Being active in cold weather all comes down to the right apparel. Softshell jackets are the most breathable outer layer options on the market that still offer protection against the elements. They allow you to move freely while also protecting you from overheating.
The outer layer of a softshell jacket is smooth and durable, while the inside provides various levels of warmth.
Softshells are not designed to be impermeable to the elements; however, they are meant to balance water and wind resistance with performance characteristics such as breathability and mobility.
A softshell jacket is extremely versatile and suitable for a wide range of activities. Considering weather resistance, breathability, and comfort, we break down some of the top softshell jackets currently on the market.
Our 5 Best Softshell Jackets
|Arc’teryx Gamma MX|
Stretch woven and fleece backer
|Outdoor Research Ferrosi|
Stretch woven nylon
2L stretch woven and fleece backer
3L Gore Windstopper
|North Face Apex Bionic 2|
WindWall and fleece backer
1. Arc’teryx Gamma MX Hoodie – The Best Softshell Jacket for any Outdoors Activity (Top Pick)
If you are looking for a serious, backcountry softshell the Arc’teryx Gamma MX should definitely be a contender on your list. With bomber outer fabric and five total exterior pockets for storage, this is the jacket for summits and the hardcore outdoors enthusiast.
The MX leans on the warmer side of softshells due to its fleece lining, adding a bit of comfort as well. It’s the perfect jacket for mixed weather conditions as it is versatile and non-restricting due to the gusseted underarm construction.
It comes with Fortius 2.0 synthetic fabric that provides great insulation, dries quickly, and allows moisture to move away from layers underneath. The DWR outer coating allows the fabric to repel light moisture. The biggest downside to the Gamma MX would have to be its price; however, its functionality and quality is well on point.
This jacket also includes a helmet-compatible hood and 5 total pockets: 2 hand, 2 chest, and 1 laminated zip sleeve. Recommended use: alpine climbing, skiing, and camping.
2. Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody – The Best Budget Softshell Jacket
The Ferrosi Hoody is the perfect option if you are looking to find great values at a lower price. It’s lightweight with a comfortable shell for most any outdoor activity. It has a good amount of breathability and will block the elements in light weather conditions.
The Ferrosi is a breathable hybrid softshell that is abrasion resistant and water repellent. The stretch fabric is flexible and will allow you to comfortably reach overhead, moving with you rather than restricting movement.
Another plus side to the Ferrosi is that it packs down really small, by stuffing into its own hand pocket, which is a huge plus for conserving backpack space. It also comes with a built-in loop that lets you clip it to a harness.
It does have a hood, but it is not helmet-compatible, which can be a bit of a down side if you plan on engaging in helmet related activities. The Ferrosi is not fleece-lined so providing warmth is not its strongest feature.
Due to its high level of mobility and breathability, it is recommended for multi-sport activities.
3. Patagonia Adze Hoody – The Best Softshell Jacket for Heavier Weather Conditions
The outer layer is extremely durable and the thick construction makes this the perfect jacket for a serious mountain adventure.
The Patagonia comes with a 2-layer, polyester stretch build that is highly wind resistant and also repels light rain and snow due to the DWR coating.
It comes with a fleece backing so this jacket provides enough warmth for activities in cold conditions without weighing you down like a hard shell would. The underarm panels are gusseted, allowing for better range of motion and comfortable stretches on those difficult climbing holds.
The Patagonia does come with a hood that is designed for optimal visibility with a single-pull cord-lock. Because of the thickness and heaviness of the Adze, it is not the most ideal jacket to stuff into a small pack. It is also not as breathable as some of the other options on the list so it may not be your best bet for mild weather conditions.
4. Mammut Ultimate Hoody – The Best Softshell Jacket for Multi Sport Use
The Mammut is a mid-weight jacket offering 3-layer protection with Gore Windstopper polyester fabric for its outer shell. It holds up well in cold conditions, keeping you warm by blocking out strong gusts. It’s a great option for multi-sport use.
