In the market for a stellar softshell jacket but overwhelmed by options? Let us help! After researching over 75 of the most popular options on the market, we bought and tested 11 of them side-by-side. Our testing gurus romped through all manner of fall and winter weather — from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea. Windy coastlines, icy alpine glaciers, rough rock faces, and snow-covered trails made up our testing grounds. We wore each jacket to walk, cycle, and climb. We took them all over town and even straight into the shower to test their water resistance. Throughout the process, we compared and contrasted every aspect. 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 lifestyle. If you're gift shopping, we also tested the top men's softshell jackets.
The Best Softshell Jackets for Women
|Price||$239.00 at MooseJaw|
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|$278.99 at MooseJaw|
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|$114.95 at MooseJaw||$102.99 at MooseJaw|
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|$248.95 at MooseJaw|
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|Pros||Lightweight, highly mobile and breathable, well-featured, good in the wind||Easy mobility, breathable, helmet-compatible hood, excellent fit, comfortable||Very lightweight, excellent mobility, highly breathable, great fit, affordable.||Lightweight, affordable, stretchy, durable, breathable, good features||Lightweight, durable, great arm length, flattering cut, excellent breathability and water resistance|
|Cons||Not the most weather protective, on the pricey side||Pricey, non-adjustable cuffs||Not warm, only two pockets||Not the most weather protective, baggy fit, pockets aren't accessible with a harness||Thin, cuffs aren't adjustable, pricey|
|Bottom Line||This is a fantastic, well-featured technical layer that offers excellent mobility, breathability, and wind resistance.||For the best all-around softshell we've found, look no further than this stretchy, breathable, and attractive layer.||This smart and ultralight softshell is extremely easy to move in and highly breathable - an excellent pick for the movement-minded adventure seeker.||This lightweight jacket is highly breathable and stretchy with an arsenal of fun and useful features.||While there were warmer models in our review, in every other aspect this hoody was a winner, providing top notch breathability, durability, and mobility.|
|Rating Categories||Psiphon FL Hoody||Gamma MX Hoody||Rab Borealis||Ferrosi Hoody||Gamma LT Hoody|
|Weather Protection (30%)|
|Specs||Psiphon FL Hoody||Gamma MX Hoody||Rab Borealis||Ferrosi Hoody||Gamma LT Hoody|
|Measured Weight - Size Medium (oz)||10.6oz||17.1oz||8.3oz||11.4oz||15.3oz|
|Material||Lightweight TerraTex (94% nylon, 6% elastane) with Fortius 1.0 reinforced areas||Fortius 2.0 - Face: 85% nylon, 15% elastane. Backer: 94% polyester, 6% elastane, DWR finish||Lightweight Matrix single weave with 2-way stretch and DWR||Body/hood: 86% nylon 14% spandex 90D stretch woven ripstop, shoulders/forearms: Cordura 91% nylon, 9% spandex 120D stretch woven||Wee Burly Double Weave (56% nylon, 34% polyester, 10% elastane), DWR finish|
For Fall 2018 we added five exciting new models and dropped a few that are either discontinued or no longer the best fit for this review. Our new additions are diverse and overall excellent jackets. The Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody is so impressive that we added a second Editors' Choice award. The Rab Borealis and Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded both swept up Best Buy awards due to their excellent performance and low price points. And The North Face Apex Bionic 2 and Columbia Phurtec II both offer windproof warmth and urban style. Read on to find out how these newbies stacked up against the rest of our fabulous test suite.
Best Overall Women's Softshell Jacket
Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's
For the third time in a row, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody carved out top scores and snatched up our Editors' Choice Award — despite some very stiff competition. This jacket exemplifies everything we desire in a well-made softshell jacket — comfort, suppleness, and excellent mobility during all kinds of activity. The breathable material provides more-than-adequate weather protection, and the fit is non-restrictive. Whether you are going hiking, climbing, or cross-country skiing, the Gamma MX is sure to excel. We also appreciate the thoughtful tailoring that makes this a stylish enough piece to wear out on the town for all manner of events and outings.
There are better contenders for specific activities like long alpine days, but we continue to find this jacket to be the top performing model across the widest 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
See men's: Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody
Editors' Choice for Fast and Light
Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody is a fantastic layer for anyone who needs to keep their pack light for long days and big objectives. This softshell's feature-rich resume is an alpine-climbers dream come true. From the stowable hood, to the smart one-hand adjustable hem, to the special Hemlock inserts that keep everything in place below a harness, the Psiphon FL has you covered. This piece is comfortable, practical, and durable — it's no wonder it earned top marks across our rigorous tests.
