Reviews You Can Rely On

The 4 Best Softshell Jackets for Women of 2024

We played in all manner of terrain and weather in women's softshell jackets from Arc'teryx, Rab, Black Diamond, The North Face, and more
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Best Softshell Jacket Women Review (Whether you need an active, technical, or casual softshell, hopefully our review has helped steer you in the right...)
Whether you need an active, technical, or casual softshell, hopefully our review has helped steer you in the right direction - so you can adventure in style.
Credit: Mary Witlacil
By Mary Witlacil ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday April 24, 2024

Looking for the best women's softshell? We're here to help. We've tested 45 unique jackets in the last decade, with the best 8 in our current review. Each year, the technology continues to get more innovative and the designs more varied, so our review features a diverse array of jackets, including active, technical, and casual softshells, as well as a few hybrids, to offer a multitude of options 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, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierras, our testers climbed, scratched, scrambled, hiked, ran, and cycled, to put every aspect and feature of these softshells to the test.

With almost as many jackets to choose from as there are stars in the sky, it can seem overwhelming to find the right one for you. We have worn, torn, used, and abused hundreds of jackets to help you find the best layers for whatever adventures you're planning to do. Check out our other reviews for a deep dive into the best women's rain jackets, women's hardshells, windbreakers, and top-rated women's down jackets.

Editor's Note: We updated our women's softshell jacket article on April 24, 2024, to share more info on our testing process.

Top 8 Softshell Jackets - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 8
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Awards  Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $89.47 at AmazonCheck Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$104.00 at Backcountry
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$280 List$67.03 at Backcountry
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Overall Score
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76
80
81
Star Rating
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Pros Flexible, great fit, long torso, cuffs are comfortableInexpensive, stellar mobility and breathability, stow-away pocket, harness-friendly pockets, excellent fitPremium water-resistance, great hood design, adjustable cuffs, harness-compatible pockets, plush fabricInsulated, highly breathable, moisture-wicking, comfortable, warm, wind resistantLightweight, durable, breathable, affordable, premium features, quick drying
Cons Wets out easily, material is heavierNot very warm, below average water resistanceUncomfortable collar, not fully waterproof, no stuff sackSpendy, no pocket that doubles as a stuff sack, some sleeve slippage between fleece and shellBelow average water resistance, baggy fit, hand pockets inaccessible with harness
Bottom Line A protective and comfortable softshell that easily moves from an afternoon of climbing to the cafe or breweryThis wicked light softshell has great mobility, is highly breathable and well-tailored - a perfect layer for fair-weather climbing or hikingAn impressively water-resistant and comfortable softshell hybrid with improved breathability and premium featuresA fantastic fleece-lined hybrid that is great as an outer softshell or insulating layerThis lightweight and breathable jacket has an arsenal of premium features for an affordable price
Rating Categories Black Diamond Alpin... Rab Borealis - Women's Rab Kinetic 2.0 - W... Arc'teryx Proton FL... Outdoor Research Fe...
Weather Protection (30%)
5.0
5.0
8.0
7.0
5.0
Breathability (30%)
10.0
10.0
7.0
8.0
10.0
Mobility (25%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
9.0
10.0
Weight (10%) Sort Icon
10.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Versatility (5%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
Specs Black Diamond Alpin... Rab Borealis - Women's Rab Kinetic 2.0 - W... Arc'teryx Proton FL... Outdoor Research Fe...
Measured Weight 6.5 oz (size S) 9 oz (size S) 9.5 oz (size S) 11 oz (size S) 12.5 oz (size S)
Material Schoeller w/Eco-Repel Bio (93% nylon, 7% elastane) Lightweight Matrix single weave with 2-way stretch and DWR Proflex: Recycled polyester knit face 3L with PU membrane and recycled polyester backer Fortius Air 20 (84% nylon, 16% elastane) Octa Loft knit insulation (100% polyester) Body/hood: 86% nylon 14% spandex 90D stretch woven ripstop
Shoulders/forearms: dordura 91% nylon, 9% spandex 120D stretch woven
Type Active Active Active/Hybrid Technical/Hybrid Active
Lined/Insulated? No No No Yes No
Hood? Yes, 2-way adjustable Yes, stretchy but not adjustable Yes, 1-way adjustable Yes, 1-way adjustable Yes, 2-way adjustable
Number of Pockets (zippered unless otherwise noted) 1 chest 2 hand 2 hand 3 (2 hand, 1 chest) 3 (2 hand, 1 chest)
Adjustable Cuffs? No, stretch cuffs No, stretch cuffs Yes, Velcro No, stretch cuffs No, stretch cuffs
Available Sizes XS - XL XS - XL XS - XL 2XS - 2XL XS - 2XL


