A softshell jacket is that item in your outdoor wardrobe you never knew you needed. One would think that a rain jacket, hardshell and insulated layer would have you covered. But get yourself into the stretchy comfort of one of the best softshells, head out on an active adventure, and you’ll be wondering how you ever got by without one!
- When to wear a softshell jacket
- Properties of softshell jackets
- Design features of softshell jackets
- The best softshell jackets for men
- The best softshell jackets for women
For those who are new to the softshell jacket wearing world, our guide will take you through their properties, when you would wear one, and the features you should look for in the best softshells.
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|Product||Type of jacket||Best for||Weight||Cost|
|Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoodie||Insulated single layer||Hiking and climbing||400g (14.1oz)||$$$|
|Spray Way Palmer||Single layer||Everyday use||260g (9.1oz)||$$$|
|Outdoor Research Ferrosi||Single layer||Hiking and climbing||393g (13.9oz)||$$|
|Rab Salvo||Fleece-lined||Cool weather adventures||560g (19.7oz)||$$$|
|Columbia Cascade Ridge II Softshell||Fleece-lined||Cool weather adventures||Not available||$|
|Mountain Hardwear Super Chockstone||Single layer||Hiking and climbing||353g (12.5oz)||$|
|Mammut Foraker Light Insulated Jacket||Insulated||Cool weather climbing and hiking||290g (10.2oz)||$$$$|
|Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody||Polartec lined||Cold weather adventures||310g (10.9oz)||$$$$|
|CMP Softshell Zip Hood||Fleece-lined||Skiing / everyday winter wear||700g (24oz)||$|
When to wear a softshell jacket
It’s usually fairly obvious when to reach for your rain jacket. And opting for your cosy puffy doesn’t require you to fill out a questionnaire before you decide it’s the right jacket for the conditions. But when it comes to wearing softshells, it’s not always so obvious — especially to those who are wearing them for the first time.
One of the main reasons to choose a softshell over other jacket options is if your activity levels are greater than your average hike. If you are embarking upon an adventure where freedom of movement, mobility and comfort are of paramount importance, then wear a softshell jacket. These jackets really excel when rock climbing and scrambling as their stretchy shell not only provides lots of movement and comfort, but it is also highly breathable to prevent overheating and moisture build-up.
Because some softshell jackets are also lined, they are ideal for a number of different outdoor activities. These include:
- Rock climbing
- Mountain biking
Softshell jackets don’t block out the elements like fully wind and waterproof hardshells or rain jackets. Nor do they provide high levels of warmth. Their main function is to provide enough protection in moderate weather conditions without compromising on comfort, stretch and breathability. They do, however, deal with light rain, snow and wind well. And jackets with linings also add a layer of warmth in cooler conditions.
Properties of softshell jackets
Stretch and comfort — freedom of movement and mobility are essential to provide comfort when being active.
Breathable — this is important to prevent moisture build up on the inside of the jacket during high levels of exertion.
Wind resistant — this is an essential properties that helps with temperature control. The fabric weave affects the degree of protection against the wind.
Water resistant — waterproof softshell jackets are not very common, and are very expensive. The best softshell jackets offer decent levels of water resistance and many have a DWR (durable water repellent) coating to help with this.
Durable — because softshells are often used in physically demanding situations, they need to be high durable. Many of them are made of ripstop fabric and are abrasion resistant, too.
Design features of softshell jackets
Outer layer shell
This should be stretchy and breathable and is usually made of polyester or nylon. Some have a DWR coating to help bead up water, and many use own-brand technology to fight against wind and rain.
The inside fabric of softshell jackets is usually brushed and soft to the skin, further adding to their overall comfort. Some jackets are lined with fleece to add a layer of warmth. These are great in cooler conditions or for skiing.
Not all softshell jackets have hoods, although all of the options on our list do. If you opt for a jacket with a hood it should be adjustable or fitted to prevent wind from getting inside it.
A drawcord at the hem enables wearers to customise the fit to suit their shape. It also helps to keep the draft out and stop your jacket from riding up during dynamic movement.
Chest pockets and hand pockets are usually zippered. Many softshells also position hand pockets high up so that they are compatible with climbing harnesses.
