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Weather that’s a little chilly, a little breezy, but not a full-on storm—that’s where softshell jackets shine. We’ve found softshells to be often underappreciated and ambiguous in terms of their place in the world of outerwear, so we set out to test a variety of jackets that spanned from featherlight wind-protectors to burly fortresses that could stand up to shoulder-season storms. These layers boast stretch, breathability, and weatherproofing that will keep you happy and protected on the trail. We tested over 20 softshell jackets this year in search of the best, and put them through their paces while we scrambled up rocky summits, walked windy ridge lines, and hammered out trail miles on bike, foot, and ski. When the results came back, the eight softies you see here emerged as the best, most versatile outer layers available.
We were able to keep this truly aerobic softshell on through an 8-mile trail run on a windy, 50°F spring day in the Tetons (usually we dump a jacket in the first two miles). Breathability is impressive thanks to a Gore-Tex Infinium outer, while a nylon-elastane inner dried quickly, wicking moisture to keep us cool. Articulated panels at the elbows and armpits allowed for natural arm swing as we jogged and hiked with poles.
Anoraks can be tough to wriggle into, but a handy left-side zippered pleat on the women’s version loosens everything up for easy on and off. A right-side-entry kangaroo pocket is the perfect spot to stash a key, phone, or pack of energy chews. (The full-zip men’s hoody comes with two zippered front pockets.) The shell’s low-profile hood fit snugly under a helmet when we were climbing in Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon, and we appreciated the close cut while we went trail running on a gray day outside Park City.
The combination of windproof Gore-Tex Infinium, which blocks light rain but lets air escape through a porous membrane, and high-strength yet breathable Teslin fabric (93 percent nylon, 7 percent elastane) made the Trino SL ideal for high-output activities in less-than-ideal conditions. Think soggy PNW trail runs and windy Front Range summits. Infinium is not fully waterproof, but the water-resistant and windproof design was one of the most hydrophobic shells in this roundup, keeping us dry while hiking through misty rain all day in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
After scratching it up with errant crampon placement, raking it against bicycle chains while fixing flat tires on rainy commutes, and scooting across scree while picnicking on rocky summits, we found the bombproof Teslin fabric stood up to wear with style, never once showing a snag after use and abuse.
The Dawn Patrol is a little beefier than the rest of the softshells we tested, but the four-way, stretch-woven design delivered ample breathability for 50°F hikes in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. A brushed lining felt soft when worn with just a T-shirt underneath. Underarm gussets and the stretchy fabric flexed perfectly with every move as we set up camp in the snow next to Jackson Lake, and the slightly slim fit was ideal layered over a baselayer or sun hoody.
The Dawn Patrol has capacity for ample snacks and gadgets; spacious, harness-compatible hand pockets held a turkey club and a packet of peanut butter cups when we climbed high in the Tetons, while the two internal mesh drop pockets stashed glove liners and a phone. The hood fits over a climbing helmet, which came in handy on a gray, windy day climbing in Utah, but it can also be cinched down for a snug fit around a trucker hat or headband. It’s not as packable as other shells on this list, but that made the rolled-up, cantelope-sized jacket a great pillow for a night in Grand Teton National Park’s Alaska Basin.
This burly shell will keep you warm in winter and stand up to changing conditions year-round, as we learned while hiking through the temperamental weather of the Tetons and Cascades. We tested the Dawn Patrol in everything from 7°F hikes iApril snowstorms to 50°F dayhikes with the family, and were impressed with the DWR-treated shell’s blend of weather protection (light, feathery snow fell right off) and breathability (chasing fast friends up Mt. Si this spring without getting swamped). It blocked 30-mph winds with ease while standing on top of Si, eliminating the need to throw on an extra layer.
Crampons and ice axes couldn’t scratch this durable softshell, which boasts a sturdy combo of nylon, polyester, and elastane, while we booted up spring ski lines on Wyoming’s Togwotee Pass. We wore this stalwart layer during a day of over-burdened backpacking, and it showed no signs of wear and tear along the back or shoulders, where backpacks tend to rub.
Built for gaining elevation fast, the Upstride’s stretch-knit polyester fabric kept us dry while we jogged, hiked, and scrambled our way up Colorado Fourteeners. On hikes where temps ranged from a frosty 33°F alpine start to a sunny 70°F afternoon, the Upstride’s soft feel and breathable design rose to the occasion, and we never had to take it off.
We found the fit to be quite slim (it was hard to fit more than a light tank or tee underneath), so sizing up is a good call for layering, but the inside backing felt soft against skin when worn directly over a tank top.
