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The Best Softshell Jackets for Women

Pick the Ultimate V and you're sure to be psyched  even ice climbing on cold days in the alpine.
Thursday May 7, 2020
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Looking for the best women's softshell? We're here to help! We've tested over 40 unique jackets in the last 8 years with the best 14 in our current 2020 review. Each year, the technology continues to get more innovative, and the designs more varied, so our review features a diverse array of jackets, sure to offer an excellent option for your favorite outdoor pursuits. Sandstone splitters, steep ice and mixed crags, windy coastlines, alpine wonderlands, granite domes, and technical trails made up just a portion of our testing playground. Across the desert southwest and the Rocky Mountains, our testers climbed, scratched, scrambled, hiked, ran, and cycled, to put every aspect and feature of these softshells to the test. Whether you're looking for a magical jack-of-all-trades softshell, something more specialized, or you're just hunting for a bargain, we've got you covered.


Top 14 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14
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Best Overall


Arc'teryx Sigma SL Anorak Pullover - Women's


Editors' Choice Award

$189.00
at Backcountry
See It

82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection - 30% 8
  • Breathability - 30% 8
  • Mobility - 25% 9
  • Weight - 10% 8
  • Versatility - 5% 7
Weight: 9.5 oz (size small) | Number of pockets: 1 chest
Highly breathable and quick to dry
Stowable hood
Durable
"Hemlock" inserts prevent jacket from creeping up while climbing
Not super warm
No stow-away pocket for clipping to your harness
Cuffs stretch out with heavy use

The Arc'teryx Sigma SL Anorak is a fantastic softshell pullover designed for summer and alpine rock climbing. 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 wear as a skin-saver in Vedauwoo off-widths. With great features like four-way stretch fabric, a stowable helmet-compatible hood, and special Hemlock inserts to save you from the embarrassment of climber's crack, it's no surprise the Sigma took our highest award, yet again.

As with anything in life, there are a couple of trade-offs with this top-ranked jacket. What you gain in breathability, you lose in warmth. However, in cooler weather or higher altitudes, the Sigma Anorak layers well with a thin fleece, like the Patagonia R1, for an unstoppable alpine climbing duo. What you gain by having a super-light jacket, you lose in features like a stow-away pocket for stashing the jacket on your harness when you're not wearing it. Additionally, the sleeves have a stretchy nylon fabric in the cuff that became a little baggy with use. That said, the downsides are minimal with this jacket. If you need a durable, wind-proof climbing jacket that moves and breathes effortlessly, this is a clear winner.

Read review: Arc'teryx Sigma SL Anorak Pullover - Women's

Best Bang for the Buck


Rab Borealis - Women's


Best Buy Award

$77.00
(33% off)
at Amazon
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection - 30% 5
  • Breathability - 30% 10
  • Mobility - 25% 9
  • Weight - 10% 8
  • Versatility - 5% 4
Weight: 9 oz (size small) | Number of pockets: 2 hand
Great price
Stellar mobility and breathability
Stow-away pocket for clipping to your harness
Harness-friendly Napolean pocket layout
Excellent fit and UPF-50 fabric
Not very warm
Below average water resistance
Minimal features

The Rab Borealis is the lightest-weight softshell made by the UK-based company. It is a savvy and well-tailored layer, making it flattering and practical for cragging, peak-bagging, alpine climbing, or big walls. It effectively takes the edge off the wind, features UPF-50 protection from the sun, and is ultra-breathable. The four-way stretch of Rab's proprietary Matrix fabric provides unrestricted mobility. The Napoleon-styled pockets are high enough that a harness doesn't impede access in the slightest. 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 Borealis has a DWR-coating, it delivers only minimal rain protection and it doesn't provide much warmth at all. This didn't bother our reviewers, because this 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

Best for a Hybrid


Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody - Women's


Top Pick Award

$168.35
(35% off)
at Backcountry
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection - 30% 8
  • Breathability - 30% 7
  • Mobility - 25% 9
  • Weight - 10% 8
  • Versatility - 5% 9
Weight: 9.5 oz (size small) | Number of pockets: 4 (2 hand, 2 chest)
Insulated but highly breathable
Mesh-lined for moisture-wicking
Comfortable and great mobility
Highly wind and rain resistant
Increased durability over previous iterations
No stow-away pocket
Some reviewers feel it runs small
Hood somewhat small

The Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody is a fantastic jack-of-all-trades hybrid for those who want something extra from their softshell. This jacket is a perfect companion on windy days, long 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 also improved upon previous generations, and now this jacket is durable enough that our reviewers were able to skuz through 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.

