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With many costing around half a grand, hardshells may be one of the most resilient jackets out there, but softshells come pretty close at a fraction of the price. Softshells have excellent stretch and optimal breathability for intense activities during outdoor adventures, such as climbing, hiking and running. They also offer adequate protection against wind and precipitation. Unlike a hardshell, they won’t feel stiff or make creaky noises.
When you’re shopping for a softshell jacket, there are a few factors that you should keep in mind. While most softshells will not protect you against extreme weather, standard ones will offer adequate weather-resistance in most climates. Make sure that your jacket comes with a coating that repels water. For wind-resistance, you’ll want to look at a shell made from a ripstop material. Other features for weather protection include a fleece lining, adjustable hood and handwarmer pockets. Another important quality for this type of jacket is a comfortable fit. Most softshells feel stretchy and allow for excellent mobility. Look for a polyester or nylon face fabric blended with elastane. Adjustable cuffs and drawcord hems also allow for a more secure fit as you move around.
Whether you’re looking for a lightweight option that packs up with ease or one that suits cold weather sports, you’ll find the best softshell jacket for your specific outdoor travel needs below.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody
Hikers and climbers love the durable Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody for outdoor trips. The stretchy softshell consists of a weather-resistant nylon face fabric that has DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment to keep you dry during light periods of precipitation. Its interior is a moisture-wicking polyester fabric that provides excellent breathability, ensuring that you stay cool while you're active. The streamlined and athletic fit allows you to layer another thin jacket underneath. You’ll be able to enjoy a full range of motion since the jacket has articulated patterning and underarm gussets. For storage space, it also comes with two zippered hand pockets and an internal zippered pocket. For the women's collection, you can choose from black, red and azalea. Men can select from adriatic blue, black, heron, red beach and triton.
There are a few factors to weigh. The jacket has a steep price, costing as much as $250. The long sleeves can also be problematic if you wear under-the-cuff gloves.
Best Budget: Columbia Men's Ascender Softshell
Outdoor adventures can shave some serious dollars off their gear budget with this jacket. The Columbia Men's Ascender Softshell Front-Zip Jacket combines the comfort of a heavy sweatshirt with the weather-resistance of a hardshell. It’ll keep you cozy during mild weather and layer well during the coldest winters. You’ll be able to stash away various travel supplies with the one zippered chest pocket and two hand pockets.
One thing to consider is that the jacket does not have a hood, so you need an external cap or hat to protect your head when it rains or snows. The collection includes over 25 subdued colors, like collegiate navy and steel. For women's sizes, a suitable alternative for the Ascender is the Kruser Ridge Softshell Jacket, which includes 24 colors, with picks like red hibiscus and bluebell. It offers mobility, wind-resistance, as well as excellent breathability — all the makings of a decent softshell jacket. Reviewers mention that the Kruser Ridge has a large fit, so it’s a good idea to size down.
Best for Women: Outdoor Research Women’s Ferrosi Hoody
The lightweight Ferrosi Hoody combines breathable, tough Cordura nylon on its arms with Ferrosi fabric on its body to protect against wind chills and rain. It suits both idle activities, like walking around town on chilly nights, as well as rigorous sports like trekking or hiking. To further protect you against wind chill, the arms come with additional thumb loops to keep the wind out. In colder weather, you may want to wear a mid-layer piece underneath for extra warmth. If you encounter light precipitation, take advantage of the adjustable hood and chin protector to keep yourself dry.
The softshell allows you to move freely, coming with movement-mirroring stretch. For storage, the jacket comes with one zip chest pocket, two zip hand pockets and one left-hand pocket, which doubles as a stuff pack.
Besides black, the selection also includes cheerful hues such as cornflower/night, desert sunset/sangria and elderberry/wisteria.
Best for Men: Outdoor Research Men's Ascendant Hoody
Winter, spring, summer or fall, the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody works perfectly for protecting you against the elements during all of your alpine adventures. It has a Polartec Alpha Direct insulated interior and light Pertex shell to shield you against wind and precipitation. The jacket is very breathable, but it will provide insulation when you're skiing or climbing in the cooler backcountry. Reviewers have mentioned that you won’t need to layer this jacket as much since the fleece insulation keeps your body sufficiently warm. You’ll be able to travel lighter without the extra layers.
Like many other softshells, the Ascendant Hoody incorporates movement-mirroring stretch that allows you to move your body comfortably. For storage, the jacket includes one zip chest pocket and two handwarmer pockets. To keep the cold out, its also features a helmet-compatible hood, drawcord hem and an internal front storm flap. If your hands are prone to freezing, fear not. The jacket sports thumb loops to protect your palm during chilly weather.
Pick from colors such as agate, aloe/charcoal, baltic/glacier, black/tahoe, lemongrass/flash and pewter/lemongrass.
Best Lightweight Jacket: Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
Mountain travelers who undergo strenuous aerobic activities will appreciate the minimalist Alpine Start Hoody, which features weather-resistance at a light weight of only nine ounces. You will even be able to pack the jacket in its internal chest pocket once the gloomy weather clears. It consists of Schoeller softshell material, so it’s breathable as well as tear-resistant. The jacket sports elastic cuffs and a drawcord hem, contouring to your body as opposed to the other way around. The underarm gussets also let you move your arms around freely. While the jacket provides adequate weather protection, its light weight does compromise its insulation output, so it may not feel as warm as some of the other picks on this list.
Best for Windy Weather: The North Face Apex Bionic Soft Shell Jacket
If your trip takes you to windy regions, invest in The North Face's Apex Bionic Soft Shell. The lightweight, comfortable jacket keeps you warm and free from wind chills with its Apex ClimateBlock fabric, which is flexible and coated with a water repellent. It boasts a windproof rating of 0 CFM (cubic feet per minute), which means that it’s 100 percent waterproof. It has a cozy fleece backer that provides extra warmth. To keep the cold out, the jacket has two zip handwarmer pockets, an adjustable drawcord hem, a full-zip front closure, a stand collar and an interior wind flap. It comes in The North Face's signature black color. Most reviewers love the fit of the jacket, though some do mention that the larger sizes will have sleeves that are a tad too long.
Best for Cold Weather: Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell Jacket
Slip on this jacket if you're going on high-output tours and extended missions, especially during moderately cold weather. Made from nylon and elastane, the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell Jacket is quite stretchy, so it’ll allow you to move freely in it. Coated with DWR, it sheds light precip and offers protection against wind, whether you're ice climbing or sledding. If your cold weather travels call for rigorous activities, you'll appreciate how breathable the jacket feels. It also comes with a ski-helmet-compatible hood that you can adjust.
The softshell includes plenty of storage space for you to keep essentials on your person, including two harness-compatible hand pockets, two internal drop pockets and one chest pocket. The fabric is also bluesign approved, which means that the product meets stringent consumer safety and sustainability standards.
Best for Mobility: Marmot Tempo Softshell Jacket
This softshell from Marmot is for dry, warm climates. Marmot's Tempo Jacket offers optimal breathability when you engage in vigorous exercise such as running, hiking or climbing. Because of the Angel-Wing movement design, you'll be able to move around the jacket with ease. In addition to its stretch fabric and design, the softshell comes with Lycra-bound cuffs and a drawcord hem for a secure, supple fit when you move. The jacket is also water repellent, so you will not need to worry about moisture seeping through it in case you do face moderate precipitation. If the weather does turn cold, you can take advantage of the zippered handwarmer pockets to keep your fingers toasty. In the men's selection, choose from colors such as blue sapphire, jet black, slate gray and team red. Women will be able to pick from jet black as well as more vivid colors such as blue sea, gem green and neon berry.