The best softshell jackets for men
Offering the stretch and comfort of a fleece but the added protection of a durable water repellent finish, the Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoodie is an eco-friendly softshell jacket for hiking and climbing. It’s made from a durable 92% polyester/8% spandex weave, with 69% recycled polyester, which is designed to shed water. The high neck design and snug cuffs also help to keep out cold winds. Other features include a climbing-helmet compatible and adjustable hood, ventilated hand pockets, and an adjustable hem. There’s also an external zippered-chest pocket for storing a phone or GPS. The end result is a versatile and slim-fitting jacket which is warm, water resistant, and breathable without restricting your range of movement.
- Warm and soft internal material
- Good weather resistance
- Allows for plenty of movement
- Available in men’s and Women’s versions
- Not the lightest jacket on this list
At an impressively streamlined 260g (9.1oz), the Spray Way Palmer is the most lightweight softshell jacket for men on our list. Its TecWEAVE Stretch PU laminated fabric provides a wonderfully comfortable, yet casual fit that is spacious enough to wear warmer layers underneath. The DWR coating beads up accumulating water from light rain showers decently enough for a non-waterproof shell. But this simple jacket from Spray Way really comes into its own as a very decent windbreak on blustery days.
The jacket features an external chest pocket but no hand pockets. The hood, however, is fully adjustable both at the front and back, with a wired peak to really keep out the wind and light rain. There is also a chest vent tab that allows you to unzip for some extra airflow without the jacket bellowing open.
What we really love about this jacket, is that despite its technical properties, it doesn’t look too ‘outdoorsy’. Ideal for everyday wear as well as damp and windy adventures.
- Great wind resistance
- Chest vent
- Casual look
- No hand pockets
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The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket is another single-layered lightweight option. Like the Spray Way, this is one of the best softshell jackets for those wanting wind protection and exceptional mobility in active scenarios. The main body of the jacket is made of abrasion resistant 90D stretch woven ripstop fabric, and the 120D Cordura fabric at shoulders and arms provide even more durability — ideal for rock-based activities. There is also a DWR coating for resistance against light rain. The OR Ferrosi fabric dries very quickly and provides plenty of stretch for free and unrestricted movement. It is also exceptionally breathable.
Other features include zippered hand pockets and an external chest pocket. There is also a drawcord at the hem and the hood to batten down the hatches when the wind picks up. And finally, OR have updated this ever-popular jacket with thumb loops to nicely round off an already superb softshell jacket.
- Thumb loops
- Very breathable
- Durable fabric
- We’re still looking!
If you’re after for a midweight softshell jacket that will keep you protected in the chillier seasons, look no further than the Rab Salvo. On the outside, the super stretchy nylon face provides hard wearing protection against the wind and light rain. On the inside there is a light insulating layer of polyester honeycomb fleece to keep you toastie on. This is unlined — much like the insulation in the OR Ascendant Hoody — and wicks moisture away from the body.
There are two hand pockets that are compatible with a climbing harness, plus an external chest pocket. What we really love about the design of this jacket is the hood. It has a wonderfully high neck to keep out the chilly wind, and is adjustable at the front and the back of the hood to create a nicely fitted and cosy feel around the head. Like the Spray Way, the hood also has a wired peak.
An ideal option for active adventures, scrambling, hiking and climbing in the cooler months.
- Fleece lined for cooler seasons
- Very cosy, fitted hood
- Heavier than other options
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The Columbia Cascade Ridge II Softshell offers exceptionally good value to those after extra protection from the elements in the cooler months. It is fleece lined for warmth, with a polyester Contour shell that is wind and water resistant thanks to its Omni-Shield advanced repellency. The fit and performance struggles to compete with the Rab Salvo in more extreme activities. But for everyday wear, hiking and general outdoor use in cold, blustery conditions, you can’t go wrong with this double layered, midweight softshell that also deals with light rainfall very well.
The two hand pockets are zippered, as is the external chest pocket. And there is a drawcord at the hem for a custom fit, and to keep the updraft out! The peaked, fleece-lined hood is removeable and feels super cosy once the drawcord is cinched in. Plus the fleece chin guard is a really nice touch of added luxury to the high neck. This is a superb value softshell jacket is that delivers on style and function in less technically demanding scenarios.