The drawbacks with the Proton FL are minimal and fairly inconsequential. 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 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 felt that 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 might be just the ticket for you.

Read review: Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody - Women's

Best for Alpine Conditions


Mammut Ultimate V - Women's


Top Pick Award

$166.73
(40% off)
at REI
See It

79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection - 30% 9
  • Breathability - 30% 7
  • Mobility - 25% 8
  • Weight - 10% 6
  • Versatility - 5% 9
Weight: 13.1 oz (size small) | Number of pockets: 2 hand
Two-way ventilation zips
Great mobility
Well-tailored
Fantastic weather protection
Unobtrusive thumb-loop
Fabric is less breathable than other models
No stow-away pocket
Expensive

The Mammut Ultimate V is another contender for a great all arounder. With Gore-Tex Windstopper fabric and a fleece lining, this jacket is wind-proof, exceptionally water-resistant, and warm. Windproof softshells tend to be thick, heavy, and unbreathable due to their inner liner, meaning mobility and ventilation are sacrificed. By contrast, the Ultimate V is supple and stretchy, allowing you full mobility. Then, to achieve breathability, this layer features a 2-way side-zip that goes from armpit to hem. The result is a lined and warm but lightweight and pliant jacket with excellent mobility. All these innovative features point to a shell that handles like a boss in winter alpine conditions, mountaineering, or high on a multi-pitch on sunny (but not exactly warm) January days.

While you can fully open up the sides of the Ultimate V for ventilation, the chest and arms can get a bit stuffy if you're really sweating. Thus, it is not ideal for highly aerobic activities, unless it is pretty dang cold. This jacket also comes at a premium, being on the spendier end of the spectrum. That said, for unbeatable weather protection coupled with a shocking degree of ventilation and mobility, this jacket is a great value for winter alpine enthusiasts and cold-blooded climbers looking to extend their climbing season.

Read review: Mammut Ultimate V - Women's

Best for Ultralight Pursuits


Mountain Hardwear Kor Preshell Hoody - Women's


Top Pick Award

$58.48
(55% off)
at Backcountry
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection - 30% 3
  • Breathability - 30% 10
  • Mobility - 25% 9
  • Weight - 10% 10
  • Versatility - 5% 5
Weight: 4 oz (size extra small) | Number of pockets: 3 (2 hand, 1 interior drop-in)
Ultralight and ultra-comfortable
Stow-away pocket for clipping to your harness
Ideal for summer & fair weather activities
Sizing runs a bit large
Not very weather resistant
Not durable

The Mountain Hardwear Kor Preshell is an absurdly lightweight and packable jacket for those who need just a little protection from the wind 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 layer while you're belaying on a multi-pitch or to keep your core temps up while the sun moves behind a cloud, the Kor Preshell 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. That said, for fair-weather climbing, trail-running, or peak-bagging, this jacket is still a great option. Be fair-warned, one of our reviewers found this jacket ran a little on the large size. She typically wears a size small but found the extra-small to be a better fit overall. 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

Best for Summer Monsoons


Rab Kinetic Plus Hoody - Women's


Top Pick Award

$172.46
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection - 30% 9
  • Breathability - 30% 5
  • Mobility - 25% 8
  • Weight - 10% 8
  • Versatility - 5% 8
Weight: 9.5 oz (size small) | Number of pockets: 2 hand
Waterproof
Lightweight
Soft, flexible fabric
Highly packable
Great fit: excellent cuff and hood design
Less breathable due to being waterproof
Hood uncomfortable with a helmet
Doesn't dry fast after getting wet
Spendy

Typically softshells sacrifice waterproofing for breathability. This is less of an issue when you're getting after it in the winter, but in the alpine in the summer, you often need protection from thunderstorms. Enter the Rab Kinetic Plus. This jacket combines the stretchy mobility of a softshell with the water-proofing of a hardshell without sacrificing too much breathability. While the Kinetic does not breathe as well as other less weather-proof softshells in our review, it breathes far better than nearly all laminate rain jackets and immensely better than other waterproof softshells we have previously tested. As if you can walk and chew gum, the material on this jacket is both breathable and impermeable to water — although, 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, lightweight, packability, and of course, its ability to keep us dry.

While there are innumerable perks to the Kinetic, it is not without a few drawbacks. Surprisingly, despite keeping water out, it doesn't dry super fast after it has been truly soaked. Additionally, while the Kinetic is fairly breathable, it does not have ventilation beyond opening the hand pockets, so you're still likely to get swampy if you're moving fast and working up a sweat. The fit is generally fantastic, but the hood is a little too snug to be helmet-compatible. Drawbacks aside, if you are in the market for a lightweight, ultra-packable, waterproof softshell to stay dry while in the alpine during summer monsoon season, (or anywhere rainy and cool), look no further than the Kinetic.

