The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Softshell Jacket for Women

By Penney Garrett ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Wednesday May 22, 2019
The clean lines and slim fit of the Borealis made for an attractive layer that we really enjoyed wearing.
The clean lines and slim fit of the Borealis made for an attractive layer that we really enjoyed wearing.

With the incredible diversity present in modern softshells, testing them has almost become a four-season undertaking. To bring you the most thorough information possible, we used and abused these jackets from sunny desert crags in early spring to blowing snow on glacier hikes in early winter. From summertime in the alpine of the Rocky Mountains to fall on the gusty Mediterranean Sea, each jacket traveled through a ton of terrain, weather patterns, and around-town errands. Our goal was to figure out precisely what each of them could handle weather-wise and how well they breathed and moved while doing it.

We got into some seriously cold weather with our softshells!
We got into some seriously cold weather with our softshells!

Weather Resistance


We brought each shell out for windy coastal hikes, snowy and frigid alpine outings, sunny crag days, cold multi-pitch climbs, and below-freezing urban bike rides. We tried to be as varied as possible both with setting and temperature to push each jacket's limit.

As a part of weather resistance testing, we even wore each shell into the shower to observe its ability to repel water in an equal and controlled environment. While softshells aren't meant to handle heavy moisture, this test was highly revealing and gave us a better understanding of weak points in both fabric and design with each model.

The slightly less glamorous side of product testing - getting in the shower with your jacket on. Repeatedly!
The slightly less glamorous side of product testing - getting in the shower with your jacket on. Repeatedly!

Breathability and Mobility


To assess both of these metrics we hiked and biked and climbed as much as possible. The goal was to move and sweat in as many different ways and as many different temperatures as we could. But even when we were just running to get groceries at the store, we were always paying attention to small details. Did the hem or sleeves ride up? Was the neck or hood constricting? Could the jacket accommodate all our movements? The temperature outside? Our body heat on the inside? From the sidewalk to the mountains, we included these softshells in every aspect of our life during the entire testing period.

It might look sunny  but this was a chilly and blustery day out at the crag!
It might look sunny, but this was a chilly and blustery day out at the crag!

Weight and Versatility


We assessed and rated the weight of each model both with a scale and by paying attention to how they all moved and fit our anatomy. Some were heavier on the scale but didn't feel cumbersome on our body. Some were nice and light but provided zero to no protection from the elements.

Our versatility metric involved leveraging each jackets features, style, and durability. Before beginning testing in earnest, we always spend time researching each candidate. We want to know about all the features and what the individual manufacturers claim they are good for. Is this true in real life? Are the features helpful or do they feel like more of a hindrance? Are they worth the extra money or material or weight? Each review goes into all these nuances in detail.

Checking out the adjustability on another hood - we want to make sure that each feature is well-executed and easy to use before deciding on a score.
Checking out the adjustability on another hood - we want to make sure that each feature is well-executed and easy to use before deciding on a score.

We assessed durability and abrasion resistance by slinging sharp ice tools over our shoulders and scraping up rock routes. Every jacket got stuffed into multiple packs, worn under a harness, and jammed into the back of a car on long road trips. We adjusted and readjusted all of the hoods and tried them over and under helmets. We also used every cuff with gloves. We learned the ins and outs of all the offered features by trying them out, both as intended and sometimes in our own less traditional ways.

No activity or chore was off limits for our competitors - the dirtier  messier  and sweatier we got the better we understood each jacket.
No activity or chore was off limits for our competitors - the dirtier, messier, and sweatier we got the better we understood each jacket.

Style is a very personal thing, but something we still wanted to account for in our testing process. We took note of how well or poorly each model was cut and tailored not just for the sake of wearability, but also how good it made us feel. Whether you're on the slopes or at the bar, most of us like to know we look good, especially after shelling out our hard-earned cash.

Yes  we even got some testing in on the Great Wall!
Yes, we even got some testing in on the Great Wall!