Looking for a jacket to cope with those awkward in-between days when you have no idea what the weather’s going to do?
You need a softshell jacket!
Softshell jackets are a relatively new concept but the technology has come a long, long way in a very short space of time.
The result? A mid-weight jacket that provides enough weather-proofing for all but the most serious weather, while remaining breathable and not restricting your moment.
It’s almost too good to be true, but there are now some excellent options on the market that will make you wish you owned one sooner.
Read on for reviews of 12 of the best softshell jackets of 2020 for women and men, followed by a short guide on how to choose the best softshell for your needs.
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- TOP 12 Best Softshell Jackets of 2020
- Arc’teryx Women’s Gamma SL Jacket
- Outdoor Research Women’s Ferrosi Jacket
- Rab Women’s Borealis Jacket
- Mountain Warehouse Women’s Exodus Softshell
- Marmot Women’s Gravity Jacket
- Columbia Women’s Kruser Ridge II Softshell
- Arc’teryx Men’s Gamma LT Hoody
- Rab Men’s Torque Jacket
- Black Diamond Men’s Dawn Patrol Shell
- Outdoor Research Men’s San Juan Jacket
- The North Face Men’s Apex Bionic 2 Jacket
- Columbia Men’s Ascender Softshell Jacket
- What is a Softshell Jacket?
TOP 12 Best Softshell Jackets of 2020
Arc’teryx Women’s Gamma SL Jacket
Review: Arc’teryx make some of best quality softshells on the market with top of the line workmanship and weather-proofing that will rival some hardshells.
The Gamma SL is a highly popular jacket, similar to the Gamma LT but lighter weight, a tiny bit less weather-proof and possibly a bit more versatile.
It’s ideal for mild weather climbing with great mobility and gusted underarms, but also good weather-proofing and breathability.
- Slim fitting with an elasticated hem and storm hood.
- Lightweight and easily packable.
- Good level of wind and water resistance.
- Good breathability.
- 4 way stretch and gusseted underarms make it a great choice for climbing.
- No chest pocket.
- Not harness or helmet compatible.
Outdoor Research Women’s Ferrosi Jacket
Review: This is a warm weather softshell that is perfect for activities with a high level of cardio or that require a full range of motion, but in environments where you can’t risk getting damp and sweaty.
It will keep you protected from moderate winds and light showers while not restricting your movements and keeping you dry and comfortable.
And, despite being lightweight, it’s got excellent durability against abrasions so you’ll be happy wearing this climbing or rock scrambling too.
- Excellent breathability – minimal chance of getting sweaty.
- Excellent mobility.
- Nice and lightweight.
- Has a hood.
- Good value for money.
- Only moderate weather-proofing when it comes to rain.
Rab Women’s Borealis Jacket
Review: The RAB Borealis softshell is another super lightweight option with a high level of mobility and breathability that makes it ideal for finer weather, when you just wanted protection from chilly winds or the odd shower.
It’s made with climbing in mind, with a helmet compatible hood and pockets located above where your harness would sit for easy accessibility.
But its high level of breathability and light weight also make it a great choice for hiking and travel.
- Great mobility.
- Extremely lightweight.
- Helmet compatible hood.
- 2 harness compatible hand pockets.
- Elasticated cuffs.
- No chest pocket.
Mountain Warehouse Women’s Exodus Softshell
Review: This is by far the most affordable softshell on this list, but it’s also a high performer when it comes to functionality too.
It provides excellent water resistance while remaining nicely breathable. It’s got an adjustable hood, hem and Velcro cuffs, and the back is slightly longer than the front giving your bum a little more coverage when you’re cycling so it won’t ride up.
- Very affordable.
- Good water resistance and breathability.
- Comfortable fleece lining.
- Adjustable draw-cord hood and hem.
- Velcro cuffs.
- Sizing is a little tricky, may need to size up, but arms are a little long for some.
Marmot Women’s Gravity Jacket
Review: This is a versatile jacket for active travelers. It’s not designed with any specific outdoor pursuits in mind so it’s not harness compatible and doesn’t have a hood.
But, it’s got good mobility through the arms, a super comfortable fleece lining, and a good balance of water resistance, wind resistance and breathability.
- Velcro cuffs are comfortable with gloves.
- Fleece lining is comfortable against your skin.
- Additional shoulder pocket.
- Good weather-proofing and breathability.
- Plenty of mobility through the shoulders.
- No hood.
- Fits snug so may need to size up if you want room for extra layers.
Columbia Women’s Kruser Ridge II Softshell
Review: Similar to the Marmot Gravity but a little more affordable, the Colombia Kruser Ridge is another more casual jacket that is a versatile option for travelers and hikers.
It doesn’t have a hood and it only has the two hand pockets, but it has an adjustable draw-cord hem and elasticated cuffs as well as reliable weather proofing that is well suited to cooler weather.
- Good water and wind resistance.
- Wide range of colors available.
- Adjustable hem and elasticated cuffs.