The Best Women's Softshell Jacket for 2024


Best Overall Women's Softshell Jacket


Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody - Women's


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 9.0
  • Breathability 9.0
  • Mobility 8.0
  • Weight 5.0
  • Versatility 10.0
Weight: 14.5 ounces (size S) | Number of Pockets: 2 hand
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent mobility
Great wind resistance
Breathable
Durable
Flattering cut
Harness-compatible hand pockets
REASONS TO AVOID
Thin
Relatively heavy
Pricey

We loved the Arc'teryx Gamma LT for its high performance across the board and for striking the proper balance between opposing metrics, which is why it earns top honors. 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 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 two-way cinched helmet-compatible hood for an excellent fit while climbing, hiking, or ski touring.

Depending on how you intend to use the Gamma LT, the downsides may be insignificant. This jacket is suitable for cooler alpine temps due to its durable fabric, which means it is on the heavier side compared to the other active shells in this review. It is also pretty pricey. The cuffs are non-adjustable — which may or may not be a useful feature depending on whether you prefer gauntlet-style gloves or cuffs that cinch over your gloves. 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. If you'd prefer a lighter-weight jacket with adjustable cuffs, the Rab Kinetic 2.0 may be better suited.

Read more: Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody review

softshell jacket womens - short wonder the gamma lt steals the show. it is breathable and...
Short wonder the Gamma LT steals the show. It is breathable and weather resistant, but warm; durable without sacrificing mobility; and all with a flattering fit!
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Best Bang for the Buck


Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie - Women's


81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 5.0
  • Breathability 10.0
  • Mobility 10.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Versatility 7.0
Weight: 12.5 ounces (size S) | Number of Pockets: 3 (2 hand, 1 chest)
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight
Durable and breathable
Top-shelf features, bottom-shelf price
Quick-drying
Wind-resistant UPF-50 fabric
Stow-away pocket for clipping to your harness
REASONS TO AVOID
Below-average water resistance
Baggy fit
Hand pockets inaccessible with harness

The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie is a fantastic value. It ticks nearly every box that a durable wind layer for climbing or hiking should. It is lightweight, wind-resistant, breathable, abrasion-resistant, and highly stretchy. It has great features for the price — including a pocket that doubles as a stuff sack, so you can clip your jacket to your harness when not in use. It moves incredibly well, owing to the ultra-stretchy fabric, and even though it isn't very water-resistant, it is among the fastest drying active softshells in our review. It even has UPF-50 fabric to protect your skin from the sun. Add to all of this the fact that it is a very affordable jacket, and it is no wonder why this jacket is the staple softshell for most outdoor adventure nerds.

Though the Ferrosi is a great jacket, we have a few bones to pick. Its water resistance is below average compared to others in our test. However, it dries quickly and offers great 3-season protection. The fit is somewhat boxy, so if you're between sizes, you might consider sizing down. We also wish that the hand pockets were accessible while wearing a harness or the hip belt of a backpack, like the pockets of the Rab Borealis. All these concerns aside, the Ferrosi is a great, breathable, wind-resistant option at a fantastic price for hiking, climbing, and cycling.

