Mobility 7.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Versatility 7.0
Weight: 11.6 ounces | Number of pockets: 2
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent water-resistance
Stretchy fabric
Comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
Small hood
Light on features
Not a lot of pockets

The Rab Kinetic 2.0 is the most water-resistant softshell jacket in our lineup. When the rain starts pouring, it blows the competition out of the water, making it incredibly useful for folks who live in wet climates but also need the enhanced breathability of a softshell. This is a very well-designed hybrid layer that effectively does the job of two jackets.

The Kinetic is a trim layer with quite a snug fit, and the hood is designed to be worn under a helmet rather than over it. Therefore, we recommend sizing up if you plan on wearing warm insulating layers underneath. Otherwise, we were very impressed with the performance of this softshell/hardshell hybrid jacket, though take note: while impressively water-resistant, the Kinetic isn't as waterproof as a rain jacket. If you're searching for a hood that's compatible with a large helmet, the Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody offers a more baggy fit and nearly as good weather protection.

Read more: Rab Kinetic 2.0 review

softshell jacket - ah, spring in the sierra. rain one minute, snow the next, and blue...
Ah, spring in the Sierra. Rain one minute, snow the next, and blue skies in between. Funky weather like this calls for the Kinetic 2.0.
Credit: Jen Reynolds

Best for Mountain Sports


Mammut Ultimate VII SO Hooded


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 8.0
  • Breathability 8.0
  • Mobility 8.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Versatility 8.0
Weight: 17.9 ounces | Number of pockets: 3
REASONS TO BUY
Very breathable
Good wind resistance
Mobile
REASONS TO AVOID
Cut may be too slim for some
Harder to layer under
Some zipper trouble

The Mammut Ultimate VII SO Hooded is a nearly perfect blend of performance and features. As soon as we put it on, this jacket felt like a classic softshell that we knew and loved. And yet, with a trim fit and thoughtfully added features, this version is an improvement from the last. Using Windstopper Infinium fabric, this jacket blocks wind easily, and when the gusts stop and you start heating up, large armpit vents zip open to get you back to a comfortable temperature quickly.

The Ultimate VII SO fits on the tighter side, so layering can be an issue. That said, we found that with a thin base layer or a sun hoody, the fit was just perfect. We think this latest iteration will be a big hit with climbers, hikers, skiers, and anyone else who wants excellent protection but also the ability to react when the activity ramps up. Being so versatile, we found it to be a much more useful layer than softshells that are more specific to a certain activity. Rock climbers will still love our pick for climbing, the Marmot ROM, but the VII SO has some features that make it appealing to a larger audience.

Read more: Mammut Ultimate VII SO Hooded review

softshell jacket - high on the cliff, we put a lot of trust in the ultimate vii so...
High on the cliff, we put a lot of trust in the Ultimate VII SO jacket, and it did not let us down.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best for Climbing and Skiing


Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 8.0
  • Breathability 8.0
  • Mobility 8.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Versatility 7.0
Weight: 16.1 ounces | Number of pockets: 3
REASONS TO BUY
Highly durable
Wind-resistant fabric
Harness-friendly Napolean pocket layout
REASONS TO AVOID
Baggy fit may not be for everyone
Average weight

The Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody is our top pick for sports like winter climbing and skiing, where enhanced coverage is just as important as exceptional weather protection. The ROM uses Gore-Tex Infinium material in key areas, making it a good option when you need some added protection but don't want to reach for a full-on hardshell. There is a big difference between the jackets that are simply adequate and those like the ROM, which excel.

On the downside, the ROM Infinium Hoody isn't the lightest softshell, and we suspect not everyone will be a fan of the fit. On the upside, it features easy-to-use cuffs that fit a variety of gloves, a large helmet-compatible hood, and enough pockets to stash your bars, skin wax, topo, and more. We particularly like the longer-fitting waist, which offers some of the best coverage when wearing a climbing harness or backpack, as well as sealing out those icy gusts or blowing snow while on the skin track. But if you're looking for a softshell with excellent water resistance, check out the Rab Kinetic 2.0.