Read review: Rab Kinetic Plus Hoody - Women's

Notable Performance for a Casual Softshell


The North Face Apex Bionic 2 - Women's



$148.95
at Amazon
See It

46
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection - 30% 7
  • Breathability - 30% 4
  • Mobility - 25% 4
  • Weight - 10% 2
  • Versatility - 5% 1
Weight: 20 oz (size small) | Number of pockets: 3 (2 hand and 1 chest)
Affordable
Durable
Soft fleece on chin-guard and sleeve cuffs
Windproof
Very water-resistant
Stiff fabric and boxy-fit
Heavy and no hood
Chin-guard can feel restrictive on neck
Not very feature-rich
Not breathable

While this jacket did not earn any awards, The North Face Apex Bionic 2 is a noteworthy jacket for being a great casual softshell. This jacket is a crowd-pleaser for a reason, it features very soft fleece around the wrists and chin, and the face fabric is durable, windproof, and very water-resistant. These features translate into exceptional warmth. This is an attractive non-technical jacket perfect for casual outings, kicking around town, or for keeping toasty while car-camping.

The superior warmth and weather protection offered by the Apex Bionic have some unfortunate trade-offs. This jacket is made with a stiff windproof fabric that does not facilitate mobility while engaging in technical activities (like climbing, mountaineering, or skiing). Additionally, given the windproof face-fabric and lack of ventilation, this jacket feels stifling and is not very breathable during aerobic activities. However, if you are not planning to use your softshell for technical outings, then these things may not really matter. Indeed, if you are looking for an affordable but warm and durable jacket to wear to work, around campus, or around the campfire, then this is a worth choice.

Read review: The North Face Apex Bionic 2 - Women's

The Proton is a great way to stay warm on sunny winter days while multi-pitch climbing in Eldo  or wherever you may roam.
The Proton is a great way to stay warm on sunny winter days while multi-pitch climbing in Eldo, or wherever you may roam.


Why You Should Trust Us


This review is brought to you by a team of badass women, headed up by Mary Witlacil. Mary spends her summers alpine climbing in Colorado and when she can get away, she chases sun in the deserts of Utah, Arizona, and California during the rest of the year. A true outdoor enthusiast, when she isn't climbing rock, 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 Rockies to surprisingly frigid desert climbing days in Indian Creek, Joshua Tree, and Red Rocks. 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 seriously expert advice to lend on which is the best softshell jacket on the market and for your needs.

Related: How We Tested Softshell Jacket for Women

Soaking up the sun's rays on the summit of Spearhead in RMNP.
Getting ready to rappel off the summit of Castleton with the Rectory in the background.
Topping out another Eldo classic in an older iteration of the Arc'teryx Sigma.

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 warm or dry enough if you get caught in a serious storm.

The ROM is a great technical softshell  featuring impressive breathability  for everything from ice and alpine rock climbing  to winter mountaineering.
The ROM is a great technical softshell, featuring impressive breathability, for everything from ice and alpine rock climbing, to winter mountaineering.

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. Ultimately, a softshell is an ideal layer for colder temps where you're likely to encounter wind or snow, but not buckets of rain. They are also ideal for activities where you need some extra 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, for alpine/down-hill 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, which include models as diverse as the Sigma SL Anorak and the Kor Preshell. 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, like the Ultimate V, the Marmot ROM, and the Arc'teryx Gamma MX 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. Jackets like the Apex Bionic 2 fit this bill quite well.

Related: Buying Advice for Softshell Jacket for Women

Value


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 their retail price.

The Borealis is Rab's lightest weight softshell  while climbing desert splitters  it moves like a second-skin  and it's inexpensive to boot!
The Borealis is Rab's lightest weight softshell, while climbing desert splitters, it moves like a second-skin, and it's inexpensive to boot!

Our Best Buy winner, the Borealis, successfully triangulates between 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 such as the Kor Preshell and the Sigma SL. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody is another well-priced and versatile option to consider, though it scored lower in our review.


Weather Protection


A softshell jacket will never be as weather protective as a hardshell. 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. Though, again, we have one exception to that as well with the Rab Kinetic Plus, which is why this jacket nabbed an award for being our Top Pick for Summer Monsoons.


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 Kinetic Plus kept our lead reviewer nice and dry  even in the shower!
The Kinetic Plus kept our lead reviewer nice and dry, even in the shower!