Read more: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie review

softshell jacket womens - we love the ferrosi for its solid performance across our test...
We love the Ferrosi for its solid performance across our test metrics and the affordable price tag.
Credit: Jared Ross

Best Hybrid


Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody - Women's


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 7.0
  • Breathability 8.0
  • Mobility 9.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Versatility 9.0
Weight: 11 ounces (size S) | Number of Pockets: 3 (2 hand, 1 chest)
REASONS TO BUY
Fleece-insulated but highly breathable
Comfortable and great mobility
Highly wind resistant and warm
REASONS TO AVOID
Some sleeve slippage between fleece and shell
Expensive
No stow-away pocket for clipping to your harness

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, has great mobility, and with an ultra-soft fleece lining, it is super cozy, even next to bare skin. The new hood is fully fleece-lined and more spacious than previous iterations. 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 or check out the Black Diamond Alpine Start that packs into its pocket with a sturdy loop for attaching to your harness. The revised version of the Proton FL has some sleeve slippage between the fleece lining and the shell fabric when you pull it over long-sleeved shirts (especially fleeces). All that aside, if you need a cozy mid-layer with breathable insulation, the Proton is an excellent choice.

Read more: Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody review

softshell jacket womens - the plush fleece-lined proton fl strikes a balance between a warm...
The plush fleece-lined Proton FL strikes a balance between a warm insulating layer and a breathable softshell. It is everything a hybrid should strive to be.
Credit: Jared Ross

Best for Weather Resistance


Rab Kinetic 2.0 - Women's


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection 8.0
  • Breathability 7.0
  • Mobility 7.0
  • Weight 9.0
  • Versatility 8.0
Weight: 9.5 ounces (size S) | Number of Pockets: 2 hand
REASONS TO BUY
Premium water-resistance
Great hood design
Adjustable cuffs
Harness-compatible pockets
Plush fabric
Lightweight
REASONS TO AVOID
Uncomfortable collar
Not fully waterproof
No stuff sack

The Rab Kinetic 2.0 is an upgrade to the previous generation of the Kinetic jacket. It still features unbeatable water and wind resistance for a softshell with unbelievably soft fabric. This jacket also surprised our reviewers with above average breathability (water-resistant jackets are notorious for their lack of breathability). It is comparatively lightweight and enables unimpeded movement, owing to Rab's ultra-plush and stretchy ProFlex fabric. We love the top-shelf features on this jacket, including pockets that are accessible when you're wearing a harness or the hip belt of a backpack and an innovative hood with an inner gasket to keep your face dry.

Given that the Kinetic 2.0 attempts to triangulate between a shoftshell and a hardshell, there are some minor things lost in translation. Namely, it is neither fully waterproof nor the most breathable jacket in our review. However, it does come close to accomplishing both. It is also not the most versatile jacket, mostly because it is not as warm as other technical softshells. When fully zipped, the collar is uncomfortably snug and stiff, and it poked us in the neck. Finally, it does not come with a stuff sack, as previous generations did. Truth be told, these drawbacks are minor, and this plush hybrid, water-resistant softshell is an impressive and lightweight jacket to add to your mountain repertoire.

Read more: Rab Kinetic 2.0 review

softshell jacket womens - the kinetic 2.0 has soft, supple, and supremely water resistant...
The Kinetic 2.0 has soft, supple, and supremely water resistant fabric, making it hard to beat on long days in the backcountry.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
84
Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody - Women's
Best Overall Women's Softshell Jacket
$300
Editors' Choice Award
81
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
$149
Best Buy Award
81
Black Diamond Alpine Start - Women's
$185
80
Rab Borealis - Women's
$120
Best Buy Award
80
Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody - Women's
Best Hybrid
$280
Top Pick Award
76
Rab Kinetic 2.0 - Women's
Best for Weather Resistance
$260
Top Pick Award
69
Fjallraven Bertagen Stretch Half-Zip - Women's
$230
46
The North Face Apex Bionic - Women's
$150

softshell jacket womens - a softshell is a great way to stay warm on sunny winter days while...
A softshell is a great way to stay warm on sunny winter days while multi-pitch climbing in Eldorado Canyon, CO, or wherever you may roam.
Credit: Scott Sinor

How We Test Women's Softshell Jackets


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, we put 8 softshell jackets 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 rigorous testing, we've accumulated expert advice about the best softshell jacket to match your needs. For more detailed info on our testing, see our How We Test page.