- Soft and comfortable interior lining.
- Sizing runs large.
Arc’teryx Men’s Gamma LT Hoody
Review: One of the most highly rated softshells on the market, the Gamma LT provides hearty weather-proofing for a softshell while also not restricting movement and remaining breathable enough to prevent a buildup of sweat.
Its tough, abrasion-resistant material will cope easily with alpine environments while keeping you warm, dry and comfortable.
And, its slim fitting design will mean you look good at the same time.
- One of the most weather-proof options on the market.
- Great mobility.
- Good breathability considering its high level of weather-proofing.
- Abrasion resistant.
- Hood is helmet compatible so will be harder to get a snug fit if you’re not wearing a helmet.
Rab Men’s Torque Jacket
Review: This RAB softshell is more of a spring and summer jacket for exposed places where you need a bit of extra protection despite the warmer temperatures.
It’s a highly versatile jacket that packs up small and doesn’t weigh much, while still managing to include extra pockets and a helmet compatible hood.
It’s also super breathable and doesn’t restrict movement at all making it a great choice for more cardio-based activities.
- Extremely breathable and ideal for warm weather.
- 2 zippered chest pockets.
- Reinforced elbows and hood for long term durability.
- Excellent mobility makes it a great choice for climbing.
- Less overall weather protection.
Black Diamond Men’s Dawn Patrol Shell
Review: Designed with fine weather skiing in mind, this softshell is also ideal for summer mountaineering, shoulder season climbing or general travel.
It strikes a good balance between weatherproofing, mobility and breathability with plenty of extra features making it compatible with harness and helmet sports.
- Velcro cuffs secure well over gloves.
- Ski helmet compatible hood.
- Hand pockets are positioned a little higher to account for a harness.
- Reliable weather-proofing.
- Packs up reasonably small.
- Cuffs are less comfortable than elasticated version when you’re not wearing gloves.
Outdoor Research Men’s San Juan Jacket
Review: The San Juan softshell from Outdoor Research scores highly for its balance of weatherproofing and breathability.
It manages to find the perfect compromise meaning it’ll cope well with moderate rain and harsh wind but won’t cause you to sweat when the temperatures rise a little.
It doesn’t have quite the mobility of some softshells so you’d be less likely to use this jacket for climbing, but for hiking and mountain biking, or the cross country skiing it was designed for, it’s nearly perfect.
- Excellent balance of weatherproofing and breathability.
- 2 zippered chest pockets and 2 hand pockets as well as internal pockets.
- Helmet compatible hood.
- Elasticated draw cord hem.
- Some restriction of movement.
The North Face Men’s Apex Bionic 2 Jacket
Review: This North Face jacket leans towards the casual end of the functionality spectrum rather than performance.
It doesn’t have a hood so it’s less suited to more extreme environments. But it’s a solid choice for shoulder season day hikes and traveling in general.
It has pretty solid weather proofing when it comes to wind and rain and you’ll definitely be cozy in this jacket in cooler temperatures.
But its wind and water resistance means that it’s less breathable than some, so you’ll be shedding layers once the temperatures warm up.
- Great weather-proofing for a softshell.
- Smart and sleek.
- Good sized zippered hand pockets and chest pocket.
- Slightly restricted mobility and breathability.
- On the heavy side.
Columbia Men’s Ascender Softshell Jacket
Review: Another casual jacket, this highly popular and smart softshell wouldn’t be out of place in the city, making it a really versatile option for traveling and once you get home.
It has good water resistance so will tolerate light rain well, and its soft lining is really comfortable.
But, it has a snug, form-fitting cut so if you’re traveling to colder climates and want to be able to fit a warm layer underneath, you may wish to size up.
- Smart and city sleek.
- Water and wind resistant.
- 2 zippered hand pockets and a zippered chest pocket.
- Comes in a huge range of colors.
- Flattering form-fitting cut.
- No hood so less suited to outdoor pursuits like hiking.
What is a Softshell Jacket?
This might sound like a stupid question… but it’s really not. After all, you should understand the limitations of what you’re buying before you commit.
A softshell is a 3 season jacket designed to provide a moderate layer of weather-proofing while remaining breathable and not restricting movement.
They’re designed with outdoor pursuits like hiking, mountain biking and climbing in mind, but are also popular with city dwellers looking for something smart and sleek to wear on the commute due to their light weight and functionality.
The nature of softshells means that they actually lie on a continuum with weatherproofing at one end and mobility and breathability at the other.
So, choosing the best softshell jacket for your needs means that you need to weigh up which end of this spectrum is more important to you.
Let’s talk about what softshells are designed to do and how to prioritize the features.
It’s worth remembering that softshells aren’t designed to be completely waterproof. Truly waterproof softshell jackets aren’t really a thing (yet – who knows where technology is going?).
Instead, they’re designed to strike that perfect balance between weather-proofing, breathability and mobility.
When we say weather-proof with regard to softshells, what we mean is water resistant and wind resistant. Some will do this better than others, but at a cost to some breathability.
