The Best Softshell Jackets
In our 2017 test, the soft shells tested were:
Patagonia Men’s Kniferidge Jacket
Arc’teryx Gamma LT Hoody
Marmot Men’s Zion Jacket
Outdoor Research Men’s Iceline
Mountain Hardwear Men’s Dragon Hooded Jacket
The soft shell category isn’t defined clearly. Original designs prioritized breathability and quick drying over weatherproofing, but currently, the category can span garments that functionally act as hard shells to single layer, highly breathable wind shells. The items chosen for this test were not primarily insulators, nor were they hard shells. Five jackets were called in, differing in materials with varying positions along the breathability/weatherproofing spectrum. Compared to prior tests (where the jackets were truly just shells), the category has widened drastically in functionality. Some provide the same weather protection as classic hard shells, but offer more breathability, softer hand, and better drape. Others add warmth and can act as both the outer shell and a light insulating layer.
Best In Class
Patagonia KnifeRidge JacketHiking & Camping, Jackets, Protective Softshells & Softshell Jackets
The Patagonia KnifeRidge Jacket’s stretchy Polartec Power Shield Pro provides high water resistance while maintaining some breathability, creating the potential to eliminate the need for a hard shell in moderate conditions. These attributes, combined with high wind resistance, durability and just the right number of usable features creates a soft-shell jacket that covers an impressively wide range of needs for the outdoor adventurer who can afford the price. We just wish the hand pockets were set a little higher.
Best For: Athletic Endeavors
Arc’teryx Gamma LT HoodyHiking & Camping, Jackets, Protective Softshells & Softshell Jackets
The Arc’teryx Gamma LT is a soft shell that is trim fitting around the torso but broad across the shoulders, serving the athletic fit. Although close fitting, the double weave fabric offers abundant mechanical stretch, following movement without restriction, which is aided by gusseted underarms and ample torso length. The Gamma LT offers little warmth on its own but functions well as a durable shell over an appropriate base or insulating layer.
Best For: Harsh Conditions
Marmot Men’s Zion JacketHiking & Camping, Jackets, Protective Softshells & Softshell Jackets
The Marmot Zion Jacket utilizes Polartec’s NeoShell, and is seam taped, providing the waterproof and windproof protection of a hard shell with the soft hand, elasticity and quietness of a soft shell. Depending on the point of view, this jacket is a highly breathable “hard shell,” or an extremely weatherproof softshell, best suited for the cold, windy and wet mountain environments.
Best For: Climbing
Outdoor Research Men’s IcelineHiking & Camping, Jackets, Protective Softshells & Softshell Jackets
The Outdoor Research Iceline utilizes waterproof/breathable panels in the hood, shoulders and chest and stretchy panels with greater air permeability spanning from hip to mid arm. This provides water protection in critical areas while maintaining breathability and freedom of movement in the arms. A laminated fleece backing makes this jacket more suitable for true winter weather but limits multi season functionality.