Choosing the best women's softshell jacket can be daunting. The technology keeps getting better and the designs more varied, making it tricky to hone in on the right choice. But we're here to help! After researching more than 50 of the most popular models on the market, we chose 15 diverse models to test in depth. Windy coastlines, icy alpine glaciers, rough rock faces, and long technical trails made up just a portion of our testing playground. Across multiple continents and a myriad of climates, our testers hiked, scrambled, climbed, and cycled, comparing and contrasting every aspect and feature along the way. Whether you're looking for a do-it-all softshell, something more specialized, or just want a bargain, we've got you covered.
The Best Softshell Jackets for Women
|Price||$104.98 at Backcountry|
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|$68.97 at Amazon|
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|$114.95 at Backcountry|
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|$194.73 at REI|
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|$224.95 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Highly breathable, quick-drying, harness and helmet compatible, stowable hood, durable||Super breathable, great sun layer, excellent mobility, chest pocket doubles as stuff sack, thumb loop||Very lightweight, excellent mobility, highly breathable, great fit, affordable.||Full-legth side zippers, excellent fit, windproof, lined, thumbholes||Easy mobility, breathable, helmet-compatible hood, excellent fit, comfortable|
|Cons||Not very warm, only one pocket||Not warm, less durable than other options, hem adjustment piece is bulky||Not warm, only two pockets||Less breathable due to windproofing, expensive||Pricey, non-adjustable cuffs|
|Bottom Line||This lightweight and streamlined pullover is a fabulously durable layer that breathes like a dream and dries lightning fast.||This thin pullover is perfect for when you just need that little bit of extra protection while standing in the sun, working up a sweat, or shimmying up a rock face.||This smart and ultralight softshell is extremely easy to move in and highly breathable - an excellent pick for the movement-minded adventure seeker.||This innovative hoody ups the ante with great features like full-length side zips, fantastic mobility, and excellent weather protection.||For the best all-around softshell we've found, look no further than this stretchy, breathable, and attractive layer.|
|Rating Categories||Sigma SL Anorak Pullover||Whirlwind Pullover||Rab Borealis - Women's||Ultimate V SO Hooded Jacket||Gamma MX Hoody|
|Weather Protection (30%)|
|Specs||Sigma SL Anorak...||Whirlwind Pullover||Rab Borealis -...||Ultimate V SO...||Gamma MX Hoody|
|Measured Weight - Size Medium (oz)||9.5oz||8.2oz||8.3oz||13.1oz||17.1oz|
|Material||Aequora Airperm - 86% nylon, 14% elastane||86% recycled polyester, 14% spandex, 75D stretch woven||Lightweight Matrix single weave with 2-way stretch and DWR||100% polyester||Fortius 2.0 - Face: 85% nylon, 15% elastane. Backer: 94% polyester, 6% elastane, DWR finish|
|Hood||Yes, 2-way adjustable||Yes, 1-way adjustable||Yes, stretchy but not adjustable||Yes, 1-way adjustable||Yes, 2-way adjustable|
|Helmet Compatible?||Yes||Yes||Yes, underneath||Yes, underneath||Yes|
|Wind Resistant?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes, windproof||Yes|
|Number of Pockets (zippered unless otherwise noted)||1 chest||1 chest||2 hand||2 hand||4 (2 hand, 1 chest, 1 sleeve)|
|Available Sizes||XS - L||XS - XL||XS - XL||XS - XXL||XS - L|
Best Women's Softshell for Warmer Weather
Arc'teryx Sigma SL Anorak Pullover - Women's
The Arc'teryx Sigma SL Anorak is a sweet pullover that we loved for warm weather adventures. So much in fact that we chose it as one of our Editors' Choice winners. The "SL" stands for "superlight," an attribute we appreciated both in our packs and on our bodies. This well-featured piece breathes like a second skin, dries lightning fast even after being soaked, and is durable enough to take on the roughest terrain. With great features like four-way stretch fabric, a stowable helmet-compatible hood, and special Hemlock inserts to keep everything in place under a harness, it's no surprise that the Sigma ended up at the top of the pack.