Read more: Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody review

softshell jacket - moving fast to beat the chill on a cool fall day in the high sierra...
Moving fast to beat the chill on a cool Fall day in the High Sierra with our Marmot ROM Hoody.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best for MTB Riding


Patagonia Dirt Roamer


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 7.0
  • Breathability 8.0
  • Mobility 8.0
  • Weight 9.0
  • Versatility 3.0
Weight: 8.4 ounces | Number of pockets: 2
REASONS TO BUY
Ridiculously light
Wind-resistant material
Very stretchy
REASONS TO AVOID
Sizing a bit tight
Can be hard to layer with
Very few pockets

The Patagonia Dirt Roamer is one of the first specialized mountain biking softshell jackets we tested. We have always just used our favorite lightweight jackets to take for a ride, but having a purpose-built layer that has pockets in the right places and articulated tailoring that is meant for the way a body moves while riding a bike sure makes a difference — and there is no way we are ever going back! This jacket provides ample protection from wind, rain, and muddy trails, giving breathability on the up and protection on the down.

Keep in mind, the Dirt Roamer is intended for runners and bikers. Although you could undoubtedly use it outside of these applications, we didn't find it as versatile as the Ferrosi due to the lack of features. But for diehard riders, you can't beat this layer for high-end performance when you're out on the trails.

Read more: Patagonia Dirt Roamer review

softshell jacket - ripping the local trails in funky weather? the dirt roamer has you...
Ripping the local trails in funky weather? The Dirt Roamer has you covered.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
81
Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody
Best Overall Softshell Jacket
$300
Editors' Choice Award
80
Rab Kinetic 2.0
Best for Wet Weather
$260
Top Pick Award
79
Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody
Best for Climbing and Skiing
$250
Top Pick Award
79
Mammut Ultimate VII SO Hooded
Best for Mountain Sports
$289
Top Pick Award
76
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie
Best Bang for the Buck
$149
Best Buy Award
76
Patagonia Dirt Roamer
Best for MTB Riding
$249
Top Pick Award
73
Arc'teryx Gamma Lightweight Hoody
$260
72
Rab Borealis
$120
69
Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody
$400
68
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
$185
51
The North Face Apex Bionic Hoodie
$190

softshell jacket - look at all these happy faces wearing their softshells! it might...
Look at all these happy faces wearing their softshells! It might look warm but with a brisk wind at our backs we were happy to have wind protection as well as breathability for the big climb.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

How We Test Softshell Jackets


Seeking the absolute best in available softshells starts with researching the market. After our first pass, many offerings were up for consideration, which we subsequently narrowed down to the strongest contenders discussed here. Each round, we test for at least two months around our home territory in the Sierra on various outings ranging from bike rides to climbs. We evaluate all aspects of these jackets via extensive field testing, though we also supplement our real-world weather protection testing with a hose, to fully push these jackets to the limit. We meticulously assessed their performance, taking note of various aspects like the degree of weather protection and breathability. Overall, we're pleased to present this study, and we think you will find it a comprehensive guide to finding the best softshell for your needs.

Men's softshell jackets were tested across 5 performance metrics:
  • Weather Protection (30% of total weighted score)
  • Breathability (30% weighting)
  • Mobility (25% weighting)
  • Weight (10% weighting)
  • Versatility (5% weighting)

Why Trust GearLab


Full-time mountain guide Ryan Huetter is the mastermind behind this review. After earning a degree in Outdoor Adventure Management from Western Washington University, Ryan relocated from the Pacific Northwest to California's Sierra Nevada. He is an internationally licensed IFMGA mountain guide and has achieved many climbing ascents all over the world, including over 20 big wall routes in Yosemite and Fitz Roy in Patagonia. Softshell jackets are one of many pieces of gear that are a part of Ryan's daily life, whether he's spring skiing or needs a versatile layer for a climb.

Our testing is rigorous for sure, but sometimes you just have to...
Our testing is rigorous for sure, but sometimes you just have to stop and take in the views.
Testing out the Rab Torque in some serious alpine terrain.
Testing out the Rab Torque in some serious alpine terrain.
Part of fully testing a softshell involves getting up close and...
Part of fully testing a softshell involves getting up close and personal with rugged terrain to assess durability.

Analysis and Test Results


Our testers wear these softshell jackets in almost every conceivable weather condition throughout the year. We then correlate our real-world results with a set of predetermined metrics to analyze each jacket's performance. We compile this data to compare one model to another and help you hone in on the best choice for your specific needs.


