You’ve probably heard the term “softshell jacket” or you’ve seen it printed on clothing tags in outdoor industry retail stores. But what exactly is a softshell jacket?
According to Backcountry, softshell is the term used to describe a new kind of outerwear that is more breathable, flexible, and comfortable than the stiff, crinkly Gore-Tex like pants and jackets (called hard shells) that have dominated the market for years now.
The best softshell jackets combine many of the benefits of waterproof hard-shell jackets with more comfortable garments like fleece. Yet softshell jackets are neither. A softshell jacket keeps weather out like a hard-shell jacket but breathes like fleece. That means you don’t get nearly as sweaty during aerobic activities like ascending a mountain or cross-country skiing, and you’re able to regulate your temperature much more effectively and remain comfortable during rigorous activity.
You can wear a softshell jacket for nearly anything outside in moderate temperatures for activities like ultralight backpacking, hiking, ice climbing and mountaineering, casual walking or hiking, trail running, rock climbing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and so much more. Another bonus to softshell jackets is that they don’t attract pet hair like fleece often does. Pet lovers appreciate this feature!
But choosing the right softshell for you can be overwhelming with so many options online and in stores. Here are our seven picks for the best softshell jackets for 2021.
1. Marmot ROM jacket
The Marmot ROM (Range of Motion) jacket — made for both men (pictured) and women — is a medium-weight softshell jacket with a zonal design approach. This Marmot jacket allows you to easily move around as it provides extra stretch in all the right places, while still having enough insulation to keep you warm and enough breathability to keep your body temperature regulated. Some people call this jacket the “Swiss army knife” of softshell jackets.
The zonal construction divides this jacket into three regions: chest, side panels and the rest of the jacket. The chest region offers the most warmth as Marmot designed this section with a quick-drying polyester fleece on the inside (due to the need to accommodate the front pocket locations). Under the arms, the side panels are very thin and allow for maximum venting where you need it most when you are active outside. The rest of the jacket is made of the specially designed Windstopper polyester. The exterior shell has a durable water repellent finish (DWR), which offers additional weather protection from light rains.
The Velcro cuffs help keep out snow, the deep pockets can hold your extra small gear and the Gore-Tex Windstopper will keep the cold at bay.
2. Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Softshell Jacket
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded softshell — with versions for men and for women (pictured) — is a favorite among rock climbers an mountaineers as the softshell exterior holds up to brushes with rough rock. It’s also great for longer hikes as it’s highly weather resistant and easy to layer with a thicker jacket on top. Outdoor Research also added in UPF 50+ sun protection, making it ideal for those sunny days out skiing or snowshoeing.
Made of a nylon spandex blend with a lot of stretch, the Ferrosi hooded softshell is incredibly comfortable to wear while still giving you a durable shell that’s breathable. It’s quick drying and water and wind resistant. The hidden thumbholes also help keep the sleeves in place and keep out snow. This jacket is built tough with 86 percent nylon, 14 percent spandex with a woven ripstop body and hood, Cordura 91 percent nylon, 9 percent spandex 120D stretch woven shoulders and lower sleeves.
3. Beyond Clothing K5 Modus Jacket
The fit and feel of the Modus Jacket will immediately draw you in. It is tailored in all the right places, and some of the most recognizable features, such as the stitching and zipper construction, readily stands out. It also offers a four-way stretch, which is vital for any premium jacket that wants to earn its spot in a world of highly mobile adventuring.
The Modus Jacket will do a nice job keeping you comfortable and dry during a light rain or when a 30-minute pop-up storm sneaks over the mountains.
But staying dry throughout a day of hiking has a lot more to do with the inner fabrics of the jacket than with the outer shell. The lining of the Modus is made of bamboo charcoal yarn, which is naturally antibacterial, antifungal, moisture wicking and insulating. The lining also is a mesh construction, which enhances its wicking characteristics and makes for pleasant travels even while descending to some of the lower (and warmer) elevations.
The Modus Jacket has an interior right breast pocket and an external left breast pocket, both of which are zippered, as are the hip pockets and sleeve pocket. The cuffs are adjustable, and the main zipper has a garage at the chin.
Read our full review of the Modus Jacket here.
4. North Face Apex Bionic 2
The North Face Apex Bionic 2 jacket is ideal for multi-seasonal use. This upgraded North Face softshell jacket will not disappoint! It has a high neck and North Face used a special WindWall fabric for optimal wind protection while still maintaining stretch. There’s also 86 percent recycled polyester built in and the jacket has a DWR (Durable Water-Repellent) finish to keep you dry in light rain and snow.
The centered chest zipper hoodie is in a good location and less likely to interfere with your backpack while you’re hiking. The attached hoodie and waist hem are both adjustable so you can get a custom fit while you’re outdoors. And, the jacket comes several colors, so you’ll have options to fit your custom style. There’s also a non-hooded North Face Bionic 2 softshell jacket option if you’d rather opt out of the hood.
5. Women’s Mountain Hardwear Keele Softshell Hoody
The Mountain Harwear Keele softshell hooded jacket is water Resistant with a super soft fleece inner, and it’s ideal for both outdoor and casual wear. This jacket is ideal for any weather conditions as it has qualities of a hard-shell jacket built into a softshell helping you stay secure while you’re outside in rain or snow. You’ll also notice that this jacket is more figure flattering than other softshell jackets as the design comes slightly in at the waist just at the top of the oversized outer zip pockets.
Weighing in at just under 13 ounces, this jacket is also an ideal packable option and won’t weigh you down if you’re layering more jackets on top. You can also choose from eight different colors like purple, teal and green. The sewn in thumb holes are also ideal to help you keep your jacket in place while you’re outside. This prevents bunching and also adds an additional lining under your gloves and prevents snow from sneaking into your sleeves.
6. La Sportiva Macnas Hoody
The Macnas Hoody is a highly breathable hybrid softshell made for active all mountain use. The stretchy windproof and water-resistant shell provides ideal weather protection and light insulation.
The articulated hood, premium sleeve cuff gaiters and ample pocket details make this hoody a super versatile and functional piece for a wide variety of days outdoors.
It has a chest zipper pocket, two hand pockets and elastic sleeve cuffs, and is made of recycled softshell fabric.
7. Carhartt Crowly Softshell Jacket
The innovative Carhartt Crowly jacket comes in both regular sizes and big and tall sizes in a dark and light tan color. With a 90 percent nylon/10 percent spandex outer shell, it’s ideal for defending off rain as it’s extremely water repellant. It also helps keep the wind at bay with a high zip up mock neck collar. Be careful though if you’re sporting a beard as the zipper can easily get caught in your beard.
This jacket is also extremely light at just under 14 ounces, so it’s a workhorse without the added weight and can easily be washed in your washing machine without needing extra care. The left-chest pocket and two lower front pockets can fit a lot of your gear like a cell phone, wallet and keys. This jacket also had adjustable cuffs, so you don’t need to worry about the sleeve length. Carhartt is known for their rugged work gear, and this softshell jacket lives up to that reputation.
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