Our testing of women's softshell jackets is divided across five performance metrics:
  • Weather Protection (30% of total score weighting)
  • Breathability (30% weighting)
  • Mobility (25% weighting)
  • Weighting (10% weighting)
  • Versatility (5% weighting)

Why Trust GearLab


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. 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, riding bicycles, or sitting on a rock gazing at the clouds.

Soaking up the sun&#039;s rays on the summit of Spearhead in RMNP.
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...
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...
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 split the difference between comfort and weather protection, 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 many backcountry activities and mountain athletes.

softshell jacket womens - a good active softshell should be thin enough to wear on breezy but...
A good active softshell should be thin enough to wear on breezy but warm days to take the edge off the wind.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

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. A softshell is a great layer for colder temps where you're likely to encounter wind, dry snow, or intermittent rain but not an all-out deluge. They are also ideal for activities where you need 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.

softshell jacket womens - the ideal softshell should triangulate between weather protection...
The ideal softshell should triangulate between weather protection, breathability, and mobility all without weighing down your pack.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

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 to 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 — surprise — 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 for winter and shoulder-season layering in urban environments.

softshell jacket womens - if ice climbing is in your future, then you will want to seek out a...
If ice climbing is in your future, then you will want to seek out a technical softshell, as these provide the best warmth to mobility and breathability ratio.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Hybrid softshells are relatively new on the scene, and they attempt to bridge the gap between different jacket types — be it by providing extra insulation or water resistance. When hybrids are well executed, they tend to be the most versatile of the jackets in our review, but sometimes adding bonus functionality backfires and makes them uncomfortable or less useful than the jackets they're trying to mimic.


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 its retail price and considered their value in terms of jacket features, weather protection, and the niche they fill in your backcountry kit.

The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie is both a great value and a top-performing jacket, a match made in outdoor gear heaven. It is a feature-rich active softshell that offers great wind protection, making it a perfect option for rock climbing, peak bagging, or backpacking.

softshell jacket womens
Credit: Mary Witlacil

We love the Rab Borealis for striking a similar balance between excellent features and affordability. This active softshell moves incredibly well and is ridiculously comfy, all without breaking the bank. Both of these layers are quite thin though — for thicker liners made for more inclement weather, you'll have to pay more.

softshell jacket womens - the borealis is rab&#039;s lightest weight softshell and it certainly...
The Borealis is Rab's lightest weight softshell and it certainly provides in terms of premium breathability and mobility, all while being incredibly affordable.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Weather Protection


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: the Rab Kinetic 2.0. This jacket offers exceptional wind and water resistance. However, with extended exposure to moisture, the Kinetic 2.0 will eventually absorb water 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 coverage from wind, snow, or light rain, but you're unlikely to need full-on storm protection. For this reason, softshells can be great jackets for alpine climbing, ice/mixed climbing, ski-touring, or even around town on a chilly evening. Softshells are ideal during the shoulder season when temperatures vacillate wildly or for aerobic backcountry activities in the winter when you need premium breathability to avoid getting chilled by your sweat. They're also perfect for days when your heavy ski jacket or hardshell are overkill. They're incredible layers 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 consider wind and water resistance, as well as warmth and sun protection.

softshell jacket womens - early morning approaches to long routes are an ideal match for a...
Early morning approaches to long routes are an ideal match for a softshell.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