This isn't a particularly warm layer, which is the flip side of having such great mobility and breathability. If you want something for colder temperatures, we recommend our best all-around softshell, the Gamma MX. However, if your needs tend to revolve around long hikes and alpine climbing, this is a fabulous choice.Read review: Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody - Women's
See men's: Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody - Women's
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded is an excellent lightweight layer at a very nice price. It offers several features that we really love, like comfortable thumb loops and the ability to stuff the whole jacket inside one of the hand pockets for convenient storage and transport. The Cordura reinforcement on the arms make this an excellent option for squeezing up a chimney or down through a canyon, as does its stretchy and breathable material.
We are disappointed that the Ferrosi's pockets are inaccessible when you're wearing a harness. And, while the loose fit can be great for layering, it's not the most flattering. But for just $130, this is an impressive piece with a lot of versatility.Read review: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded - Women's
See men's: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded
Best Buy for Climbing
Rab Borealis - Women's
The Rab Borealis impressed us every step of the way, especially for the very approachable price of just $115. This savvy layer is well-tailored, 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.
The Borealis is not as feature-rich as other models in our review, but we never felt deprived, and we appreciated the tradeoff, which is a jacket that weighs just over half a pound. The hood and cuffs are not adjustable, but the lycra binding around the edges gave us 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
Top Pick for Warmth
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody - Women's
The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody is a fun and impressive hybrid jacket. We reviewed it as a softshell and as an insulated jacket. When we first laid eyes on it, we thought it would fall short, but we were happily proven wrong. 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.
The Ascendent also repels water impressively, though the lack of zippers on the pockets means that water and snow can collect there fairly easily. Our main issue with this model is 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 don't want to wear it for an activity that where you'll be coming in contact with a rough surface.
Read review: Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody - Women's
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 an unexpected 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're unclear, our Buying Advice article can help sort out what differentiates these various layers and guide you to the proper purchase.
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 Rab Borealis and Outdoor Research Ferrosi 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.
Some of the models we tested are more water resistant than others, but these pieces should not be worn as rain jackets in a bad 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.
Three of the softshells in our review are fully windproof, though many of the others still performed impressively well with intense gusts and cold. The North Face Apex Bionic 2, Marmot Moblis, and Columbia Phurtec II are windproof and kept us seriously warm in cold windy weather — particularly the Phurtec with its extra-thick fuzzy lining. These models also repelled water decently, though none are meant for an abundance of moisture. And while we were warm and cozy in frigid alpine winds and blowing snow, the tradeoff is a noticeable lack of breathability and mobility.
Favorites for this category include the Editor's Choice Arc'teryx Gamma MX and the insulated/softshell crossover, the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody. The Ascendant offers insulation that really keeps the cold at bay. It's also among the more water resistant softshell(ish) jackets we tested. The Gamma MX is also lightly insulated and quite wind resistant, a combo that helps it continue to win top scores year after year.
And the Patagonia Adze Hoody is a fleece-lined model with DWR-finish that also really impressed us while out in the cold, though it is, sadly, quite stiff and ill-fitting. The other Arc'teryx models, the Gamma LT and the Psiphon FL are thinner and lighter but also handle the wind like champs. The Gamma LT has a bit better water resistance, but the Psiphon FL is slightly more breathable with better mobility.
Breathability is the 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 that get the blood moving and the sweat flowing. A few models scored well in this category simply because they are constructed with very thin material. 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 thin and light Rab Borealis. It still provides an adequate barrier to the wind, though it's not suited for rain or temperatures that will dip too low. But the slim fit and lack of bulk on this piece mean that it's a fantastic option for layering under something heavier if need be. And if you're working hard and keeping your core temperature high, the Borealis is a perfect non-stifling option.
A couple of other great options for easy breathability are the Outdoor Research Ferrosi and Arc'teryx Psiphon FL. Both provide a great balance between ventilation and mild weather protection. The Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody is fantastic as well. It's a little bit heftier, making it suitable for some colder temps, but we also didn't feel suffocated when working up a sweat.
The Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody is lined and heavier, suitable for slightly more serious weather, but it still manages to be a decently breathable option. This combo is the main reason this jacket scores so high year after year, proving itself to be a solid all-around investment. Other notable mentions in this category are the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol and the Outdoor Research Ascendant.
