Overwhelmed by options? To help you narrow it down, we researched the 75 most popular softshell jackets on the market and extensively tested 11 of them side-by-side. To adequately assess each one, we romped through all manner of fall and winter weather from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. We visited icy alpine glaciers, windy rock faces, and snow-covered trails, putting these softshells through the gamut. We wore them walking and cycling all over town and even straight into the shower to test their water resistance, all the while comparing and contrasting every aspect and feature. Whether you're looking for a do-it-all softshell, something more specialized, or just want a bargain, we've got you covered. Read on to find the ideal match for your unique lifestyle.
The 11 Best Softshell Jackets for Women
Investing in a softshell jacket can serve you in a multitude of ways. This fall, we added 11 models to our fleet. The Arc'teryx Gamma MX stole the show, taking home the grand prize of our Editors' Choice award. Following close behind, we've award two Top Pick awards, one to the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody and another to the Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody. We also have a Best Buy winner, the Marmot Moblis, ringing in at $185.
Best Overall Women's Softshell Jacket
Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody proved to be the epitome of our desires in a softshell once again. For the second time in a row, it takes home our Editors' Choice Award - despite some stiff competition. This softshell jacket is comfortable, supple, and moves well during all kinds of activities. The fit is non-restrictive, it's highly breathable, and it provides adequate weather protection. There are better contenders for specific sports like ice climbing, but we found this one to be the top performing model across the most activities. Take it hiking, climbing, or cross-country skiing, and it will excel. It even looks nice if you want to throw it on to head out for a day of running errands around town. On the pricey end of the spectrum, the Gamma MX is a high-end model of what we would call a luxury layer. If you want the most versatile, best-of-the-best, this is the softshell for you.
Read review: Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Marmot Moblis - Women's
The Marmot Moblis is our Best Buy Award winner because it strikes a perfect balance between price point, and a well-executed, feature-rich softshell jacket. While it certainly wasn't the cheapest piece in our review, it offered almost everything a basic softshell should without completely breaking the bank. The cheaper jackets in our review simply fell too short in one area or another. The Moblis has a soft inner liner and was one of only two windproof models tested. These features decreased its breathability a bit, but it also made for an incredibly warm jacket. And even though we were disappointed with the hood not being helmet compatible, not everyone seeks a contender that is helmet compatible. We also love the adjustable cuffs, four zippered pockets, and special underarm design to increase mobility. Overall, this is a solid softshell for the price.
Read review: Marmot Moblis - Women's
Top Pick Award for Warmth
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody - Women's
The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody is a seriously impressive hybrid jacket. When we first laid eyes on it, we thought it would fall short across the board, but we ended up surprised at every turn. It functioned well as a softshell in all aspects except durability, and also provided the warmth and coziness of a thin down puffy. Every time we pulled it on in the cold, we felt an instant layer of warmth surround us without having to generate that heat for ourselves as you do with most softshells. We worried that the fuzzy interior would impede breathability, but it didn't - the Ascendant breathed and moved amazingly well, from icy glaciers to super windy crags. It also repelled water impressively, though the lack of zippers on the pockets does mean that water and snow can collect in there. Our only issue with this model was its lack of durability when up against sharp or rough surfaces. The outer material is thin and easily damaged, so while this is a fantastic layer for cold hikes and belaying, you probably won't want to wear it climbing.
Read review: Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody - Women's
Top Pick Award for Rock Climbing
Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Gamma LT is a lightweight, flattering, all-around impressive softshell. We found it to consistently be one of our top choices for aerobic hikes and rock climbing due to its lack of bulkiness, excellent breathability, and easy mobility. While the cuffs aren't adjustable, they are shaped well and stay put when pushed up to the forearms, and we were able to access the pockets with a harness on. The material is abrasion-resistant and had no problem withstanding scraping through canyons and off-width chimneys. We also found that the Gamma LT was excellent at repelling water due to its DWR finish. With very low temperatures or high winds, we felt the thinness of this jacket, so you may need to be prepared to layer strategically in more extreme weather, but in milder conditions, this is a fantastic softshell to invest in.