Value


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.

softshell jacket - a softshell can be an excellent choice for funky weather, where the...
A softshell can be an excellent choice for funky weather, where the protection of a hardshell is warranted but more breathability is necessary.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

If you need good weather protection, the Rab Kinetic 2.0 is a good choice. Less expensive, yet scoring better than most due to its overall usefulness, 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. The Rab Borealis is another excellent choice if you need something light and stretchy without breaking the bank.

softshell jacket - serving up wind protection on a cool spring hike, we love the or...
Serving up wind protection on a cool spring hike, we love the OR Ferrosi as an active outer layer.
Credit: Jen Reynolds

Weather Protection


Because weather protection is the most important attribute of an outer layer, we give this metric the most importance. We evaluate a jacket's resistance to weather in real-world settings by wearing it in harsh weather environments. Taking each one out into inclement weather allows us to assess how effective it is and the duration it can resist rain, snow, and wind before becoming saturated. We also use more objective tests, such as a shower test to account for water permeability and a fan test which simulates standing on an alpine peak while an icy north wind rakes over the ridge.


We tested these jackets in adverse, harsh weather and placed an added emphasis on how well they performed when in wet conditions. However, softshell jackets certainly have a limit to their water resistance because they're not made from a fully waterproof membrane. If liquid water is falling on you, it's only a matter of time before these jackets go from being comfy and cozy to heavy, waterlogged messes that are neither warm nor comfortable. The weather resistance of the softshells we tested varies. Some models are almost fully waterproof, while others are barely wind resistant.

softshell jacket - as an all-around performer, we love the gamma lt for trips into the...
As an all-around performer, we love the Gamma LT for trips into the mountains as well as on local day hikes thanks to its weather protection when needed but good breathability when it's not.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

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 during late-season conditions, climbing rock and ice routes in the High Sierra, and skiing through winter conditions.

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 do not inspire confidence in inclement conditions.

softshell jacket - whatever the activity, the ferrosi is up for it, even if it means...
Whatever the activity, the Ferrosi is up for it, even if it means booting up this couloir in 50mph winds!
Credit: Ryan Huetter

While some hybrid softshells employ taped seams and waterproof membranes, these jackets tend to be very specialized and expensive. Our review mostly features jackets that use typical, DWR-treated stretch softshell materials. The most weatherproof model, the Rab Kinetic 2.0, is suited for nasty alpine conditions. For something less water-impervious but still impressively protective, the top-scoring Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody and Arc'teryx Gamma MX are both excellent options. Using hardcore wind-stopping protection like Gore Infinium Windstopper, jackets like the Mammut VII SO offer protection in very breezy conditions. The Marmot ROM offers versatility and is our favorite when we wanted something a little longer to provide better protection.

softshell jacket - hiking on a cold and breezy fall day is a great place for the gamma...
Hiking on a cold and breezy fall day is a great place for the Gamma MX to shine.
Credit: Ryan huetter

Breathability


Breathability is a crucial attribute of a softshell jacket. We choose these layers specifically because they breathe better than their hardshell counterparts. We place a slightly greater emphasis on their ability to transmit moisture (sweat) through their exterior fabric over their ability to shed moisture (precipitation from the sky) based on the conditions we are confronting. While a hardshell layer will come close to blocking all precipitation, they also keep the body from dumping moisture created by sweat. Without ventilation, vigorous activity in a hardshell jacket will surely leave you feeling damp and clammy. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi and Mammut Ultimate VII are two of our favorites for blending overall performance with breathability. The Ferrosi attains this high level of breathability through its incredibly light and thin fabric. On the other hand, the VII SO has a thicker and more windproof fabric but allows airflow by adding large armpit vents, letting moisture and heat quickly dissipate. Another very lightweight model, the Patagonia Dirt Roamer, is both windproof and highly breathable, a bonus for climbing up steep technical singletrack trails.