The Mammut Ultimate V, our Top Pick for Alpine Conditions, is fully windproof and will keep you quite warm in cold, windy weather. This jacket also repels water like a boss, though it does not have taped seams and is not designed to withstand a deluge. While the Ultimate V kept us warm in frigid alpine winds and blowing snow (at least while moving) and high up on multi-pitches in the middle of winter, the tradeoff for thicker designs is almost always a noticeable lack of breathability and mobility. That being said, the Ultimate V breaks the mold by being incredibly pliant for easy movement, and it features two-way zippers that extend from above the armpits all the way down to the hems. Hello, ventilation!

The Ultimate V is a worthy companion on cold and windy ice climbing days.
The Ultimate V is a worthy companion on cold and windy ice climbing days.

Other favorites for this category include the nearly waterproof Marmot ROM, shockingly water-resistant Apex Bionic 2, and the impressively constructed Arc'teryx Gamma MX. The ROM performed well in this category for being incredibly water-resistant with taped seams and Gore-Tex Infinium fabric. As long as they were moving, this jacket kept our reviewers warm in sub-freezing temps. Another top performer in this category is the Bionic 2, one of the warmer softshells in our review. It performed incredibly well in our water-resistance test, making it a great option for a winter jacket in an urban environment. Finally, the Gamma MX scored quite high in this category and 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, moving without feeling stifled.

The Gamma MX is an awesome layer for cold and blustery winter days.
The Gamma MX is an awesome layer for cold and blustery winter days.

Breathability


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 feel unencumbered on your outdoor adventures.

Breathability versus Protection — 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 sun and shade; rain, snow, and wind; desert and mountains, doing an array of 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.

Our Best Buy winner, the Rab Borealis is a highly breathable option. It provides an adequate 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 Borealis is breathable enough that you won't turn into a swampy mess  even after climbing a fist crack in the sun!
The Borealis is breathable enough that you won't turn into a swampy mess, even after climbing a fist crack in the sun!

The Editors' Choice-winning Sigma SL Anorak is a favorite in this category, triangulating between ventilation and mild weather protection. This jacket is durable enough to climb granite off-widths and long alpine routes, and sufficiently wind and water-resistant without sacrificing any breathability. While it is only minimally water-resistant, it dries lightning fast if you get caught in a light rainstorm or if you 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 Sigma is highly breathable and wind-resistant  even while climbing on warm but breezy days in Eldorado Canyon.
The Sigma is highly breathable and wind-resistant, even while climbing on warm but breezy days in Eldorado Canyon.

The Kor Preshell is another highly breathable option. 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 Kor Preshell is a perfect layer for spring runs.
The Kor Preshell is a perfect layer for spring runs.

Another great option, if you want a warmer jacket that still delivers on the breathability front, is the Arc'teryx Proton FL. This little number is an insulated hybrid that is wicked breathable, has a moisture-wicking liner to manage sweat, and keeps 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 likely, and you plan to work up a sweat.

The Proton is an ideal layer for an early spring backpacking trip in Utah. It's great for staying warm during breaks but is ultra-breathable if you need extra warmth while hiking
The Proton is an ideal layer for an early spring backpacking trip in Utah. It's great for staying warm during breaks but is ultra-breathable if you need extra warmth while hiking,

If you're checking out a softshell at your local gear shop, and you're not sure how breathable it will be, look for mesh-lined pockets. You can unzip these during strenuous activity to help dump heat. On the flip side, if a jacket says that it's fully windproof (as opposed to just wind resistant), it's a safe bet that it won't be super breathable.

Mobility


Mobility is one of the most important elements of a softshell jacket. Softshell jackets are designed for backcountry adventures like climbing, backcountry 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 minimal Kor Preshell, Sigma SL, Borealis, and the Proton FL. Each of these stretch easily and feel more like a shirt than a jacket. Beyond these ultralight layers, the Ultimate V scores high in this category as well. This incredible jacket does it all, and with style, no less: it is warm and windproof, breathable with the full-length side-zips, and yet stretchy enough to handle like a boss while climbing, hiking, mountaineering, or skiing.

As a technical softshell  the Ultimate V shocked us all with being so comfortable that you could even use it to stay warm while bouldering.
As a technical softshell, the Ultimate V shocked us all with being so comfortable that you could even use it to stay warm while bouldering.

The Editors' Choice Sigma SL has high scores in this category as well. It offers strategic tailoring, including gusseted underarms and Hemlock inserts to keep the jacket in place below your harness. In spite of the slim and streamlined cut, these features guarantee that mobility and comfort are not sacrificed. Beyond this, the jackets' excellent stretch enables unrestrictive movement, whether climbing through a crux high on an alpine wall or an early morning hike on your favorite trail.