Read review: Arc'teryx Gamma LT - Women's
Notable for Movement
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell - Women's
You can tell that Black Diamond had climbing and skiing in mind when they designed the Dawn Patrol. Constructed with four-way stretch material and underarm gussets, this layer feels more like you're wearing a comfy sweatshirt than a jacket. Its helmet-compatible hood is large and doesn't constrict head movements at all, and the harness-compatible pockets mean you can access a snack even when all racked up and ready to go. We found the fit to be a bit baggy, but this also means that you can easily layer underneath it to help boost the warmth-factor if needed. With great breathability and nice wide adjustable cuffs, this jacket is a solid purchase that we highly recommend for anyone who plans to spend a lot of active time in a harness or helmet.
Read review: Black Diamond Dawn Patrol - Women's
Notable for Exceptional Pockets
Rab Upslope - Women's
We enjoyed testing the Rab Upslope and wanted to recognize the fact that it had great pockets, both in number and placement. With two pockets on the chest, two for the hands, one on the sleeve, and one internal - all zippered - this is an amazing contender for those that love having a place to stash all kinds of treasures and treats. The chest pockets are mesh-lined and large (spanning from the rib cage to under the armpits), so they not only help aid in breathability quite a bit, but they can also be used for impromptu cross-chest hand warmers. Besides the plethora of pockets, we loved the wind resistance, large helmet-compatible hood, and generously wide adjustable cuffs on the Upslope. It's an expensive softshell, and also quite heavy, but for the right winter adventurer, this is a sweet piece to own.
Read review: Rab Upslope - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
The softshell is an interesting article of clothing because it strives to do so much in one layer: resist wind, repel water, and breathe well. It aims to be a comfort piece and a protection piece at the same time. Unlike potentially life-saving layers such as protective, waterproof hardshells and insulation layers that are essential to your outdoor layering kit, a softshell is nice to have, but it won't keep you warm or dry enough if you get caught in an unexpected storm. The primary objective of a softshell is to increase comfort through breathability and supple flexibility while offering some degree of weather protection. These layers are less stiff, noisy, and suffocating than hardshells, making them more pleasant to wear, but they just don't offer the same level of weather protection.
If you're in the market for a softshell, you probably already have other more fundamental items of outddor clothing like waterproof and dedicated insulating layers. You might have a budget that allows for a specialized item like a softshell, but still want to make the most of your money. Using the score a softshell earned in testing relative to its retail price can give you a pretty good idea how it's doing in terms of value. Most of the items we tested range from around $200 to $350. That's not cheap, but is the going rate for the specialization a softshell offers. We found the best value for those on tighter budgets to be the solid Marmot Mobilis. Tied for highest score were our overall favorite, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's ($349), and Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody - Women's, for $100 less - a good option if you emphasize warmth.
A softshell will never be as fully protective from the weather as a hardshell because hardshells are waterproof and windproof. While there are some windproof softshells available, the designation of "waterproof" is by and large reserved for hardshells. Most softshells are designated as water and wind resistant. Some of the hybrid designs that we tested have waterproof parts, but these jackets should not be worn as rain jackets in a bad storm. Overall, softshells are ideal for mild weather where some moderate protection from wind and water is needed, but where full storm protection isn't required. When evaluating for weather protection, we took into consideration both wind resistance and water resistance.
Only one of the models we tested this time around wa fully windproof, though many of them did impressively well with intense gusts and cold. The windproof model we tested was our Best Buy winner, the comfortable and attractive Marmot Moblis. While this heavy fleece-lined jacket did not repel large amounts of water particularly well, we were happily warm and cozy while hiking through frigid alpine wind and blowing snow.
The Patagonia Adze Hoody had a fleece lining which made it quite warm and wind resistant. Its DWR-finish also helped considerably with water resistance, though overall this jacket was stiff and fell short in a few areas. Hybrid models can be tricky and tend to miss the mark somewhere in their design due to trying to cover too many bases. However, hybrid designs that are stiffer (and therefore usually less comfortable) can be useful for more specific applications such as ice climbing or skiing where more weather protection is needed and beneficial. Even more specialized than the already specialized softshell, hybrid jackets are tools for a focused athlete rather than the general outdoorswoman who is in the market for a multi-use jacket.
