Softshell jackets are the unsung hero of the outdoor gear world. They keep you warm in the cold, protected from the wind, and dry in light rain all while staying breathable and comfortable during high-octane activities.
Although it might seem like no one jacket could possibly do all of these tasks, softshell jackets have proven themselves time and time again to be one of the best layers for outdoor enthusiasts.
Since softshell jackets are made from so many different materials and in so many different styles, it can be difficult to figure out which one is right for you.
After the reviews below we have tips on what to look out for when choosing your jacket.
Our top pick: Macpac Sabre Softshell Jacket
Pros: Very versatile, fleece backing, DWR finish, comes in eight different sizes
Cons: Only available in two colours
This is a great option for hiking, travelling, or day-to-day wear. It’s made of a polyester softshell with a fleece backing and smooth outer face that’s durable and water repellent (DWR).
The softshell lamination is breathable, allowing air to flow through the fabric.
This means your body can continue to regulate its temperature in warmer conditions or during physical activity.
This jacket has zip chest pockets and hand pockets for storing small items like keys or phones.
The adjustable cuffs and hem help keep out the cold air, while an internal draft flap reduces heat loss in colder temperatures.
Best value: Kathmandu Arbury Jacket
Pros: Fleece backing, four-way stretch fabric, DWR finish, reasonably priced
Cons: No hood
The Arbury Jacket is a very versatile jacket that you can wear in many different outdoors or travel situations. It’s made entirely of recycled polyester and has a fleece backing for extra comfort
The jacket is highly wind-resistant and water repellent, so it will keep you warm and dry even in light rain. The high collar also helps keep your neck warm.
The four-way stretch fabric gives you greater freedom of movement and makes sure that you don’t feel restricted during physical activity.
Also great: The North Face Apex Bionic 2 Jacket
Pros: Stylish design, windproof and breathable, DWR finish
Cons: Only comes in black
With the Apex Bionic 2 Jacket, The North Face has created a jacket that is as comfortable as it is practical.
This 100% windproof fabric is breathable, making it suitable for aerobic activities, but also has a fleece backing for warmth and comfort.
The DWR finish helps ensure that rain will bead up and roll off of the jacket, keeping you dry and warm.
The covered, secure-zip chest and hand pockets can store your valuables safely while a hem cinch-cord makes sure that you have a good fit around your waist for extra warmth.
Pros: Water and wind resistant, insulated with grid fleece for breathability
Cons: No hood, too heavy for high-output activity
The Kuhl Impakt is a softshell jacket that looks just as good on the trail as it does in town.
Made with a comfy 4-way stretch fabric with grid fleece on the underarm and side panels, the Impakt is designed to keep you warm while also allowing you to charge up the trail.
Plus, the jacket is water and wind-resistant to help keep you dry in foul weather.
That being said, the Kuhl Impakt is fairly heavy for a softshell jacket, is insulated, and doesn’t come with a hood, so it might not be best for overly aerobic activities in the alpine. It excels on moderate day hikes and short backpacking trips.
Pros: Very warm, great wind and water resistance
Cons: Heavy, expensive, not breathable enough for serious excursions, no hood
The Marmot Gravity is a durable and practical softshell layer for outdoor adventure. It is insulated with a light fleece liner and boasts some serious water-resistant and wind-resistant power, which is great when the weather turns sour.
However, the Gravity prioritises warmth and protection from the elements over breathability, so it’s probably best used as a warm layer for less strenuous hikes than as a wind buffer on your next trail run.
But, the Gravity is stylish enough for use in town, too, so if you’re a weekend warrior, this jacket might be the one for you.
Softshell Jacket Buying Guide
When purchasing a softshell jacket, there are a few key things you’ll need to look for. Keep an eye out for these critical criteria:
Many outdoor enthusiasts prefer softshells over rain jackets for high-output activities because they are more breathable than jackets with a waterproof liner.
Not all softshells are created equal, though, and some are more breathable than others.
Some softshells are even made with more breathable fabrics around the torso and more water resistant fabrics around the shoulders, arms, and hood, to help with breathability.
The main difference between a softshell and a hardshell jacket is that softshells are water-resistant while hardshells are waterproof.
This means that while a softshell will keep you dry in mist or light rain, it’s not meant for a deluge or downpour. While there are some truly waterproof softshells, these are few and far between – and very expensive.
Generally speaking, you’ll want a softshell with some semblance of water resistance and a durable water repellent (DWR) coating on the outside.
Although many softshells come with a thin layer of fleece insulation, some have none at all.
As you can imagine, softshells with fleece insulation, no matter how thin, will be warmer than their non-insulated counterparts and better for colder temperatures.
But, insulation decreases breathability, increases bulk and weight, and makes the jacket less suitable to warm-weather use and high-octane activities.
If you can only choose one softshell jacket, our choice is the Macpac Sabre.
Built for aerobic activity, the Sabre is water and wind resistant, breathable, and is made with a lightweight fabric.
Plus, it is easily layered with other jackets when the weather changes and you need a bit of extra warmth.
At the end of the day, however, it’s important to find a softshell fabric that meets your needs and suits your lifestyle. Happy trails!