The tradeoff with superlight breathable material is that it's not very warm, though you can layer underneath for chillier days. And keeping weight and bulk down means you don't get a ton of extra bells, whistles, or pockets. But if you need a durable and well-executed layer that will keep wind and water at bay while allowing your body to move and sweat, the Sigma Anorak is a clear winner.
Read review: Arc'teryx Sigma SL Anorak Pullover - Women's
Best Women's Softshell for Cooler Temps
Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody has remained an Editors' Choice for many years because it's just so darn good at so many things. This jacket exemplifies what a well-made softshell for cooler temps should be: comfortable and supple with easy mobility. The breathable material has an inner liner that simultaneously provides a layer of warmth and aids in excellent weather protection. The fit is non-restrictive, and the thoughtful tailoring adds an element of style we appreciate. Whether you are going hiking, climbing, or cross-country skiing, the Gamma MX is sure to excel.
There are better contenders for specific activities like long alpine days or sunny trail runs, but we continue to find this jacket to be a top performing model across a broad range of activities. While it is very pricey, we feel that the Gamma MX is a solid investment that will treat you right year after year, adventure after adventure.
Read review: Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Rab Borealis - Women's
The Rab Borealis is a savvy and well-tailored layer, making it both flattering and practical for long days or big walls. It provides just enough weather resistance for non-inclement weather, fantastic breathability, and excellent stretch. The pockets are long and placed high enough that a harness doesn't impede access in the slightest. It was clear to us that care and thought went into this jacket, particularly if you're a climber that needs to keep things simple, fitted, and light. And it all comes for a very approachable price, hence the Best Buy award.
The Borealis is not as feature-rich as other models in our review, but we never felt deprived and appreciated the tradeoff: a jacket that weighs just over half a pound. The hood and cuffs are not adjustable, but the lycra binding around the edges gives just the right amount of snugness without being uncomfortable. All in all, this is an excellent purchase for anyone that needs that little extra something for climbing, trail running, or hiking.
Read review: Rab Borealis - Women's
Best Buy for a Pullover
Outdoor Research Whirlwind Pullover - Women's
The Outdoor Research Whirlwind Pullover is a fantastic layer for spring and summer days when you need a barrier from wind, sun, or rock but don't want to be even the tiniest bit stifled. This very affordable pullover offers superior mobility, a helmet-compatible hood, and fun extras like thumb loops and a chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack. This is the lightest jacket in our entire review, so if you're looking for just that little extra something for climbing, running, hiking, or biking, this might be the ticket. It's also baggy enough that you can easily layer underneath on cooler days.
The Whirlwind isn't going to keep you warm if the temperatures drop, nor will you stay dry if it rains. It also showed a bit more wear and tear in our time with it than other models. But overall we love this layer. It's so light and stretchy that you'll think you're just wearing a comfortable long sleeve shirt, it keeps the wind at bay impressively, and it won't come anywhere near to emptying your wallet. For the right kind of warm weather play, this is a dream.
Read review: Outdoor Research Whirlwind Pullover - Women's
Top Pick for a Waterproof Layer
Rab Kinetic Plus Hoody - Women's
Generally, it's not great for a softshell to be waterproof because it means the fabric can't breathe. While this is indeed an issue with the Rab Kinetic Plus, we find it to be considerably less so than with other waterproof models we've come across and tested. Somehow the material on this jacket seems to both breathe and repel water — though, as with most hybrids, it doesn't do either perfectly. Regardless, we fell in love with this layer because of its superior fit, soft feel, excellent hood and cuffs, and, of course, its ability to keep water out.