For those who get extra sweaty, the Mammut comes with two pit zips to release some of the internal heat quickly. You get full range of motion with the articulated elbows making this a comfortable option for climbing and hiking.
Other features include thumbholes at the end of the sleeves, an adjustable hood, and tall collars for extra protection.
5. The North Face Apex Bionic 2 – The Best Softshell Jacket for Light Hiking Trips
The Apex Bionic is a great jacket option for those looking for something more casual. If performance isn’t your main concern when shopping softshells, this jacket should be at the top of your list.
The Bionic 2 has a relaxed fit, making it a great go-to jacket for light hiking, strolls around town, or wrapping up the day with dinner on the slopes.
It comes with TNF’s WindWall fleece construction, and a DWR outer layer finish, for wind and water-resistance, as well as optimum breathability for active pursuits.
Softshell Jacket Buyer’s Guide
What Is A Softshell Jacket?
A softshell jacket is a highly breathable hybrid jacket made to move with your body and regulate body temperature.
A softshell is more water-resistant than fleece and less rigid than a hard shell.
Softshell jackets are made from two layers of fabric (typically nylon or polyester) woven together for warmth and weather-resistance. They are flexible and ideal activewear for outdoor sports.
There are two types of softshell jackets: stretch-woven and membrane. Membrane softshells are made with a waterproof membrane woven between the two layers of fabric. Stretch-woven softshells are made with a water-repellant outer coating and are more breathable than membrane softshells.
How to Wash a Softshell Jacket
Softshell jackets are machine washable. Empty the pockets, close all fasteners, and turn the jacket inside out. Use a warm temperature and wash on medium (or normal) with a nonbiological detergent.
Washing on a lower temperature and investing in a technical detergent or softshell wash (i.e. Sportisimo softshell wash or Nikwax Techwash) will help prolong the life of your jacket.
Technical detergents leave less residue than regular detergent while still removing dirt, and other contaminants from your softshell.
Never bleach your softshell or wash with fabric softener. Dry on low until the jacket is dry to the touch. Do not tumble dry or dry clean a softshell.
How Warm Is A Softshell Jacket?
Softshell jackets will keep you warm in cool and moderately wet weather. But the level of warmth depends on how the jacket is constructed.
Thicker softshell jackets lined with fleece are just as warm as thin fleece jackets and are warmer than softshells without a fleece lining.
A softshell jacket does provide excellent insulation and is warmer than a hard shell. However, they may not retain heat as well as a more rigid hard shell.
Are Softshell Jackets Good for Winter?
Non-insulated softshell jackets worn as an outermost layer are best for fall or spring weather. Their breathability means that these jackets don’t provide as much protection from winter weather as other types of jackets.
Non-insulated softshells provide some insulation but are ideal for cool weather, not extreme cold. However, in colder climates, they can make a great mid-layer for added warmth under waterproof jackets/hard shells. They can even take the place of a fleece mid-layer.
The latest models of insulated, waterproofed softshell jackets provide much more protection and warmth during winter than non-insulated. But puffy outer jackets and hard shells are still your best bet for extreme winter weather.
What Is the Difference Between A Hard Shell and Softshell Jacket?
Hard shell jackets are thinner, lighter, more rigid, and more durable than softshell jackets. They are water/wind-proof. Hard shells are highly breathable and best as an outermost layer in heavy rain or extreme cold during hikes, backpacking, or other outdoor activities.
Softshell jackets are stretchy, water/wind-resistant jackets and highly breathable. They are best for mild to moderate weather. Softshells are thicker and warmer than hard shell jackets and tend to weigh more.
Which type of jacket you choose depends on your activity and weather conditions. For aerobic activities, a softshell that moves with you is ideal. For other activities that depend on weather, such as snowboarding or climbing, a hard shell may be best.
Keep in mind that you can layer a softshell jacket under a hard shell for the best of both worlds.
The Purpose of a Softshell Jacket
Softshell jackets are a flexible outer layer that offers light protection against the elements. They are great options for activities such as hiking, climbing, and skiing where a heavier, hard shell jacket may be too restricting or too warm.
