Best Softshell Jackets for Women of 2021
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|$214.95 at Backcountry||$91.96 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Insulated, highly breathable, moisture-wicking, comfortable, great weather protection, durable, lots of pockets||Excellent mobility, great weather resistance, breathable, durable, flattering cut||Great mobility, very breathable, wind/water resistant||Inexpensive, stellar mobility and breathability, stow-away pocket, harness-friendly pockets, excellent fit||Ultralight, comfortable, fairly breathable, stow-away pocket, ideal for summer and fair weather activities|
|Cons||Spendy, no stow-away pocket for clipping to your harness, hood somewhat small, some reviewers feel it runs small||Thin, non-adjustable cuffs, spendy||Heavier weight, snug in the shoulders, pricey||Not very warm, below average water resistance||Sizing runs a bit large, not very weather resistant, not durable, hem rides-up while climbing|
|Bottom Line||A lightweight, insulated but breathable jacket, that is the best hybrid we've reviewed||A feature-rich, aesthetically pleasing technical softshell with great mobility, breathability, and excellent weather resistance||A fantastic technical softshell for backcountry alpine pursuits, striking a great balance between weather resistance, breathability, and mobility||This wicked light softshell has great mobility, is highly breathable and well-tailored - a perfect layer for fair-weather climbing or hiking||An ultra-light, ultra-packable, and fairly breathable wind layer for summer climbing and hiking|
|Rating Categories||Proton FL Hoody||Gamma LT Hoody||Marmot ROM 2.0 - Wo...||Rab Borealis - Women's||Kor Preshell Hoody|
|Weather Protection (30%)|
|Specs||Proton FL Hoody||Gamma LT Hoody||Marmot ROM 2.0 - Wo...||Rab Borealis - Women's||Kor Preshell Hoody|
|Measured Weight||9.5 oz (size S)||15.5 oz (size S)||14 oz (size S)||9 oz (size 10/S)||4 oz (size XS)|
|Material||84% nylon, 16% elastane||Wee Burly Double Weave (56% nylon, 34% polyester, 10% elastane), DWR finish||92% Nylon, 8% Elastane Plain Weave||Lightweight Matrix single weave with 2-way stretch and DWR||Pertex Quantum Air 20D stretch ripstop|
|Hood?||Yes, 1-way adjustable||Yes, 3-way adjustable||Yes, 1-way adjustable||Yes, stretchy but not adjustable||Yes, stretchy but not adjustable|
|Number of Pockets (zippered unless otherwise noted)||4 (2 hand, 2 chest)||3 (2 hand, 1 internal)||4 (2 hand, 2 chest)||2 hand||3 (2 hand, 1 interior drop-in)|
|Adjustable Cuffs?||No, Stretch Cuffs||No, Stretch Cuffs||Yes, Velcro||No, Stretch Cuffs||No, Stretch Cuffs|
|Available Sizes||XS - XL||XS - XL||XS - XL||8 - 16||XS - XL|
Best Overall Women's Softshell Jacket
Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody - Women's
We loved the Arc'teryx Gamma LT for its high performance across the board and striking the proper balance between opposing metrics, which is why it earns top honors. We were impressed that even though it provides great wind protection and decent water resistance, it manages to be breathable when doing aerobic activities in cooler temps. The patented Wee Burley fabric is abrasion resistant and highly durable while still providing excellent mobility. It has a flattering cut while not skimping on the features you want out of a softshell, including Napoleon-style harness-compatible pockets that are mesh-lined for extra ventilation and a three-way cinched, helmet-compatible hood for excellent fit while climbing, hiking, or ski touring.
Depending on how you intend to use the Gamma LT, this jacket's downsides may be inconsequential. Being made out of a more durable fabric and being well-suited for the cooler temps in the alpine, it is on the heavier end of jackets in our review. It is also quite spendy. The cuffs are non-adjustable — which could be a feature or a deficit, depending on whether you prefer gauntlet-style gloves or cuffs that cinch over your gloves. Finally, we were disappointed the Gamma LT did not include a stow-away pocket for clipping to your harness while climbing. That said, these drawbacks are minor, and for someone seeking a durable, weather-resistant softshell for alpine climbing, peak-bagging, cool-weather hikes, or ski touring, the Gamma LT might just be the one for you.