Other notable mentions for wind resistance were the Rab Upslope and the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hoody, both of which provided a significant wind barrier, but weren't as warm or as water resistant as other models. Our Top Pick for Warmth, the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody was, no surprise, impressively warm and cozy. The Ascendant also proved itself to be one of the more water resistant softshell jackets in our test group, though the lack of zippers on the hand pockets meant moisture could sneak in and hideout. Both Arc'teryx jackets we tested, our Editors' Choice, the Gamma MX Hoody, and our Top Pick for Rock Climbing, the Gamma LT Hoody handled wind like pros. The Gamma LT had a bit better water resistance, but the Gamma MX was considerably thicker and noticeably warmer.
Breathability is the reason why people buy softshell jackets. If your primary need is weather protection, then you want a fully waterproof hardshell. However, when you plan to get your blood moving, a hardshell can feel suffocating and stuffy. Enter the softshell. Finding a piece that strikes the perfect balance between breathability and weather protection is key. It's not an easy task (but we're here to help!), and you should take into consideration what activities you plan to engage in the most.
We tested these softshells in a variety of conditions during some different activities. The most telling is when we wore them for high exertion activities such as climbing, hiking, or skiing. These kinds of activities get the blood moving and the sweat flowing. A few competitors scored well in this category simply because they were constructed with very thin material. While we recognize that thin material and breathability are not the same things, we couldn't ignore the fact that models with thin fabric are often just breathable by default.
The thing to remember is that, ultimately, you want a breathable jacket that can also resist weather and keep you warm when needed. The very simple and affordable Charles River Axis is highly breathable, but we would hesitate to wear it on a windy, cold, or wet day. The Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody was wonderfully breathable and struck a better balance between ventilation and weather protection; however, it will still leave you cold if you're not keeping your heart rate up when the temperature dips or weather takes a turn for the worse.
The Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody was one of the most breathable in the fleet. It manages to do this without compromising its ability to protect from inclement weather, which is the main reason it won our Editors' Choice award for the second year in a row. The unique OR Ascendant Hoody, our Top Pick for Warmth, also had impressive breathability - something we didn't expect from the onset because of its fuzzy plush interior. The Ascendant has some durability issues, but when looking at just breathability and weather protection, it's an incredibly impressive layer. Other notable mentions in this category were the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol and the Rab Upslope which has an impressive amount of mesh-lined pockets. Many of the contenders that fared the best in this category have mesh-lined pockets which can be left unzipped and used as vents when more ventilation is needed.
The models with the least breathability were some of the stiff fleece-lined models, namely the Patagonia Adze Hoody. Our windproof model, the Marmot Moblis also struggled in this category.
Mobility is important in a softshell jacket because these layers are designed to be worn during activities that involve raising the heart rate through a lot of movement. A restrictive jacket will not allow you to move freely enough to enjoy your sport. We looked for jackets that fit well, layered well, and had designs tailored towards motion. We ended up with a diverse set of contenders whose performances spread all over the board.
The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol rose to the top in this category. Designed for climbing and skiing, this shell is constructed with four-way stretch fabric and underarm gussets. With a generous cut that does not ride up when the arms are lifted, this is a natural layer to put on and forget you're wearing - which is a good thing. Our Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX, with gusseted underarms and articulated elbows, performed almost as well in this category, but the hood is a bit smaller and the tight cuffs are not adjustable - little details that we noticed while wearing and moving.
Another stellar choice for mobility was our Top Pick for Rock Climbing, the Arc'terx Gamma LT. It also has gusseted underarms and an athletic cut that was both flattering and easy to move in. Both models from Outdoor Research that we tested did great in this metric as well. The plush, cozy Ascendant never once felt constrictive or impeded our movement in any way.
The Patagonia Adze Hoody weighed in at a whopping 25.3 oz and was the heaviest jacket in our review.
Much more impressive to us was the fact that our Top Pick for Warmth, the OR Ascendant Hoody was barely any heavier at 11.5 oz.