With four-way stretch and the Hemlock inserts in the hemline  the Sigma topped the charts in multiple metrics. Proving to be an all-around fantastic jacket for climbing.
With four-way stretch and the Hemlock inserts in the hemline, the Sigma topped the charts in multiple metrics. Proving to be an all-around fantastic jacket for climbing.

Weight


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, taking home our Top Pick Award for Ultralight Pursuits. It can be easily and unnoticeably stowed on your harness, in your pack, or in your jersey 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 Kor Preshell is ridiculously lightweight and packs down so small  you won't even notice it on your harness.
The Kor Preshell is ridiculously lightweight and packs down so small, you won't even notice it on your harness.

The four next lightest-weight softshell jackets, the Borealis, Sigma SL, Proton FL, and Kinetic Plus all weigh around 9-9.5 ounces. The Borealis and Sigma are perfect options 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 completely waterproof for the same weight.

If warmth and weather protection are major concerns, the Ultimate V or the ROM are great options for the weight. The Ultimate V is fully windproof, warm, and surprisingly water-resistant (for not having any taped seams), and it only weighs 12.5 ounces. While the ROM is on the heavier end of the spectrum at 15 ounces, 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 trade-off we're willing to accept.

When you're miles deep in the backcountry  you don't want a heavy softshell weighing down your pack.
When you're miles deep in the backcountry, you don't want a heavy softshell weighing down your pack.

The jackets that weigh 20 ounces or more 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.

While the Apex Bionic is not ideal for technical outings  it is durable and warm  making it a great jacket for car-camping.
While the Apex Bionic is not ideal for technical outings, it is durable and warm, making it a great jacket for car-camping.

Versatility


We assessed the versatility of our test suite by considering features, durability, style, and the 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 a number of badass contenders in this category. The top two most versatile jackets are the Proton and the Ultimate V. 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 granite chimneys and sandstone fist cracks. Then when it was paired with another softshell, it proved ideal for granite mixed climbing and swinging ice tools on ice in Ouray, CO, or for approaches on warmer days.

Is there anything the Proton can't do? This versatile jacket is even toasty enough to be used as an outer layer for warm approaches and descents to ice climbs.
Is there anything the Proton can't do? This versatile jacket is even toasty enough to be used as an outer layer for warm approaches and descents to ice climbs.

The Ultimate V is a beast with regard to versatility. It takes the bite off the wind during blustery days climbing granite multi-pitch in the winter and is an awesome wind layer or shell when ice climbing. This jacket is on the lighter end of the spectrum for our technical softshells, which makes it more ideal for stowing in the pack while skinning on sunny days. The Ultimate V may not be an ideal jacket for warm weather climbing or hiking days, but if you wish to extend your climbing season or if you love to ice climb or backcountry ski, this little gem may be the perfect option for you.

What's not to love about the Ultimate V?! It handles weather like a boss  it is breathable  it offers great mobility  and it's styish and form-fitting to boot!
What's not to love about the Ultimate V?! It handles weather like a boss, it is breathable, it offers great mobility, and it's styish and form-fitting to boot!

Other faves in this category are the ROM and the Kinetic Plus. Being a technical softshell, the ROM is a bit too heavy and restrictive for warm breezy days at the crag. Instead, it excels as a mid-layer for ice climbing, spring alpine missions, and backcountry ski-touring — especially in inclement weather. Alternatively, the Kinetic Plus proves a worthy, non-crinkly (i.e. loud) companion for use in alpine rainstorms, or as the ideal travel jacket for warm but wet climates. It is soft, stylish, well-constructed, and the only fully water-proof model in our review.

The Kinetic Plus is stylish  waterproof  and comfortable - amazing for swing season activities where rain might join you.
The Kinetic Plus is stylish, waterproof, and comfortable - amazing for swing season activities where rain might join you.

Also worth mentioning is our Editors' Choice, the thin Sigma SL 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, as well as a great wind-layer during the summer. It is exceptionally durable, able to withstand months of abuse in granite cracks. This jacket looks great, fits well, and is perfect for hiking, evening trail runs, alpine rock climbing, summer multi-pitching, spring cragging, or whatever else you can dream up.

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.

Our lead reviewer rocking an older generation of the Sigma on the summit of Longs Peak.
Our lead reviewer rocking an older generation of the Sigma on the summit of Longs Peak.

Conclusion


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.

Related: Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems

Softshell jackets are great for boosting warmth on cold days while ice climbing. Thanks for hanging on for the duration of our review!
Softshell jackets are great for boosting warmth on cold days while ice climbing. Thanks for hanging on for the duration of our review!


Mary Witlacil and Penney Garrett