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.

softshell jacket - in the mountains, we don&#039;t always have the luxury of drying our...
In the mountains, we don't always have the luxury of drying our baselayers out if we overheat and get wet from perspiration, so it's important to keep them as dry as possible with a breathable shell like the Gamma LT.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

As you increase your output (i.e., your level of aerobic activity), having a breathable outer layer becomes crucial. For example, cross-country skiing and backcountry ski touring demand highly breathable jackets, whereas activities like moderate hiking and downhill skiing do not. It used to be that softshells weighing close to 1 pound were considered ultralight, but fabric technologies have gotten to the point where many softshell jackets now are so light and breathable that they can also be considered wind shirts or wind jackets. A great example of this crossover appeal is the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody. Breathability is primarily determined by the presence or absence of a laminated membrane and/or a fleece liner. Both of these things decrease breathability compared to jackets that don't have layers or liners. 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. Models like the Arc'teryx Gamma MX feature an additional fleece backing that improves the inherent warmth when sedentary in cooler temperatures — but it doesn't improve ventilation.

softshell jacket - the hybrid alpine start is a great crossover model. it offers some...
The hybrid Alpine Start is a great crossover model. It offers some of the protection of a softshell while retaining breathability and remaining light on the scale like a good wind jacket should.
Credit: Jill Rice

After every outing, we gathered breathability feedback from each tester. These scores are largely subjective and reflect our testers' personal opinions about the level of breathability of each jacket. We found the Ferrosi to be one of the most breathable jackets in our review. It also, no surprise, earns a really low weather resistance score — this tends to be the tradeoff. The Rab Borealis is the same — its ultralight profile makes for exceptional breathability, but it's not the jacket you want to be caught wearing in a storm. While we find breathability to diminish with weight (after all, the more material, the harder it is to push perspiration through it), we have found a couple that hover around the 1-pound mark and do a very good job. The Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody blocks wind with a durable fabric but also dumps heat better than its direct competitors, and the Gamma LT earns admirable breathability scores while still providing decent protection from wind and falling snow.

softshell jacket - running the local trails on a chilly spring day called for something...
Running the local trails on a chilly spring day called for something heavier than a thin windshirt like our favored OR Ferrosi.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

The right shell for you largely depends on the amount of sweat you generate when playing in the mountains. Our bodies vary, which means that some of us need more breathable jackets than others. A person who sweats more may feel stifled faster than someone who naturally stays dry, so keep that in mind when narrowing down your choice. We can provide insight, but your personal ecosystem will play a significant role in the type of layers you ultimately prefer. 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 Patagonia Dirt Roamer.

softshell jacket - the ultimate vii so is a great all-around softshell jacket, but we...
The Ultimate VII SO is a great all-around softshell jacket, but we found it to really shine in challenging conditions that demand mobility and breathability.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Mobility


If you love the feeling of being restricted by a starchy, rented tuxedo, then perhaps you should disregard our feelings on mobility. But most folks, whether they are at the cutting edge of mountain athletics or just want to get out for an afternoon stroll, want to have the freedom of movement provided by synthetic softshell fabrics. These materials are stretch woven, meaning that they have, on average, between 5% and 18% elastic fiber spun into the nylon. This makes them highly mobile, a very important and necessary attribute when you are reaching for the next climbing hold, pedaling your heart out up the local singletrack, or running the trails.


Often, product manufacturers will describe the intended fit of a garment with descriptors such as “standard,” "trim," or “athletic.” This can help you in selecting the right product since an athletic-fitting jacket will likely be more form-fitting and not allow for as much layering underneath.

softshell jacket - stretchy is good! highly mobile, these fabrics include elastane or...
Stretchy is good! Highly mobile, these fabrics include elastane or spandex material to make them move with you, as seen here on the Ferrosi Hoodie.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Our mobility metric assesses each product's overall comfort during aerobic activities. We consider whether it rides up when lifting the arms, if the shoulders allow for full rotation, and whether you can layer underneath 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.

If a jacket fits you perfectly, the wrist cuffs should not fall when you reach up, and the hem should stay below your waist.

Some of our tested jackets are mobile enough in the body for activities like skiing, but when out ice climbing, they would either pull out of a harness when reaching up, or the cuff would fall out from under gloves, exposing the 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 movement. Another benefit to stretch materials is that they're typically quieter than windproof fabrics. We appreciate a trim, athletic fit for our jackets, allowing for a single fleece base layer. If you're backcountry skiing, you may want a more spacious cut. In the Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody, we liked the roomier fit that allowed for more layers and especially longer coverage below the waist.

softshell jacket - comfortably roomy and stretchy, the rom hoody is great for...
Comfortably roomy and stretchy, the ROM Hoody is great for unencumbered movement while climbing.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Overall, the OR Ferrosi is the most mobile contender in our review. It is the only model that allows full mobility without the cuffs falling or hem rising. Surprisingly, it even beat out models made with stretchier materials, likely due to the more generous cut that also allows for layering underneath with a fleece base layer.

softshell jacket - the stretchy ferrosi is one of our top choices for rock climbing...
The stretchy Ferrosi is one of our top choices for rock climbing movement but is super mobile in lots of other sports too.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Weight


Weight and packed size can be important considerations, especially on long trips or when carrying your jacket in a pack. That said, 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 this style of jacket is specifically designed to be breathable enough to be worn all day without having to throw it into a pack.