Also worth noting was the 17.1 oz Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody, our two-time Editors' Choice award winner, as well as our Top Pick for Rock Climbing, the 15.3 oz Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody. Both were outstanding jackets across the board.
The shells in this review came with a fairly similar list of features aside from a few exceptions. Each one had an adjustable hem. All except the Charles River Axis had zippered hand pockets. All models except the Charles River Axis had hoods. Of the jackets with hoods, all of them were helmet-compatible except for the Marmot Moblis. The Marmot Moblis was the only windproof model (as opposed to just wind resistant).
Some shells are designed with a specific purpose in mind. For instance, the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol is targeted towards ice and alpine climbers, and the Rab Upslope is optimized for ski mountaineering and alpine ascents. Because of this, they both have features that climbers, skiers, and mountaineers look for, such as helmet-compatible hoods, wide adjustable cuffs that easily and comfortably fit over large gloves, and strategically placed pockets. The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol, and other jackets geared toward movement like the Arc'teryx Gamma LT, our Top Pick for Rock Climbing, have gusseted underarms for added mobility. Our Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX also has underarm gussets, as well as articulated elbows for even more ease of movement.
One feature that varies quite a bit from jacket to jacket is the sleeve cuffs. Typically a model will either have adjustable cuffs with a velcro tab or stretchy, non-adjustable cuffs. Of course, there are plusses and minuses to each style. The adjustable cuffs can be cinched around the outside of gloves to keep wind and water away from the wrists, but they are harder to fit underneath gloves with long gauntlets. The stretch woven cuffs more easily fit with gloves of this style. It can be nice not to have to fiddle with the cuff adjustment all the time, but having the option to wear the sleeves either way can be beneficial.
One other feature that also shows a lot of diversity across jackets is the hood. While all but one of our tested shells offered a hood, there was a lot of variation. The jackets geared toward sports that involve wearing a helmet, like the Upslope, Dawn Patrol, Adze Hoody, and both Arc'teryx models, all had 2-way adjustability, brims, and extra room to allow unimpeded movement with or without a helmet. Some other simpler hoods, like those on the Ascendant still fit over a helmet (albeit snugly) but were only adjustable one-way and didn't have a brim. The Moblis offered 2-way adjustability, but it wasn't helmet-compatible.
Some other notable features in our test group included a thumb loop on the Outdoor Research Ascendant and full-on built-in hand warmers on the Charles River Axis. The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol and the Patagonia Adze Hoody are both Bluesign approved, an emerging certification for sustainable textile production.
Though style is very subjective, we still felt it deserved a seat at the table. Who wants to wear an ugly or ill-fitting jacket? Especially a $200+ ugly ill-fitting jacket. We evaluated each one based on how classic or versatile their look was, how well it fit, and how easily it could be worn in day-to-day applications.
We found ourselves grabbing the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody more than any other jacket. Whether we were climbing up icy slopes or just running to the grocery store, this layer seemed to always fit the bill. It's tailored beautifully, looks stylish, and handles the elements with expertise - no wonder it's our Editors' Choice award winner for the second time in a row. Our other Arc'teryx, the Gamma LT Hoody wasn't far behind. With a slim athletic cut creating attractive, clean lines, this is an obviously well-made jacket. It's no secret that Arc'teryx makes beautiful clothing and gear.
The Ascendant Hoody had a casual sporty look. The Charles River Axis was also a decently attractive layer, the built-in hand warmers adding nicely to the simple look. The rest of the contenders in this review had a bit more technical and less casual appearance, though of those we found the Marmot Moblis to be a bit more flattering and simple to wear in everyday situations.
With the many different types of shells and layers on the market, it can be hard to know which pieces will work best for your individual needs. If you're still feeling unsure as to whether you need a softshell, hardshell, rain jacket, baselayer, or some combination of the above, have a look at our Buying Advice article. For even more information on the intricacies of layering for the outdoors, check out our Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems article. We hope that this review has answered some of your softshell questions and helped guide you toward the right model for your next outdoor adventure.
— Penney Garrett