Most often, softshell jackets are made with woven nylon or polyester to allow for optimal stretchiness and good range of motion.
The outer layer is smooth and durable, while the inner lining is usually a variation of brushed polyester or fleece grid that provides different levels of warmth.
Softshell jackets aren’t designed to withstand extreme elements. Instead, they are designed to factor in features like light water and wind resistance with performance characteristics such as breathability and mobility.
Design technology of softshell jackets has made them a huge competitor for hard shell jackets. However, if you are looking for something that can beat out harsh weather conditions and has better water and wind-proofing, you may still want to go with a hard shell.
Your priorities and activities will push you in one direction or the other when considering which jacket to buy. The more you are familiar with the types of conditions you will be in, the easier it is to know whether a hard shell or softshell is more appropriate for your needs.
Casual vs. Performance
There are two basic functions you need to consider when purchasing a softshell jacket: casual and performance.
Casual jackets have a basic function of keeping you warm in lighter conditions and are great for cool seasons such as fall and spring. They are perfect for everyday wear and have a high level of breathability.
Performance softshells are intended for multi-sport activities in cold, windy weather conditions. They offer warmth, breathability, and mobility.
These jackets usually include performance features such as a helmet-compatible hood, harness or backpack compatible pockets, hem drawstring, and a more tailored fit.
Wind and Water Resistant
Softshells aren’t as secure from rain as a rain jacket or a hard shell would be but they come with durable water repellent coating (DWR) to bead up and shed water. This makes them perfect for light rain or wind.
It’s important to keep in mind that the purpose of a softshell isn’t to withstand extreme weather conditions; rather, they are designed to keep you mobile and warm in lighter weather.
If you are going to be doing a lot of high-exertion activities you really want to consider a softshell jacket. It is the perfect balance of warmth, protection, and comfortability.
Generally speaking, the heavier the outer layer and the more protection it offers, the less breathable the design is. So if breathability is your main concern, go with a thinner design.
The best jackets do a great job of balancing outer element protection with airflow and ventilation. It’s important to consider all the factors you will encounter when purchasing your softshell jacket.
Thickness and Warmth
On the other hand, there are options out there for those of you who prefer to be a little more protected from the cold. Many softshells on the market are fleece-lined to provide an extra layer from wind gusts.
Keep in mind that it is always an option to wear a strong system of base and mid-layers to stay warm. Be sure to go with a softshell that is roomy enough to accommodate extra layers.
This method allows you to go with a jacket that offers better motion and breathability, and can also be worn with less layers in milder temperatures.
Stretch and Mobility
Hard shells and rain jackets tend to be a bit more stiff and confining than softshell options. The main design function of a softshell jacket is that it flexes and moves with you. This is a great feature for outdoor activities such as climbing, hiking, or skiing.
Many designs offer gusseted underarm construction and articulated elbows to allow better range of motion for those movement intense activities.
There are a variety of fits and comfort levels within the softshell jacket market. Generally speaking, the more casual the jacket is the more relaxed its fit will be. Jackets that focus more on performance will have a more tailored fit. Athletic cuts tend to be the best blend of both worlds.
How a jacket feels on your skin is a huge factor when trying to decide what to buy. Because many softshells come with fleece liners, they make very comfortable options to wear with only a short-sleeved shirt underneath.
Hood vs. No Hood
Most performance jackets will come with hooded options for better protection from the elements.
Some softshells offer helmet-compatible hoods, so be sure to factor that in if you will be wearing it during helmet required activities.
If your main purpose for purchasing a softshell is to wear around town, or on hikes in light to mild weather conditions, you may want to opt for a casual design without the hood feature.
Time To Hit The Hills With Your Softshell Jacket!
As you can see, there are many things to consider when deciding what type of softshell jacket to purchase.
Keep in mind that your activities will highly influence which jacket is most appropriate for your needs.
Softshells that offer high breathability and mobility seem to be the most effective. Again, you can always layer up for warmth.
When outdoor activities are your passion you want to be sure to go with a jacket that can keep up with your lifestyle, not one that restricts your movement.