- Deals with light rain very well
- Great value
- Not as breathable as lighter-weight softshells
The best softshell jackets for women
The Mountain Hardwear Super Chockstone is a super stylish and perfectly simple softshell. Weighing only 353g (12.5oz), this lightweight yet highly durable jacket is ideal for those looking for a true and traditional softshell layer. Other than a double layer of fabric through the front panels, the Chockstone 76D x 70D Double Weave nylon fabric is single layered throughout the jacket. This helps to add protection from the wind where you need it most, in the chest and torso. And the single layered panels on the rest of the jacket keep breathability and mobility levels high at the sides, back and arms. The fit of the jacket also allows space for extra layers underneath in colder conditions. The perfect balance for active days in the mountains or on the coast.
The jacket is relatively frill-free compared with our other softshell options. However, it does feature a silky soft brushed polyester internal chin guard at the collar and zip length internal draft excluders. There is also a low profile hem drawcord, two hand pockets that sit high enough to access when wearing a climbing harness, and an internal chest pocket. You can stow the jacket away into this pocket, although, curiously the zipper isn’t reversible. The hood is not adjustable, but it does feature an elasticated opening, and its streamlined design fits well underneath a helmet.
The best option lightweight softshell option for summer adventures or shoulder season excursions when coupled with other layers.
- Very breathable
- No insulation
This lightly insulated softshell jacket is ideal for those wanting a little extra warmth when being active in the outdoors. Mammut have combined insulation from Polartec Alpha panels through the torso with a stretchy, breathable Pertex Quantum Air outer layer. The result is a superbly versatile softshell that takes some serious beating when adventuring in chilly conditions.
The slim fit and cosy lining means that it is well suited as a single layer over a vest in the summer. But there is also enough room to layer up underneath it on days when the cold and wind are persisting.
Like the Chockstone, the jacket features a simple, helmet compatible hood that is not adjustable. There are also high-set hand pockets and an external chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack. The collar is nice and high to keep out any unwanted drafts at the neck, and the stretch panels at the sides and on the arms make movement a dream — zero restriction.
For more info, check out our full review of the Mammut Foraker Jacket.
- Lightly insulated
- Provides high levels of mobility
The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody is more than just a softshell layer. It bridges the gap between insulated jackets and shell jackets with its innovative and insanely lightweight Polartec Alpha Direct insulation. This fleece-like fabric sits directly next to your base layer or skin — it isn’t encased on the inside of the jacket. When combined with the tough Pertex Microlight 20D ripstop outer, you’ve got yourself a softshell that is warm enough for year-round adventures, and without the usual associated weight. At only 10.9oz / 310g this jacket is only a fraction heavier than the Mammut Foraker.
This moisture wicking and breathable jacket has a DWR coating that deals with light rain showers in an unexpectedly expert fashion. It also has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from the best softshell jackets including an external zippered chest pocket, hem drawcord, thumb loops and an elasticated hood with a drawcord adjustment at the rear. The non-zippered pockets can be a downside for some, but the cosy finish inside them makes up for it!
For more information read our full review of the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody.
- Excellent breathability
- Ideal for cold weather activity
- Has thumb loops
- No zips on the pockets
- Too warm for summer activity
For those wanting a superb value, fleece-lined softshell ski jacket for everyday winter outings and casual skiing, look no further than the CMP Softshell Zip Hood. The super soft and cosy fleece lining make this an excellent option for light activity in colder temperatures.
The three-layered structure of the fabric makes this jacket exceptionally wind resistant (apart from the small gap at the neck where the hood attaches). The Clima Protect system also provides good breathability when being active. This is essential due to the warmth provided by the fleece lining.
The discreet hand pockets have invisible zippers and are also fleece lined. But the zipper pulls are a little on the small side making them a little tricky to use when wearing gloves! The main zipper pull, however, is much bigger and is easy to access, even with thick winter gloves on.
The jacket features soft fleece cuffs which provide a cosy feel in dry weather, but they get a little soggy in snow or damp conditions as they can’t be tucked back in. There is an easy to use draw cord at the hem, and the fabric as lots of stretch and although it is fitted there is still space for extra layers on underneath on the really cold days.
Other features include a small arm pocket that is just big enough for a ski pass, keys or money. And the adjustable hood has draw cords both at the front and through the back for a close fit to keep out the wind. The hood is also removable via a short zip at the back.
- Fleece lined
- Good for light activity in winter conditions
- Removable hood
- Cuffs get a bit soggy in the wet
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Whether you’re out rock climbing, hiking the coast or out on everyday adventures, a softshell jacket is an ideal addition to your quiver of jackets. Their breathable, free moving comfort and basic protection from the elements is much more useful than you could ever imagine!