Niche models such as the Black Diamond Alpine Start astonished reviewers by weighing less than half a pound — though that weight saving does come with a durability penalty. For an extra 3 ounces, you can gain lots of durability and weatherproofing in the Rab Kinetic 2.0, so don't look at weight as an absolute metric when making your decision. We found our favorite models, such as the Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody and the Mammut Ultimate VII SO Hooded, to hover around the 17-ounce mark, which resulted in a perfect blend of weight and performance.

softshell jacket - while weight is not the final word on softshells, the reality is...
While weight is not the final word on softshells, the reality is that we've seen them shed weight year after year, and now there are many models under a pound that can do it all.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

It could be argued that when you are wearing a jacket, you do not notice its weight as much — and there is truth to this. Still, weight does factor into a jacket's overall performance in that the heavier it is, the less mobile it is likely to be, and the bulkier the material is. Heavyweight softshell fabrics with fleece backings are warmer, but they do not breathe as well. All of these softshells have their place, though — heavier shells are ideal in cold winter months or slower activities, and lightweight models are best for spring through fall and during aerobic activity.

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

Versatility


Versatility describes the utility that a jacket has over a range of different applications. Here we assess the quality and quantity of each jacket's features as they contribute to its specific end-use. We look at the design of handwarmer 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 who 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. For cross-country skiing, we rarely put on a hood and instead prefer a toque or balaclava. Finally, if you're only cruising around town, hoodless models can often be more stylish.

softshell jacket - moving fast on a high mountain run is the perfect use of the alpine...
Moving fast on a high mountain run is the perfect use of the Alpine Start Hoody.
Credit: Jen Reynolds

Pocket design is also essential. For climbing and backpacking, Napolean-style chest pockets like on the Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody are best since they won't get in the way of your harness or hip belt. Meanwhile, handwarmer pockets are best for around town and general use. 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.

softshell jacket - plenty of room under the rom hood to fit a climbing or skiing helmet.
Plenty of room under the ROM hood to fit a climbing or skiing helmet.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

In another vein, we feel that it's important that you look good in a jacket you spend a lot of money on, especially one that also works well around town. Because of this, we leveraged our testers' perception of aesthetic appeal as part of the versatility score. In our opinion, simple exteriors look better than complex multi-color patterns. For around town, our testers prefer basic, handsome jackets like the Gamma MX or Gamma LT. It's also important here to consider the fit of your jacket. You will often pay more for expert tailoring, but it really can make all the difference in fit, both for technical and aesthetic reasons.

softshell jacket - not only is it a good shell for the mountains, but the gamma mx is...
Not only is it a good shell for the mountains, but the Gamma MX is stylish enough to wear on a popular walk in our local park.
Credit: Henry Huetter

Best for Specific Applications


Cross-country skiing: Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody
Backcountry skiing: Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody
Rock climbing: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded and Marmot ROM Infinium Hoody
Ice climbing: Mammut Ultimate VII SO Hooded
Mountain biking Patagonia Dirt Roamer

Most versatile: Arc'teryx Gamma Hoody

Conclusion


Softshell jackets are an incredibly useful piece of outdoor clothing. They do many things that hardshell jackets do, like block wind and precipitation, but they emphasize breathability — something the materials used in a hardshell cannot offer. Softshells allow you to be protected from the elements and recreate at a faster tempo, move freely with stretchier materials, and stay warmer because perspiration doesn't get trapped inside next to the skin. What was once considered a niche outdoor product is now one of the best and most versatile layers you can choose for outdoor activity, and we hope that this review has given you all the information you will need to select your next great softshell jacket.

softshell jacket - here&#039;s a perfect day for a softshell: cold temps, a cool breeze, and...
Here's a perfect day for a softshell: cold temps, a cool breeze, and lots of activity.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Ryan Huetter