Read review: Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Rab Borealis - Women's
The Rab Borealis is a savvy, well-tailored layer, making it flattering and practical for hiking, cragging, alpine climbing, or even big walls. It takes the edge off the wind, features sun protection, and stays breathable even when you're working hard. The four-way stretch of the fabric provides unrestricted mobility, and the Napoleon-styled pockets are high enough that a harness doesn't impede access to the snacks or map you store in your pocket. It stashes easily into one of the mesh-lined pockets and has a decently robust carabiner loop for clipping to your harness when you're not wearing it. This softshell was clearly designed by and for climbers, but with the low price, it suits anyone in search of a lightweight, quick-drying, well-tailored wind-layer for summer hikes, trail runs, or travel.
The Borealis may not be the most feature-rich of the models in our review, but it has some of the most features for its weight. The hood and cuffs are not adjustable, but the lycra binding around the edges gives just the right amount of snugness without being uncomfortable. While the jacket has a DWR coating, it delivers only minimal rain protection and doesn't provide much warmth at all. This didn't bother our reviewers because it is primarily a fair-weather wind-jacket. All in all, this innovative jacket is a great, low price option for anyone that needs some protection from the wind and sun while climbing, trail running, hiking, or traveling.
Read review: Rab Borealis - Women's
Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody is a jack-of-all-trades hybrid for those who want something extra from their softshell. This jacket is a perfect companion on windy days, multi-pitch rock climbs, or high on alpine walls in the summer. To be honest, there is very little this jacket can't do: it is lightweight, features great mobility, and is super cozy, even next to bare skin. The attentive folks at Arc'teryx have improved upon previous generations, and now this jacket is durable enough that our reviewers were able to climb granite chimneys without ripping the fabric. Whether you need a layer for alpine or multi-pitch climbing, insulation for ice climbing, or a breathable but decently warm layer for backcountry or cross-country skiing, mountain climbing, or hiking — this ingenious mid-layer is a great one to add to your kit.
Our review team noted very few drawbacks to this otherwise feature-rich jacket. For long rock climbing routes, it can be helpful to have a stow-away pocket with a loop to clip to your harness. Sadly, the Proton FL does not have this feature, so if you need to stash your jacket mid-route, you'll have to get a stuff sack specific for the job. Some of our reviewers thought the fit ran a bit small, while others felt it ran true to size — if you're on the fence, order up. Finally, given that the hood is meant to be worn under a helmet, it can feel a bit snug and restrictive. All that aside, if you need a cozy mid-layer with breathable insulation, the Proton is an excellent choice.
Read review: Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody - Women's
Best for Alpine Conditions
Marmot ROM 2.0 - Women's
When your adventures entail brief encounters with moisture, cool temps, and lots of aerobic activity, the Marmot ROM 2.0 is an awesome option for an alpine-ready softshell. It features great weather protection and breathability owing to the strategically-placed Gore-Tex Infinium fabric on the hood, shoulders, and chest, coupled with stretchy softshell material on the back, underarms, and waist. The name ROM refers to Range of Movement, which this jacket certainly provided, moving as well as (or better than) some of the active softshells in our review. The hood is helmet-compatible, and the mesh-lined hand pockets provide extra ventilation when you're working up a sweat.
While the ROM 2.0 includes some excellent features for climbing, we were disappointed the hand pockets are not harness compatible. It does include a helmet-compatible hood but only has one-way adjustment, so it can be difficult to snug the hood down comfortably without a helmet. Additionally, it is on the heavier end of the spectrum for our review, but this is only when compared to active softshells which provide less weather protection. Finally, we found the shoulders to be rather snug, so we would recommend sizing up if you are in-between sizes. The ROM 2.0 excels in alpine conditions where you need high levels of breathability, mobility, and weather protection - making it a great jacket for alpine climbing, backcountry ski touring, snowshoeing, or even cool and windy days climbing mountains in the summer
Read review: Marmot ROM 2.0 - Women's
Best for Ultralight Pursuits
Mountain Hardwear Kor Preshell Hoody - Women's
The Mountain Hardwear Kor Preshell is the lightest weight and most packable jacket in our review, ideal for those who need a little wind protection on an otherwise warm day. This jacket packs down smaller than your cordalette and is barely noticeable on a harness or in your pack. When you need to go fast and light but want a thin layer for a run, belaying on a multi-pitch, or to keep your core temps up while the sun moves behind a cloud, then this jacket is an awesome option for you.