Two oversized hand pockets proved to be the perfect spot to stash a ham and cheese sandwich and a 0.5-liter soft flask for a much-needed midday snack along the Continental Divide. Left unzipped, the mesh-backed pockets made effective vents. The slim-fitting hood (designed to fit over only the most low-profile helmets) with a laminated visor shut out wind and light rain on a drizzly post-work jaunt up Snow King Mountain.
The windproof and PFC-free DWR-treated polyester shell stood up to light precip, keeping us dry and comfortable while we roamed across windswept summits in Colorado’s Gore Range. The Upstride stood out as one of the most weather-resistant softshells in this lineup, shedding light precip while we worked our way up steep trails in the Tetons.
Seemingly indestructible, the polyester-backed shell proved to be a workhorse, earning its status as one of the most durable in this test. Aside from roughing it up on long bootpacks and ridge scrambles, we used the Upstride as a picnic blanket for an elaborate charcuterie spread on Colorado’s 14,433-foot Mt. Elbert, and even as padding for a rope during crevasse-rescue training in the North Cascades, without major wear.
The retro style drew us in, but the Recon Stretch fabric truly won us over for its breathable and (you guessed it) stretchy feel. We kept it on all day while scrambling around in the San Juans in 50°F temps and trail running in the Hudson Valley on a cool 40°F morning. Extra breathable back and underarm panels helped mitigate back sweat for long miles with a pack on, and the unisex design (which had a slightly boxy drape on smaller frames) offers a large size range to find the perfect fit.
The pullover design of the Recon made it easy to throw on mid-hike or -climb, and the spacious kangaroo drop-pocket kept chocolate chip cookies, sunglasses, and glove liners close at hand during spring adventures on PNW volcanoes. The long front zipper is also a great vent when you’re not quite ready to dump a full layer. We cinched up the waist and hood for a snug fit that held tight during a windy 25-mile Teton traverse from Teton Village to Grand Targhee, and we stashed our phone in the chest pocket for easy nav checks.
On summer ski-mountaineering missions and mud season hikes in the Rockies, the PFC-free DWR-treated nylon and elastane fabric shed moisture from unexpected drizzles, sitting squarely in the middle of the pack for water-resistance. It really shines when the wind picks up, and kept us comfortable when we ducked behind a rock for cheese and prosciutto on the summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park, where the wind howled at 30 mph.
We weren’t exactly gentle with the Recon Stretch, but the fabric came out of climbing trips and multiday hikes in the Cascades with nothing but a few wrinkles. It stood up to abrasion during long days with heavy packs on Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, and shed dirt and mud after a few bushwhacky approaches in the Tetons.
A tried-and-true favorite with some welcome updates, the new Ferrosi (now made with 46 percent recycled fabric) features extra stretch in the nylon and spandex construction. It’s a true put-it-on-and-leave-it-on layer that never left our backs while we explored alpine lakes in the Tetons, went spring climbing in Wyoming’s Wild Iris, and chased summer objectives on Mt. Rainier. Strategically placed panels of 90-denier ripstop on the body and hood feature 14 percent spandex for mobility and temperature regulation while you hike, pedal, run, or climb. The Ferrosi’s fit is also slightly boxy, which made it easy to throw on over a baselayer and vest while we brewed coffee at camp on a chilly morning in Colorado’s San Juans, and the jacket’s soft material felt great against skin when layered over a T-shirt or tank top.
A simple yet functional pocket configuration (one zippered chest and two zippered hand pockets) stashes everything from a phone and sunglasses to a chocolate bar and bag of dried mango. The whole jacket can zip right into the left pocket at about the size of a 32-ounce Nalgene, which (for the brief times we took it off) was useful in organizing overly stuffed packs during a traverse of the Tetons. Nice touch: A carabiner loop allows you to clip the stuffed jacket to your harness or pack straps for quick deployment when you can’t fit anything else in your overnight pack.
Constructed with a tightly woven wind-and water-resistant nylon and spandex weave, the Ferrosi’s weatherproofing stood out during summer adventures in the San Juans, where blue skies never lasted long. During a 12-mile hike along the Colorado Trail that featured a mix of 30-mph winds, sunny 65°F temps, and afternoon hail, the Ferrosi was the only piece of gear that stayed on all day. It proved solid for brief spots of rain in arid climates like Colorado, but it runs about average in its ability to seal out rain and wind.