No matter how far technology has come, you’re still going to have to sacrifice a little breathability if you want a jacket suited to harsher weather conditions.
So, the level of weather-proofing you need is going to be the main deciding factor in which softshell you choose.
Breathability is the ability for your jacket to let moisture from sweat escape so that you don’t get damp inside your jacket.
This is really important when you’re active in the backcountry but there’s a cool breeze in the air. If you stop moving and cool down, being damp from sweat is pretty much the best recipe for hypothermia.
So, it’s important to stay dry, and to do this, you need your clothes to be breathable.
But, as mentioned above, breathability comes at a cost to weather-proofing. So you’ll need to work out what your priorities are and strike a balance between the two.
Breathability is arguably less important if you’re not going to be sweating much. But, wearing a moisture-wicking base layer like merino wool can still help a lot with this regardless of your activity level.
The other key quality of a good softshell jacket is its stretchy material that allows for a snug, insulating fit without restricting your range of movement.
This is important when it comes to activities like climbing where you need to be able to reach your arms up without being hindered by your clothing.
Most softshells are made of a 4-way stretch material that allows for maximum mobility.
The classic softshell typically has a fleecy or brushed lining making it warm, cozy and soft against your skin.
But how warm your softshell is will vary and again be a factor of weather-proofing versus breathability.
So, you’ll need to know what kind of weather conditions you’ll mostly be wearing your jacket in and how much insulation you need.
A safe tip is to size up just enough to allow for an extra mid-layer underneath.
Alternatively, if insulation is your priority, you might be disappointed by a softshell. For very cold but dry weather, an insulated, down jacket is your best bet. We have a guide to the best options here to get you started.
Weight and Packed Size
Softshells vary a lot in weight and packed size. If you’re traveling, you’re going to want something as light and packable as possible.
But then you miss out on some weather-proofing and insulation. Again, it’s a compromise!
If ultimate pack-ability and travel convenience is your priority, you might be better off considering a packable rain jacket that can be paired with more base and mid-layers.
Hoods and Pockets
If you’re mostly going to be wearing your jacket in urban environments, a hood isn’t so important.
But in the backcountry, a hood can make a huge difference to the amount of body heat you can lose from your head and neck and can be a really important feature.
But, not all hoods are created equally. Most softshell hoods from top outdoor brands are designed to fit over a helmet, which is great for helmet wearers but not so great for non-helmet wearers as the fit can be hard to adjust. So, keep this in mind!
Pockets are pretty self-explanatory. For most people, the more the better! But it’s worth bearing in mind that some jackets come with the pockets positioned a little higher in order to allow for a harness.
If you’re not going to wearing a harness, this could be annoying as the pockets are only really useful for storing items, not your hands!
Elasticated vs Velcro Cuffs
This is a pretty minor factor but could be a source of annoyance for some people. Both come with their own pros and cons.
Velcro cuffs can ensure a more snug fit and are especially good over gloves, but can be uncomfortable without gloves.
Elasticated cuffs can be more versatile and comfortable but if the elastic is too loose for you, there’s not much you can do about it.
The best softshell jackets don’t come cheap.
Of course, you’ll pay more for a jacket from one of the best outdoor clothing brands. And, usually, the extra money is worth it for the quality, performance and longevity.
But if you’re on a budget, then there are great alternatives available at more affordable prices, like the Colombia and Mountain Warehouse options above.
That wraps up the rough guide the choosing a softshell.
Loving the idea of softshell technology? Did you know you can get softshell pants too? They are ideal for colder weather hiking, offering more weather-proofing than you’d get with most hiking pants. Check out this article if you’re interested in seeing what’s available.
What is the difference between a softshell and hardshell jacket?
A softshell jacket is designed to be water-resistant, breathable and flexible, while a hardshell jacket is designed to be waterproof and will typically be less breathable and much less flexible.
Is a softshell jacket good for winter?
If you experience mild winters with just a little rain, or you won’t be leaving the city, then a softshell jacket would be a great choice.
But for most temperate parts of the world and all alpine environments, you usually need more than a softshell to be safe in the winter.
Do softshell jackets shrink?
They shouldn’t… but never say never! To be safe, follow the specific washing instructions on your softshell and avoid hot temperatures.
Are softshell jackets warm?
They can be! Softshell jackets come with different levels of warmth available but some can indeed be quite toasty.
What are softshell jackets good for?
The breathability and flexibility of softshells makes them great for many sports including climbing, hiking, cycling, cross country skiing and fine weather mountaineering.
Can you wash a softshell jacket?
Yes, softshell jackets are usually machine washable. But you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions before doing anything, and the DWR coating may need re-doing after the wash if it came with one.
That brings us to the end of this guide to the best softshell jackets available in 2020.
Hopefully, you’ve found a jacket to suit your requirements and found the right balance of weather-proofing, breathability and weight.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the jackets I’ve listed and any other recommendations on good softshells that I should have included.