The Kinetic Plus, despite keeping water out, doesn't dry super fast when it's been really soaked. And if you're out getting your heart rate way up you're bound to feel a little bit stifled/clammy. However, if you're in cool temps, the soft, supple fabric is downright dreamy, and the tailoring is on point. While this is a bit of a niche layer, we wanted to recognize it for a job well done. If you live somewhere cool and damp like the Pacific Northwest, this is a top-notch choice.
Read review: Rab Kinetic Plus - Women's
Top Pick for a Windproof Layer
Mammut Ultimate V SO Hooded Jacket - Women's
Just as we mentioned above in regards to waterproofing, windproofing on a softshell is typically not ideal because you lose breathability — arguably one of the most important traits for this style of jacket. Windproof models are usually also thick and heavy due to their inner liner, meaning that mobility is sacrificed as well. The other windproof models in our review all sit at the bottom of the pack because of this. But the Ultimate V SO sets a completely new precedent. It has two-way zippers that extend completely down both sides so ventilation options abound. It's lined but still lightweight with excellent mobility. If this is what we have to look forward to in regards to windproof softshells of the future, we're excited.
Despite the fact that you can fully open up the body of the Ultimate for breathability, the chest and arm areas can still get a bit stuffy if you're really sweating. This jacket also comes at a premium, being one of the most expensive models we tested. But for the right kind of aerobic activity, we can see this being a very good match.
Read review: Mammut Ultimate V SO Hooded Jacket - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by a team of badass women, headed by Penney Garrett. She's a hardcore outdoor enthusiast who isn't afraid to get on the lead-end of the rope. When she's not climbing her way to the top of a rock, she's out hiking, rappelling, and adventuring, exploring as many fissures and cracks of the world as possible. Based in Colorado, she gets to explore high mountains and deep canyons on the regular.
She tested each of these jackets side-by-side to attain objective and performance-based differences. Traveling from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranian, she's worn them through a wide range of climates and weather. She even wore them in the shower to see which ones truly perform the best in wet weather! After over 100 hours of testing, day in and day out, we've got some seriously expert advice to give on which is the best softshell jacket on the market.
Analysis and Test Results
The softshell jacket is an interesting article of clothing because it strives to do the job of multiple layers all by itself — 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 like waterproof hardshells and insulative baselayers, a softshell is nice to have but won't keep you warm or dry enough if you get caught in a serious storm.
The primary objective of a softshell jacket 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 don't offer the same level of weather protection.
If you have a budget that allows for a specialized item like a softshell you probably still want to make the most of your money — who doesn't? We pay attention to how well each jacket performs relative to its retail price. Our Best Buy winners, the Borealis and Whirlwind are great examples of good value purchases — solid performance together with a low price point. A match made in outdoor gear heaven.
A softshell jacket will never be as weather protective as a hardshell. Hardshells are waterproof and windproof. Softshells are, by and large, only water and wind resistant. And while there are some windproof softshells available (we have a few in this review), the designation of waterproof is by and large reserved for hardshells. Though, again, we have one exception to that as well with the Rab Kinetic Plus.
Some of the models we tested are more water resistant than others, but these pieces should not be worn as rain jackets in a severe storm. Overall, softshells are ideal for mild weather when you need some protection from wind and water, but when full-on storm protection isn't required. When evaluating each jacket's weather protection, we took into consideration both wind and water resistance.
Four of the softshells in our review are fully windproof, though many of the other wind resistant models still perform impressively well with intense gusts and cold as well. The North Face Apex Bionic 2, Mammut Ultimate V SO, Marmot Moblis, and Columbia Phurtec II are windproof and will keep you quite warm in cold windy weather — particularly the Phurtec with its extra-thick fuzzy lining. These models also repel water decently, though none are meant for an abundance of moisture. And while we could keep decently warm in frigid alpine winds and blowing snow (at least while moving), the tradeoff is almost always a noticeable lack of breathability and mobility. Our Top Pick for a Windproof layer, the Ultimate V SO, breaks the mold on that notion though, with easy movement and zippers that extend from above the armpits all the way down to the hems. Hello, ventilation!