What you gain by having an ultralight and packable jacket, you lose in terms of weather protection and durability. Additionally, one of our reviewers found this jacket ran a little large. She typically wears a size small but found the extra-small to be a better fit overall. That said, for fair-weather climbing, trail-running, or peak-bagging, this jacket is still a great option. If you're looking for an ultralight, breathable jacket with minimal weather protection, then this jacket is hard to beat.
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Kor Preshell Hoody - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by a team of amazing women, headed up by Mary Witlacil. Mary spends her summers alpine climbing in Colorado and California, and when she can get away, she chases sun the rest of the year in Colorado and the deserts of Utah, Arizona, and California. A true outdoor enthusiast, when she isn't rock climbing, this gal can be found swinging ice tools, climbing mountains, backpacking, or sitting on a rock gazing at the clouds.
Our team tested each of these jackets side-by-side in various climes, from blustery days climbing ice in the Rocky Mountains to surprisingly frigid desert climbing days in Indian Creek, Joshua Tree, the Black Canyon, and Red Rock. In this testing round, jackets were put to the test shimmying up granite chimneys and jamming in Indian Creek splitters. We even wore these jackets in the shower to test how they performed under pressure (water pressure, that is). After more than 100 hours of rigorously testing these jackets, we've got some expert advice to offer about the best softshell jacket to match your needs.
Analysis and Test Results
Softshell jackets are an interesting gear category because they strive to do the job of multiple layers at once — resist wind, repel water, provide warmth, and breathe well. They aim to be a comfort piece and a protection piece at the same time, all without hindering movement. Unlike potentially life-saving layers such as waterproof hardshells and insulative baselayers, a softshell is great to have but won't keep you as warm as an insulation layer (like a puffy jacket) or as dry as a hardshell if you get caught in a serious storm. That said, given their mobility, breathability, and weather protection, softshell jackets are an ideal layer for certain backcountry activities.
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, despite not offering the same level of weather protection. Ultimately, a softshell is a great layer for colder temps where you're likely to encounter wind or dry snow but not buckets of rain. They are also ideal for activities where you need some wind or weather protection but are likely to build up a sweat, so breathability is a must. This includes activities such as climbing (rock, ice, mixed, or alpine), skiing (backcountry or cross-country, although for alpine/downhill, you'll want something warmer), snowshoeing, mountaineering, trail-running, peak-bagging, or hiking.
We have tried to distill the main types of softshells into three broad categories: active, technical, and casual. Active softshells are great as wind-layers during aerobic activities. These softshells are not designed to keep you ultra warm or provide premium weather protection, but they are great layers to keep you comfortable in wind or shade in otherwise warm weather. Technical softshell jackets are ideal for technical pursuits like ice/mixed climbing, winter mountaineering, backcountry skiing, etc. These jackets provide superior weather protection but aren't as lightweight as an active softshell. By contrast, casual softshells are more ideal as winter and shoulder-season layering in urban environments.
If you can afford a specialized item like a softshell, you probably still want to make the most of your money — who doesn't? We paid attention to how well each jacket performed relative to its retail price.
The Borealis is both a great value and a top-performing jacket, a match made in outdoor gear heaven. Several other models in our review also exemplify this crucial balance. The Kor Preshell is an example of an ultralight option at an affordable price. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody is another well-priced and versatile option to consider, though it scored lower in our review.
A softshell jacket will never be as impenetrable to water and wind as a hardshell (aka a rain jacket) because hardshells are waterproof and windproof. By and large, softshells are only water and wind resistant. While there are some windproof softshells available (we have a few in this review), the designation of waterproof is mostly reserved for hardshells. In our review, we do have one jacket that nearly proves the exception to this rule, with the Rab Kinetic Plus. However, with extended time in moisture, the Kinetic Plus wets out like other softshells in our review, proving to be more water-resistant than waterproof, as the manufacturers claim.
Some of the models we tested are more water-resistant than others, but these pieces are not as dependably waterproof as rain jackets in a severe storm. Overall, softshells are ideal for mild weather when you need some protection from wind and water, but full-on storm protection isn't required. For this reason, softshells can be great jackets for alpine climbing, ice/mixed climbing, ski-touring, or even around town on a chilly evening. Many folks reach for one of these jackets for use in the shoulder season or for warm skiing in the spring or cool climbing and hiking in the fall, when you're unlikely to encounter an all-out torrential storm. When evaluating each jacket's weather protection, we took both wind and water resistance into consideration.