All of our hybrid and casual jackets earned competitive marks in this category. We were especially impressed by the plush and warm Arc'teryx Proton FL, which provided some warmth without sacrificing too much in terms of breathability or mobility. The reason it doesn't earn higher marks is that while it's warm and highly wind-resistant, it is among the least water-resistant of the jackets we tested. Conversely, the thinner Gamma LT, despite not being nearly as warm, earned some points because it fends off light moisture and wind admirably. The exceptionally water-resistant TNF Apex Bionic is one of the warmer softshells we tested, and it did well in our water-resistance test. It's a great option as a winter layer in an urban environment. One of the only reasons it did not garner higher marks in this category is that it lacks a hood, so if you're caught in the rain with this jacket, you better hope you have your umbrella to keep your noggin dry.

softshell jacket womens - the proton fl has the best weight to warmth ratio of any jacket in...
The Proton FL has the best weight to warmth ratio of any jacket in our review, making it an easy choice for cool hikes and long climbing routes.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Breathability


Breathability is one of the top reasons people buy a softshell jacket. If you need legitimate weather protection, you will want a fully waterproof hardshell. However, if your weekend adventure plans involve getting rowdy in the backcountry, a hardshell doesn't cut it. They can leave you feeling swampy, suffocated, and stuffy. Enter the softshell. A garment that perfectly balances breathability and weather protection, allowing you to move unencumbered during your escapades.

Breathability vs. Protection
Keep in mind that you ultimately want a breathable softshell that can also withstand 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 softshell style 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.

softshell jacket womens - we were able to do some strenuous climbing in the sun in the rab...
We were able to do some strenuous climbing in the sun in the Rab Borealis without overheating.
Credit: Scott Sinor

The top performers in this metric are the three ultra-stretchy and thin active softshells in our lineup: the Rab Borealis, the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody, and the Outdoor Research Ferrosi. The Borealis provides a surprisingly excellent barrier to the wind but doesn't provide the weather protection of less breathable options. The Alpine Start features a lightweight and stretchy Schoeller fabric that ensures you can move well without being stifled by sweat. And the Ferrosi has 4-way stretchy fabric, and the lack of bulk means 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, these are all perfect layers for cutting the wind on brisk mornings, windy summits, or high on a wall.

softshell jacket womens - the alpine start offers great wind protection and breathability so...
The Alpine Start offers great wind protection and breathability so you can climb comfortably without getting sweaty as you move up the wall.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

The only jacket that bucks convention in this category is the Gamma LT. This is because it splits the difference between a technical and an active softshell. It has a thicker lining than most active softshells but is nowhere near as warm as most technical softshells. Meanwhile, it has fantastic ventilation in the pockets, making it almost as breathable as the thinnest jackets in our review. Minds blown. It is durable enough to climb scratchy granite cracks and long alpine routes while providing sufficient protection from wind and water without sacrificing any breathability.

softshell jacket womens - while it is a little heavier than our favorite trail running...
While it is a little heavier than our favorite trail running jackets, the Gamma LT provides excellent breathability and warmth for cool weather trail runs.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Another great option, if you want a warmer jacket that still delivers on the breathability front, is the Arc'teryx Proton FL. This fleece-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.

softshell jacket womens - we love hanging out in the proton fl because it manages to be...
We love hanging out in the Proton FL because it manages to be wonderfully warm (and soft!) but also shockingly breathable.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

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 because they are designed for activities that demand unhindered movement like climbing, skiing, and trail running. There are definitely plenty of jackets geared toward casual urban outings. Still, regardless of your chosen activity, a restrictive jacket will prevent you from fully enjoying yourself. We looked for softshells that layered and fit well, were comfortable, and had stretchy fabric or other features to enable movement. We ended up with a diverse set of contenders whose performance spread all over the board.