Favorites for this category include the Editor's Choice Gamma MX and our two Top Picks, the waterproof Kinetic Plus and the insulated First Light Hybrid Hoody. Because the Kinetic and First Light are hybrids, they sit ever so slightly on the cusp of being "true softshells," falling a little short in other categories. But depending on your style of outdoor adventuring and the climate you're in, either one of them could be perfect. The Gamma MX does a better balancing act, with just enough insulation from its lining and excellent wind resistant, a combo that helps it continue to win top scores year after year.
Breathability is the main reason 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! Keep in mind what activities you plan to engage in the most while digesting this info.
We tested the softshells in our review in a variety of conditions during many different activities chosen to get the blood moving and the sweat flowing. A few models constructed with very thin material scored well in this category. While we recognize that thin fabric and breathability are not the same things, we couldn't ignore the fact that jackets with minimal material often breathe well by default.
The most breathable piece in our fleet is the ultra-thin and light Whirlwind Pullover, one of our Best Buy winners. It feels more like a comfy sun-shirt that a softshell and yet still manages to create a very decent wind barrier. We loved this layer for sunny climbing days and cardio-intensive running and biking sessions. It can't handle cold temps or rain, though it is roomy enough to layer underneath and low-profile enough to disappear under practically anything. With excellent durability and smart features, this is a great pullover for active spring and summer outings.
Our other Best Buy winner, the Rab Borealis, is also a highly breathable option. It provides an adequate barrier to the wind, though it's also not suited for rain or temperatures that will dip very low. But the slim fit and lack of bulk on this piece mean that it's a fantastic option for layering under something more substantial if need be. And if you're working hard and keeping your core temperature high, the Borealis is a perfect non-stifling option.
Another favorite is the Editors' Choice-winning Sigma SL Anorak. It provides a great balance between ventilation and mild weather protection. It's durable and protective without sacrificing any breathability and dries lightning fast if you get caught in some light rain showers or work up a serious sweat. The pullover design has a deep front zip that allows for even more air flow. There's a reason this layer took home the highest score in our review; it does everything it sets out to do with precision and ease.
The Ferrosi is yet another fantastic option if you want a thin material and roomier fit. This jacket lies between the Whirlwind and Sigma Anorak in terms of the heft (or lack thereof) of the material. The Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody is stellar as well — it's a little bit thicker, making it suitable for some colder temps, but it also won't suffocate you when working up a sweat.
Mobility is highly important in a softshell jacket. These layers are generally designed for 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. Honestly, a restrictive jacket is annoying even if you're just running errands around town! We looked for softshells that fit well, layer well, and have designs tailored towards motion. We ended up with a diverse set of contenders whose performances spread all over the board.
We have some stellar options in this review that exemplify unimpeded motion. Our favorites are the minimal Borealis and Whirlwind. They both stretch easily and feel more like a shirt than a jacket. The Borealis has a slim athletic fit that doesn't get in the way no matter what you're doing. The Whirlwind is baggier and roomier but so thin and stretchy that you'll forget you have it on. Both work well with a helmet too; the Borealis fits neatly underneath while the Whirlwind is big enough to go over the top.
The Editor's Choice Sigma has high scores in this category also, as does the Ferrosi. Like the examples above, the Sigma has a slimmer, tighter fit and the Ferrosi is on the baggier side, so depending on your style of activity and personal preferences there's something for everyone. The Sigma has strategic tailoring including gusseted underarms, so even though it's a slim, streamlined cut, mobility and comfort are not sacrificed. Despite the differences between these two pieces, both have excellent stretch, making movement of all kinds easy, intuitive, and non-restrictive. The Sigma does have better movement when a helmet is involved though, the Ferrosi being slightly constricting across the back of the neck.
The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol also stands out 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 you lift your arms, this is another layer you can put on and forget you're wearing. The baggier fit is comfortable and suitable for layering, but remember that it also means there's more fabric that can get in the way when you're in tight situations or wearing a harness. Again, it all depends on your preferred activity.