The new edition of the Ferrosi features 120-denier Cordura reinforcements along the shoulders and arms, which added welcome abrasion resistance while we climbed granite in Little Cottonwood Canyon throughout the spring. The beefed up design—which provides protection without adding significant weight—stood strong while hauling heavy packs and coiling ropes on Mt. Rainier, especially for one tester who spent two months guiding climbers on the mountain.
We found the Alpine Start to be impressively stretchy and light as we explored shaded slot canyons on a 60°F day in Zion National Park. Breathable nylon and pliable elastane made it easy to climb over rocks and lower ourselves into nooks and crannies along desert creek beds, which testers agreed made it the easiest shell to put on and forget about. It also provided the perfect blend of protection and breathability on early morning approaches in sub-40°F weather in the Tetons.
Black Diamond clearly kept simplicity in mind with this packable emergency layer (their lightest softshell available), which features a single Lara Bar-sized chest pocket. Thanks to the handy carabiner loop, we stuffed the whole jacket into that pocket and clipped it to a harness for a quick rappel.
Small but mighty, the Alpine Start impressed us as one of the best wind-blockers in this test as we cruised along exposed ridgelines in the Wasatch Mountains. “I was surprised that I never had to pull out a burlier shell while the wind was raging on top of Mt. Superior,” said one Utah tester. Treated with a PFC-free Ecorepel Bio finish, the Schoeller stretch-woven nylon fabric kept us dry during light drizzles and in moody morning fog.
The Alpine Start’s 50-denier material kept us well-protected while we scraped our way up chimneys and bushwhacked through overgrown trails. “This jacket can take a beating,” said one Idaho-based tester after taking a spill on a talus field in the Uinta Range. It stood up to spiky foliage and rock walls, but did show minor abrasions after rubbing up against crampons and ice axes during a sporty spring mission on Rainier.
The jacket’s double-weave Pertex Equilibrium design features a loosely woven structure on the inside and tightly-woven structure on the outside. It wicked moisture while we huffed and puffed up to 13,000 feet on a 60°F day near Colorado’s Silverton Mountain and blocked the 40-mph wind on the summit.
The featherlight Felsgrat Hybrid is a no-frills windbreaker that packs into its own chest pocket (about the size of a grapefruit) to deploy at any time. Despite the anorak design, the long zipper made it easy to pull on (even while wearing a climbing helmet) and the zipper-free waist created a streamlined fit that lay flat under a backpack hipbelt. We also stashed two energy gel packets in the single chest pocket for easy snacking on a two-day traverse of the Tetons.
Colorado’s wicked winds of the west didn’t stand a chance against the Felsgrat’s Pertex fabric. “I stood comfortably at 14,439 feet on top of Mt. Elbert with this jacket layered over a baselayer,” reported one Colorado tester.
This wouldn’t be our top choice if rain is in the forecast, though, since the windproof polyamide lacks DWR and wets out pretty quickly.
Built for packability and wind-resistance, the Felsgrat’s reinforced polyamide shoulder panels showed an impressive tenacity when up against sharp rocks and gear. During a two-day mountaineering trip on Rainier, we never punctured it with crampons and ice axes.
Put it on and forget about it: The soft, lightweight feel of the stretch ripstop fabric moved with us while we scaled craggy summits, busted out miles on the Teton Crest Trail, and flipped pancakes on windy mornings at camp. The Pertex Quantum Air fabric allowed for enough air permeability to wick moisture while we hammered in stubborn tent stakes, and raglan sleeves and underarm gussets made for easy, unrestricted maneuvering. The featherweight fabric (hence the name) felt great against our skin when layered over a tank top and a sports bra on a 60°F hike in Moab.
Pocket design is simple, just the way we like it: Two hand pockets stash a granola bar, pair of sunnies, and a headband. Instead of utilizing a zippered pocket, the jacket stows into a hidden internal drop pocket, folding into itself to become smaller than an iPhone for easy stashing in a day or overnight pack.
On 12,519-foot South Teton, 40-mph winds were no match for the Pertex Quantum Air fabric, a surprisingly lightweight layer of armor against gusts that nearly knocked us off our feet. The Kor Airshell shed light sprinkles (and took the brunt of the mud) while our testers mountain biked on soggy PNW trails, but it wet out pretty quickly when up against any real precip.
Although the the 20-denier stretch ripstop fabric feels paper-thin, we were impressed by its strength, which stood up well to rocky picnics, multiday overnights, and getting stuffed day after day inside its stow pocket (which we felt actually protected it quite well when we weren’t wearing it). It did, however, pick up a few abrasions (not full rips) when we were reaching for challenging moves on a spring climbing trip to Lander, Wyoming.
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