Looking for the best women's softshell jacket? We have tested over 45 jackets over 9 years and in 2020 we purchased the 11 top products to extensively compare for this review. As the technology for jackets improves over time, and as designs vary year after year, our review seeks to encompass a highly diverse set of products to ensure options for anyone. From icy alpine glaciers, windy coastlines, rough rock, and strenuous hiking across multiple continents, our experts critiqued every aspect they could think of. Even if you don't need a do-it-all softshell and are looking for that perfect bargain, we've got your back.
The Best Softshell Jackets for Women
Arc'teryx Sigma SL Anorak Pullover - Women's
The Arc'teryx Sigma SL Anorak is a sweet pullover that we love, especially for warmer weather adventures. The "SL" stands for "super light," 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 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 for a Hybrid
Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody - Women's
The Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody is a fantastic choice for those that want a little something extra from their softshell. As this category expands, more hybrid models are appearing and attempting to be the perfect do-it-all jacket. This one comes close with lightweight, breathable insulation, great mobility, and helpful features. It's highly packable, optimized for climbing, and feels good even next to bare skin. If you know you will be working up a sweat but also need to be able to stay warm, this savvy mid-layer is a great one to consider adding to the ol' gear closet.
Be aware that part of what allows the Proton FL to be both insulated and breathable is a more fragile outer fabric than some of the other burlier models in this review. The athletic fit also runs small: our lead tester is a true medium but had to size up to a large for this model due to tightness across the hips and the arms being short.
Read review: Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody - Women's
Best 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
Best 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 also tend to be thick and heavy due to their inner liner, meaning 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 Mammut 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.
Even though you can fully open up the sides of the Ultimate for breathability, the chest and arms 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 activity, we can see this being a perfect 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 up 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 genuinely 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 such as 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 also 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 paid attention to how well each jacket performed relative to its retail price. Our Best Buy winner, the Borealis, is a great example of a good value purchase — solid performance together with a low price point. A match made in outdoor gear heaven. Several other models in our review also exemplify this crucial balance.
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. These are often good pieces for shoulder seasons for this reason. When evaluating each jacket's weather protection, we took into consideration both wind and water resistance.
The Mammut Ultimate V SO is fully windproof and will keep you quite warm in cold, windy weather. This model also repels 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 for thicker designs 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 two-way zippers that extend from above the armpits all the way down to the hems. Hello, ventilation!
Other favorites for this category include the impressive Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody and the waterproof Kinetic Plus. The Gamma scored the highest in this category and is ideal for mixed conditions and chillier days. We hiked into frigid temps and blowing snow and felt well-protected without being stifled. And the supple fabric of the Kinetic Plus kept us dry while on the move — though it isn't as warm or breathable as the Gamma MX.
Breathability is the top reason people buy a softshell jacket. 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 for your preferred activity is key.
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.
Our Best Buy winner, the Rab Borealis is 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 you're working hard and keeping your core temperature high, it's a perfect non-stifling option — during more mild shoulder-season weather, of course.
Another favorite is the Editors' Choice-winning Sigma SL Anorak, which provides a great balance between ventilation and mild weather protection. It's durable and protective without sacrificing any breathability. It also 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 airflow. 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 Outdoor Research Ferrosi is yet another fantastic option if you want a thin material and roomier fit. 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.
Wishing for something a bit cozier that can still breathe decently? The Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody is an insulated hybrid that balances air flow and body temperature like a champ. While wind and water resistance isn't quite as robust as other models in our review, this lightweight and easily layered piece will keep you both warm and ventilated and is a good consideration for summer alpine excursions.
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, though there are plenty of designs geared toward more casual urban outings as well. Regardless, a restrictive jacket will not allow you to move freely enough to enjoy yourself, whatever you may be doing. 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 Proton. 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 Outdoor Research Ferrosi is roomy and lightweight with good stretch, making it very easy to move in. One of the hand pockets also doubles as a stuff sack, a highly useful feature that helps with mobility even when the jacket is not in use. The Kuhl Travrse Pullover is another thin shell that's easy to move around in (though it does run a bit narrower than the Ferrosi). All of these models have excellent mobility, mainly because they are thin and low-profile. But what if you want easy movement alongside something with a bit more warmth? Look to one of our Arc'teryx models: the insulated Proton FL is insanely comfortable (though we did have to size up for the best fit), and the Gamma MX has articulated elbows and gusseted underarms to help offset its bulk.
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.
The Editors' Choice Sigma has high scores in this category also. It offers strategic tailoring, including gusseted underarms, so, despite the slim and streamlined cut, mobility and comfort are not sacrificed. Inserts in the hemline keep it in place under a harness, and the excellent stretch allows movement of all kinds to be comfortable and non-restrictive, whether you're suited up with a helmet high on a rock face or just out for a casual hike.
Our jackets span from 8.2 ounces at the lightest to 29.4 ounces at the heaviest (all weights are for a size medium except for the Arc'teryx Proton FL, which we sized up to a large). No matter what your needs are, our review has some fantastic options.
The Borealis weighs a mere 8.3 ounces — a perfect option 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 offer more in the way of weather protection, undoubtedly a fair tradeoff for just a tiny bit more weight. Also of note is the Proton FL — while a bit heavier at 10.7 ounces, that's for a larger size and the jacket is insulated, so you can keep warmer without adding on a ton of extra weight.
The jackets that weigh in at over 20 ounces 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 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. The 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 fits 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 makes 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 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 or drippy days during shoulder seasons. 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, and the Proton FL is insulated while remaining breathable. Finally, the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol, the stretchiest piece in our review, is highly comfortable and 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