The Marmot ROM 2.0 performed quite well in this category, resisting wind and light moisture like a boss. This is due to the clever use of Gore-Tex Infinium fabric and taped seams on the hood, shoulders, and chest. This makes it fully windproof, and, even without a fleece lining, it will keep you quite warm in cold, windy weather.
The water-resistant Apex Bionic 2 and insulated Proton FL also perform well here. The Bionic 2 is one of the warmer softshells in our review and did well in our water-resistance test, making it a great option for a winter jacket in an urban environment. The Proton is cozy and wind-resistant while still retaining admirable breathability — an example of a well-executed hybrid.
The impressively constructed Arc'teryx Gamma MX takes top marks in this category, though. This fleece-lined jacket is an ideal option for mixed conditions and chillier days while ice climbing or mountaineering. Armed with the Gamma MX, we hiked into frigid temps and blowing snow and climbed ice for hours, staying sufficiently warm and moving without feeling stifled. The thinner Gamma LT also scores well; it's not nearly as warm but fends off light moisture and wind admirably.
Breathability is one of the top reasons people buy a softshell jacket. If your primary need is weather protection, then you want a fully waterproof hardshell. When your weekend adventure plans include getting rowdy in the backcountry, a hardshell will never do. They can leave you feeling swampy, suffocated, and stuffy. Enter the softshell. A garment that aims to strike the perfect balance between breathability and weather protection so you can move unencumbered on your outdoor adventures.
Bear in mind, you ultimately want a breathable softshell that can also resist a decent amount of weather and keep you warm when needed. This is not an easy balance to strike, and your preferred outdoor pursuits will dictate what style of softshell is ideal for you.
We tested the softshells in our review in the sun and shade, rain, snow, wind, deserts, and mountains, doing various activities designed 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 Rab Borealis is one of the top performers in this category. It provides a surprisingly excellent barrier to the wind but doesn't provide the weather protection of less breathable options. The slim fit, stretchy fabric, and lack of bulk mean that it's a fantastic option for layering over a thin fleece or under a big puffy. If you're working hard and keeping your core temperature high, it's a perfect layer for cutting the wind on brisk mornings, windy summits, or high on a wall.
The Kor Preshell is another ace in terms of breathability. This jacket is an ideal layer for taking the edge off a breeze on an otherwise warm day or for early morning summer trail runs when breathability is far more important than weather protection.
The Gamma LT is a favorite in this category, triangulating between ventilation and mild weather protection. This stretchy jacket is durable enough to climb granite off-widths and long alpine routes while providing sufficient resistance from wind and water without sacrificing any breathability.
If you're looking for a boss jacket that provides excellent weather resistance and breathability, the Marmot ROM 2.0 is a fantastic option. This jacket achieves an impressive level of breathability with mesh-lined hand pockets and highly breathable material on the back, armpits, and waist.
Another great option, if you want a warmer jacket that still delivers on the breathability front, is the Arc'teryx Proton FL. This insulated but breathable hybrid features a moisture-wicking liner to manage sweat and keep you sufficiently warm in cooler weather. It's also a great companion on alpine rock climbs, shoulder-season multi-pitches, sun-rise trail runs, and aerobic activities of any kind where temps are cool, wind is likely, and you plan to work up a sweat.
Mobility is one of the most important elements of a softshell jacket. Softshell jackets are designed for backcountry adventures like climbing, skiing, and trail running — all activities that demand un-hindered movement. There are definitely plenty of jackets geared toward more casual urban outings, but regardless of your chosen activity, a restrictive jacket will not allow you to move freely enough to enjoy yourself. We looked for softshells that layered and fit well, were comfortable, and those that had stretchy fabric or other features to enable movement. 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 mobility. Our favorites are the Kor Preshell, Gamma LT, Borealis, and the Proton FL. Each of these stretch easily and feel more like a shirt than a jacket.
The Borealis was one of our favorites in terms of mobility. The four-way stretchy fabric and well-tailored design enable unencumbered mobility while climbing, which is just what you need when you crave a little wind protection while high up on a wall. Notable runners-up are the ROM 2.0 and Kinetic Plus.
Jackets in this review ranged from 4 ounces at the lightest to 20.2 ounces at the heaviest. No matter what your needs are, our review has some fantastic options.
The Kor Preshell is unbeatably lightweight. This featherweight jacket weighs a mere 4 ounces (size extra small). It can be easily and unnoticeably stowed on your harness, in your pack, or in your pocket. This jacket isn't very warm or weather-resistant, but it effectively cuts the wind high up on a ridge or rock face or when the sun hides behind a cloud on a warm day.