Mobility is highly important in a softshell jacket. These layers are 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 Editors' Choice for Fast and Light, the Arc'teryx Psiphon FL is specifically geared toward alpine climbing, with strategic stretch, a trim fit that works well with a harness, articulated construction in the hood and sleeves, and gusseted underarms. In a similar vein is the Rab Borealis, which stretches easily and has a slim fit that doesn't get in the way no matter what you're doing.
The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol also stood 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 a natural layer to put on and forget you're wearing — which is a good thing. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi is also a stretchy layer that moves easily, though the hood is a little more constricting when worn over a helmet. Both of these models feature a looser, boxier fit. While this can be comfortable and good for layering, it also means there's more fabric that can get in the way when you're in tight situations or wearing a harness.
The Arc'teryx Gamma MX, also performed well in this category, with gusseted underarms and articulated elbows. But the hood is a bit smaller and the tight cuffs are not adjustable. And the Arc'teryx Gamma LT is yet another with gusseted underarms and an athletic cut that we found easy to move in and flattering. Depending on your needs there are lots of great options in this review!
Our contenders spanned all the way from 8.3 ounces at the lightest to 25.8 ounces at the heaviest (all weights are for a size medium). No matter how light you need to keep your pack, our review has some fantastic options.
The Rab Borealis weighs a mere 8.3 ounces, a perfect option for situations where weight needs to be kept to an absolute minimum. Next in line is the more feature-rich Psiphon FL at just 10.6 ounces. Both of these models are ideal for alpine endeavors and backpackers. Also highly impressive is the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded at 11.4 ounces and the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody just barely above that at 11.5 ounces.
The jackets that weigh in over 20 ounces are the less technical offerings in this review. They work well for casual, around-town use, but aren't ideal for stuffing into your pack for unexpectedly chilly conditions.
Many of the shells in this review came with an impressive list of features that we enjoyed putting to use out in the elements. The most feature-rich model in our fleet is the Arc'teryx Psiphon FL Hoody. It offers reinforced material in the tops of the sleeves and shoulders, articulation in the hood and sleeves, gusseted underarms, easily adjustable cuffs, a stowable hood, a drawcord hem, and special inserts in the hemline that keep the jacket from pulling out from under a harness. On top of all that it's lightweight and dries very quickly after getting wet. (It's not hard to see why we loved this shell.)
The Ferrosi Hooded is another option that offers some great features. It also has reinforced/abrasion-resistant shoulders and forearms and quick-drying material. What sets it apart are 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.
Many shells are designed with a specific purpose or environment in mind. For example, the Rab Borealis caters to the needs of big wall climbers, and the MX designation on the Arc'teryx Gamma MX means it's suited for mixed weather conditions. Pieces like the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol are targeted towards ice and alpine climbers and, because of this, offer features that climbers, skiers, and mountaineers look for like a helmet-compatible hood, wide adjustable cuffs that easily and comfortably fit over large gloves, and strategically placed pockets. The Dawn Patrol, and other jackets geared toward movement like the Arc'teryx Gamma LT, have gusseted underarms for added mobility. 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 (like those on the Psiphon FL) or stretchy, non-adjustable cuffs (as seen on the Rab Borealis). 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 — stretch-woven cuffs are better for this. It can be nice to avoid fiddling with cuff adjustments all the time, but having the option to wear the sleeves either way can be beneficial.
Another feature that varies significantly across jackets is the hood. While all but two of our tested shells offer a hood, there is a lot of variation among them. The jackets geared toward sports that demand a helmet, like the Psiphon FL, Dawn Patrol, Gamma MX, and Gamma LT, offer 2-way adjustability, brims, and extra room to allow unimpeded movement. Some offer simpler hoods. An example is the Borealis, which has a fitted under-helmet hood with lycra binding and no adjustability. Again, there are pros and cons to each of these, but at the end of the day, it mostly comes down to personal preference and comfort.
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 in the perfect softshell.
Though style is very subjective, we still feel it deserves 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 shell based on how classic or versatile their look is, how well it fits, and how easily it can 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. It's also highly durable and continues to look practically new year after year.
We also really enjoyed the attractive fitted lines of the Borealis. It's an easy piece to look and feel good in and it's also well-suited for layering underneath a warmer outer layer. Other notable mentions include our other two Arc'teryx models, the Gamma LT and Psiphon FL — it's no secret that Arc'teryx makes high-quality well-tailored clothing, and these pieces are no exception.
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