There are many other admirable contenders in this category, most notably the Kinetic Plus, Ultimate V, First Light Hybrid, Gamma LT, and Gamma MX. All are well conceived and made with movement in mind. The Gamma MX is on the thicker side but has articulated elbows and gusseted underarms to help offset the bulk. While there tends to be a clear divide in our review between thick and thin jackets (the majority of top contenders are thinner and lighter while thicker lined models end up closer to the bottom), the Gamma MX is one of the main exceptions, showing why it has held on to an Editors' Choice award through so many cycles of this review.
Our jackets spanned from 8.2 ounces at the lightest to 25.8 ounces at the heaviest (all weights are for a size medium). No matter what your needs are, our review has some fantastic options.
The Whirlwind weighs a mere 8.2 ounces with the Borealis right behind it at 8.3 ounces — perfect options for situations like alpine climbing and backpacking where weight needs to be at an absolute minimum. Also highly impressive is the Sigma Anorak at 9.5 ounces and the Kinetic Plus at 10 ounces even. Both the Sigma and Kinetic also offer a bit more in the way of weather protection, undoubtedly a fair tradeoff for just a tiny bit more weight.
The jackets that weigh in at over 20 ounces are the less technical offerings in this review. They work well for casual, around-town use where you're not working up a sweat but aren't ideal for stuffing into your pack when on more serious outings.
We assessed versatility by considering features, style, and ease of use between various activities. Many of the shells in this review come with excellent features that we thoroughly enjoyed and put to use regularly. Style is subjective but also important — no one likes paying top dollar for an ill-fitting or unattractive article of clothing. And some of our favorite pieces in this review could move seamlessly from the trail or crag to dinner with friends, a clear bonus in our book.
Quite a few of our contenders earned high scores in this category. Our longstanding Editors' Choice Gamma MX, with its mixed weather designation, can handle many different types of weather like a pro while still maintaining decent breathability. It has just enough features, and in chilly weather we found ourselves grabbing it more than anything else. Whether climbing up icy slopes or just running to the grocery store, this layer fit the bill more often than not. It's tailored beautifully, looks stylish, and is highly durable, continuing to look practically new year after year.
The Ferrosi Hooded is a feature-rich option with reinforced/abrasion-resistant shoulders and forearms, a helmet-compatible hood, and quick-drying material. It has comfortable thumb loops that don't let cold air in when they aren't in use and a hand pocket that doubles as a stuff sack — something every climber will appreciate. It's a fantastic layer for breezy days and activities where you are keeping your heart rate up but need a little something extra. It's not the most stylish piece of the bunch, but it's comfortable and offers features geared toward adventure, which is all many of us want.
Other favorites for this category are the Kinetic Plus and Ultimate V SO. The Kinetic is soft, stylish, well-constructed, and the only waterproof model in our review. While that made it a bit less breathable than non-waterproof options, if you're not getting too sweaty, you'll be happy as a clam. The hood is excellent with or without a helmet, and the cuff design is one of our favorites in this whole review. The Ultimate V is lined and fully windproof — again something that generally impedes breathability — but with zippers that extend from the armpits to the hemline, regulating temperature during high exertion activities was a snap… or, more accurately, a zip!
Also worth mentioning is our Editors' Choice, the thin Sigma pullover. While this layer may not be so versatile as to take you to the slopes in the winter, it is the best option for breezy, sunny days. From the trail to high up on a multi-pitch, you will be protected from sun, wind, sprinkles, and rock with no problem. The Arc'teryx Gamma LT is slightly heftier and ready to take on cooler temps while not sacrificing in the breathability or mobility departments. Same goes for the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol, the stretchiest piece in our review, which is geared toward ice and alpine climbers.
All in all, taking the time to think about what activities you engage in the most will help guide you toward the features that will be most useful.
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. 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