The three next lightest-weight softshell jackets, the Borealis, Proton FL, and Kinetic Plus, all weigh around 9-9.5 ounces (these were tested in size small). The Borealis is a perfect option for alpine rock climbing, peak-bagging, and backpacking, where weight and packability are major considerations. The Proton and the Kinetic offer more weather protection, with the Proton being insulated and formidably water-resistant, while the Kinetic is the most water-resistant jacket in our review for the same weight.
If warmth and weather protection are major concerns, the ROM 2.0 is a great option for the weight. It is on the heavier end of the spectrum at 14 ounces for a small, but it weighs less than a liter of water, and it handles weather like a boss. Saving a few grams is essential if you're going fast and light, but if you're heading deep into alpine environs, sacrificing a few grams for superior weather protection is a tradeoff we're willing to accept.
The jackets that weigh in the 20-ounce range are the less technical offerings in our review. They work well for casual, around-town use where you're not working up a sweat but aren't ideal for wrangling into your pack when you're headed into the backcountry for more technical pursuits. That said, the stretchy Black Diamond Dawn Patrol is great for some applications — like downhill skiing and casual snowshoeing on a packed trail. It moves well enough that you may forget you have it on and be unconcerned about the weight.
We assessed the versatility of our test suite by considering features, durability, style, and ease of use between various activities and climates. Many of the shells in this review come with excellent features that we thoroughly enjoyed and put to regular use. The jackets that ranked the highest in this category were ideal for myriad activity types and could handle well in diverse weather. They proved durable and could withstand the abrasion of granite walls, sandstone cracks, being tossed around in the back of a truck, and wouldn't disintegrate at the mention of crampons and ice tools. We also took style into consideration. While style is subjective, it is important — no one wants to pay top dollar for an ill-fitting or unattractive article of clothing. Some of our favorite pieces in this review could move seamlessly from the trail or crag to dinner with friends (as long as you don't mind rocking brightly colored gear at the pub), a clear bonus in our book.
There are several excellent contenders in this category. The top three most versatile jackets are the Proton FL, Gamma LT, and ROM 2.0. While the Proton is not made to be an ideal layer for activities like ice climbing, it is one of the most versatile of the bunch because it can be worn as an outer layer on warmer days or as an insulating layer on colder ones. Our reviewer tested this jacket all over the mountains and the desert, taking it up long alpine rock routes, desert towers, and sandstone fist cracks. When it was paired with another softshell, it proved ideal for ice/mixed climbing and for approaches to ice climbs on warmer days.
The Gamma LT and ROM 2.0 are both champions in terms of versatility. Both jackets are well-tailored, feature-rich, and highly mobile softshells for alpine activities. The Gamma LT is a fantastic option for taking the edge off the wind on long multi-pitch climbs in cooler weather. It is also a great active softshell for backcountry ski touring or alpine rock climbing. The durable fabric is built to last, and the jacket has a helmet-compatible hood, harness-compatible pockets, and is stylish enough to wear to dinner after a day of climbing. The ROM 2.0 impressed our review team for providing excellent weather protection in cold temps while offering great mobility and breathability — features that make it ideal for backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and alpine endeavors of all persuasions. It has a helmet-compatible hood, adjustable cuffs, and enough pockets for snacks, electronics, and anything else you might need to access mid-adventure.
Another fave in this category is the Kinetic Plus. It is a worthy, non-crinkly (i.e., loud) companion for use in light rain, or as the ideal travel jacket for warm but wet climates. Rab claims this jacket is waterproof, though it wetted out in monsoon storms and isn't waterproof enough to trust it in an all-out rainstorm. That said, it is soft, stylish, well-constructed, and very water-resistant. The Black Diamond First Light Hybrid is also notable here. One of our previous testers has been wearing it for several years for everything from chilly hiking to resort skiing. The stretchy fabric is highly comfortable, and the tailoring is athletic but attractive. It has replaced the use of a thin puffy for her and is surprisingly durable.
Truth be told, even though softshells claim to do everything, there are specialized niches for each style of jacket. Some are ideal as wind layers while summer or alpine climbing, trail running, or hiking; others are best for ice and mixed climbing, winter mountaineering, snowshoeing, and backcountry and/or cross-country skiing. It is crucial to consider the primary activities for which you will use your new softshell and whether you need an active, technical, or casual jacket.
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.
— Mary Witlacil and Penney Garrett