Mobility is critical for a softshell; we reviewed several stellar options that exemplify unimpeded mobility. Spoiler alert: the top-performing jackets in this category were all active or hybrid/active softshells. Active softshells offer great mobility because they are typically made with 4-way stretchy fabric, allowing freedom of movement. We were especially impressed with how well the ever-affordable Outdoor Research Ferrosi performed in this category. The stretchy fabric and looser fit allow unrestrained mobility, ideal for trail-running, summer mountaineering, and rock climbing.

softshell jacket womens - the stretchy outdoor research ferrosi offers great mobility.
The stretchy Outdoor Research Ferrosi offers great mobility.
Credit: Jared Ross

The Alpine Start also performed impressively well in this category. With stretchy Schoeller fabric, comfortable cuffs, an “alpine” gusseted fit, and a helmet-compatible hood, it provided incredible mobility so that we barely noticed we were wearing it.

softshell jacket womens - we love the barely-there feel of the alpine start. the stretchy...
We love the barely-there feel of the Alpine Start. The stretchy Schoeller fabric allows for unhindered mobility on or off the rock.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

The Borealis is another of our top performers in this category as it features 4-way stretchy fabric and a well-tailored design that enables unencumbered mobility while climbing — just what you need when you crave a little wind protection while high up on a wall or ridgeline. Many of the other active softshells and active hybrids performed well in this category as well, including the Gamma LT, Proton FL, and the Kinetic 2.0. Each of these stretch easily and move more like a shirt than a jacket.

softshell jacket womens - the rab borealis is a favorite for when we need great range of...
The Rab Borealis is a favorite for when we need great range of motion, like when rock climbing.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

It is easy to grasp why active softshells tend to move better than technical or casual softshells. Not only do active jackets have the stretchiest materials, but most technical and casual softshells are thicker and have a fleece lining that typically makes them a little stiffer. This is less of a problem for the casual softshells, as those are meant to be worn around town, but this is a big deal if you're looking for a technical softshell for ice climbing or backcountry skiing.

Weight


Jackets in this review ranged from 6.5 ounces at the lightest to 22.5 ounces at the heaviest. Most of the jackets were tested in size small. No matter what your needs are, our review has some fantastic options.


The Alpine Start Hoody proved to be the lightest-weight softshell in our review, weighing a scant 6.5 ounces. This jacket is so lightweight that you'll almost forget you have it with you, and it can be stuffed into its chest pocket for clipping it on your harness or stowing it in the bottom of your pack when not in use. Not only is it incredibly lightweight, but the fabric and design of the jacket lend to durability. We tend to associate ultralight gear with wearing out ultra-fast, but not so with the Alpine Start — it bucks the trend by being ultra-light and ultra-durable.

softshell jacket womens - featherweight and it packs down to the size of your fist, you&#039;ll...
Featherweight and it packs down to the size of your fist, you'll hardly notice the Alpine Start in your pack or on your harness.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Next up, we have the Borealis and the Kinetic 2.0, which all weigh around 9-9.5 ounces. The Borealis is a perfect option for alpine rock climbing, peak-bagging, and backpacking, where weight and packability are major considerations. The Kinetic offers more weather protection and is the most water-resistant jacket in our review.

softshell jacket womens - the borealis is a lightweight, breathable, and stretchy softshell...
The Borealis is a lightweight, breathable, and stretchy softshell that offers amazing range of motion.
Credit: Scott Sinor

Like the two before it, this metric tends to favor active softshells and active/hybrids, with the Proton FL and the Ferrosi being the next lightest softshells weighing 11 ounces and 12.5 ounces, respectively. Both are great options for moving quickly and fairly light. The Proton has a soft fleece lining for added warmth, while the Ferrosi boasts unbeatable mobility. The Fjallraven Bertagen Stretch Half-Zip is another lightweight active softshell, weighing only 13 ounces. Part of why this jacket is so light is that it is a half-zip pullover, a feature we love for when you don't want to deal with a zipper underneath your harness.

softshell jacket womens - the fjallraven bergen pull-over is among the lightest jackets in our...
The Fjallraven Bergen pull-over is among the lightest jackets in our review. Which is great for taking the edge off the wind on an otherwise lovely day while hiking.
Credit: Jared Ross

Unfortunately, technical and casual softshells don't earn the highest marks in this category. Even some of the burlier active softshells, like the Gamma LT, have a fairly average weight relative to the other jackets in our review. That being said, none of the jackets we reviewed are so heavy to raise red flags. Many of the technical and casual softshells make up for their heft by providing extra warmth, something that is critical when you're miles into a backcountry winter adventure.

softshell jacket womens - when you&#039;re miles deep in the backcountry, you don&#039;t want a heavy...
When you're miles deep in the backcountry, you don't want a heavy softshell weighing down your pack.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

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.

softshell jacket womens - while the apex bionic is too heavy to be ideal for technical...
While the Apex Bionic is too heavy to be ideal for technical outings, it is durable and warm, making it a great jacket for car-camping.
Credit: Scott Sinor

Versatility


Our review team maintains that while versatility is important, it is the least important metric we consider. It is also the most subjective of our review criteria. We assess versatility by considering features, durability, style, and ease of use between various activities and climates. Many of the softshells in this review come with excellent features that we thoroughly enjoy and regularly use. The jackets that ranked 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 and sandstone cracks and wouldn't disintegrate at the mention of crampons and ice tools. We also considered style. 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.


The jacket that earned the highest marks in this category was the Gamma LT. It has more insulation than your average active softshell but is lighter than your typical technical jacket. This means it can move between warmer days of ice climbing and cooler days of alpine rock climbing. We love it for shady mornings in the desert and windy summits in the summer. Add to this a flattering fit and attractive color options, and you can move easily from the backcountry to the bar without feeling like you look too sporty. We also appreciate the harness-compatible pockets and two-way adjustable, helmet-compatible hood.

softshell jacket womens - as a breathable but weather resistant and highly mobile softshell...
As a breathable but weather resistant and highly mobile softshell, the Gamma LT strikes a balance between an active and technical softshell.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Another unstoppable contender in this category is the Proton FL. While the Proton is not made to be an ideal layer for activities like ice climbing, it is among the most versatile because it can be worn as an outer layer on warmer days or as an insulating layer on colder ones. Our lead tester used 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.

softshell jacket womens - the arc&#039;teryx proton is a versatile layering piece.
The Arc'teryx Proton is a versatile layering piece.
Credit: Jared Ross

The Kinetic 2.0 earns top marks in this category for being a silky-smooth, highly water-resistant jacket ideal for summer mountain adventures or traveling. Rab claims this jacket is waterproof, but 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. Each of our highest-ranked active softshells also earned favorable marks in this category. The Alpine Start, Borealis, and the Ferrosi each offer great wind and sun protection while rock climbing, summer mountaineering, trail running, and cycling. Each of these jackets also has a pocket that doubles as a stuff sack, a feature we really like.

softshell jacket womens - at 9 ounces, the rab borealis is quite lightweight. we barely even...
At 9 ounces, the Rab Borealis is quite lightweight. We barely even noticed it clipped to our climbing harness.
Credit: Scott Sinor

Truth be told, even though softshells claim to do it all, there are specialized niches for each jacket style. Active softshells are ideal as wind layers for summer or alpine climbing, trail running, or hiking. In contrast, technical softshells are best for ice and mixed climbing, winter mountaineering, snowshoeing, and backcountry and/or cross-country skiing. Casual softshells offer great features for urban adventures but are durable enough to use in the backcountry, while hybrids attempt to triangulate between sub-categories and move between seasons. To decide what type of softshell is ideal for you, consider the primary activities you plan to do while using your new softshell. Then, it will be much easier to decide whether you need an active, technical, casual, or hybrid jacket.

softshell jacket womens - if you&#039;re looking for a lightweight jacket that is ideal for long...
If you're looking for a lightweight jacket that is ideal for long granite routes, then an active softshell like the Gamma LT, Borealis, First Ascent, or Ferrosi are the ones for you!
Credit: Mary Witlacil

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 needs. We hope this review has shed some light on the various options and will help guide you toward the right model for your next adventure.

Related: How to Layer Clothing to Keep Warm

softshell jacket womens - thanks for hanging on with us. hopefully our review will help guide...
Thanks for hanging on with us. Hopefully our review will help guide you to the best softshell for your next adventure.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Mary Witlacil