5 Of The Best... Soft Shell jackets Reviewed (2018)

Soft shell jackets provide more wind- and water-resistance than fleece, as well as more breathability and comfort than a waterproof ‘hard shell’ jacket. This makes them ideal for windy and misty mountaintop use...


DESIGN

Soft shell jackets are designed to be more comfortable than waterproof jackets, so they tend to be short and made from softer, more comfortable fabrics that are stretchy and more durable than many waterproof fabrics. Good movement in the sleeves will ensure the cuffs don’t ride up your arms when scrambling or even climbing over stiles.

HOOD

The hood should fit snugly, but it should also move with your head so you can see where you are going. The hooded peak may become bent when the jacket is stashed in a rucksack, so look for a wired peak that can be easily reshaped to allow good vision. Many models featured here are also available in non-hooded versions with a small price reduction.

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VENTILATION

Even the best breathable fabrics allow condensation to form, so it is important that you can increase ventilation of the jacket. A front zip can be used for venting, as can underarm zips (also called pit zips) while mesh linings in pockets can increase air flow. Side zips and more breathable panels on the sides are also used to increase breathability.

INSULATION

Some soft shell jackets have a polyester pile or fleece finish on the inside for extra warmth and comfort. Others do not have this, so they won’t be so warm. However, you can of course wear them all over other thinner insulating layers, such as a fleece or thick base layer. If you want a soft shell just for colder conditions, then an insulated one is ideal. If you want a year-round soft shell, then a less well-insulated design that can be worn over other layers will be ideal.

MATERIAL

It’s all about the material with soft shell jackets. Some materials have a more wind- and water-resistant membrane sandwiched between the inner and outer layer of the fabric, but this will be less breathable than an open weave construction, which in turn won’t be as wind- or water- resistant. You need to balance the pros and cons of the material against your needs.

POCKETS

Big pockets are great for storing maps, guidebooks and gloves, but they can also be used to protect your hands from wind and light rain. Rucksack belts obscure access to some pockets, so make sure they are well positioned to avoid this problem.


Berghaus Ghlas £100

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  • Material Polyester

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s n/a 

  • Weight 524g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The Ghlas is a non-hooded design that uses Bluesign environmentally-approved fabric. The main fabric has a tightly woven outer to resist abrasion, wind and moisture while the front and rear sections of the inside have a more open weave for warmth and comfort. Also there are three pockets, two of which take maps easily while the third is okay for a compass, phone or GPS receiver. The cuffs have Velcro adjustment, which many jackets lack, and the sleeve movement is superb without the hem or cuffs riding up. The price is great for what you get.

HOWEVER

Get it on and this jacket feels a little stiffer than others, as the fabric is not as light or as stretchy as it could be. The polyester material means it won’t be as durable as those using nylon, although this probably only effects very hard users, mountaineers or those wearing harnesses regularly. The main drawback for the walker is that the main pockets are quite low, so access to them is easily obscured by a rucksack hipbelt. Also it’s quite a heavy jacket, particularly considering it does not include a hood. There’s no women’s option available either. So lots of drawbacks to weigh up.

VERDICT

Relatively low-priced soft shell jacket that is good for walkers needing to fend off wind and soaking mist.

  • Features 3/5

  • Weatherproof 4/5

  • Breathability 5/5

  • In use 3/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 80%


Mountain Equipment Echo Hooded £120

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  • Material Exolite 125 stretch double weave (nylon)

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 327g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The price and weight is more attractive than some others on test, and for that you get a nylon weave fabric that is more durable and more wind- and water-resistant than a polyester fleece jacket. It is also more durable and more stretchy than a standard windshirt. Once on there is not much insulation provided, but even with its snug fit you can still easily wear it over insulating layers. The two main pockets are great, and there is a third smaller chest pocket for a GPS receiver, phone or compass. The hood and cuffs are elasticated and while not perfect, they are acceptable on the hill.

HOWEVER

As there is no adjustment in the cuffs and hood apart from elastication, they either fit or they don’t – so it’s worth trying before buying. The hood does not turn with my head as well as the higher- priced jackets, nor does it hug my head close enough. This is not as warm as higher-priced jackets, and it does have a slightly close fit, so while it can be worn over other layers for warmth, again it is worth trying before buying to make sure it fits over your layers.

VERDICT

Stretchy, durable and wind- and water-resistant with good features for mild weather – but the fit’s not ideal and it’s not the warmest.

  • Features 4/5

  • Weatherproof 4/5

  • Breathability 4/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 80%


Haglofs Boa Hood £140

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  • Material FlexAble stretch double weave (nylon face, polyester fleece back) 

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Weight 517g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The fabric used in this jacket is very stretchy, and its nylon content increases durability and weather- resistance, while the polyester on the inside adds warmth and comfort. It’s also Bluesign-approved for its environmental credentials. Overall this is a good level of protection for autumnal windy and misty mountains. The two main pockets are easily accessed while wearing a pack. There is a hem drawcord, but the cuffs and hood are only elasticated. The hood fits me okay though, and moves well with my head. The weight and price tag both make this jacket a little more attractive than those with more features.

HOWEVER

Others are warmer for the depths of winter, but you could wear extra insulation underneath. The hood and cuffs fitted me okay, but those with more adjustment will potentially fit closer. The two pockets you get are good, but other jackets offer a third smaller pocket that some may find useful. You can spend less and get a lighter jacket too. But the Boa Hood offers more than the lower-priced and lighter jackets, and for damp and windy mountain use is really good.

VERDICT

Very good combination of features for damp, windy conditions, but both hood and cuff adjustment is limited.

  • Features 4/5

  • Weatherproof 4/5

  • Breathability 4/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%


Rab Salvo £145

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  • Material Matrix AP 2-layer stretch (nylon face, polyester fleece back)

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 631g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The rough nylon outer of this jacket makes it ideal for rubbing up against crags on a scramble. It doesn’t soak up water too easily either, making it great for misty mountain tops. The polyester fleece lining has a grid pattern, so it is warm and would be ideal in winter. The hood has face and rear drawcord adjustment, as well as a wired peak, which results in the hood fitting and moving exceptionally well. The three pockets are perfectly accessible above a rucksack belt, and you get Velcro cuff adjustment and a drawcord on the hem.

HOWEVER

This is a heavier and more bulky option, so is best worn rather than stowed in a rucksack. It is warm, but for milder conditions it will actually be toowarm, so while great in colder conditions such as snow, for warmer damp scrambles a lighter and less warm jacket would be better. This is not the absolute best for keeping out the wind and rain, which may or may not be a drawback. Consider your needs before splashing out, as the price tag of this jacket is above that of many others.

VERDICT

Ideal cold weather soft shell jacket, but could be too warm for milder damp conditions. The weight and price tag are drawbacks too.

  • Features 5/5

  • Weatherproof 4/5

  • Breathability 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%


Mammut Ultimate V SO Hooded £219

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  • Material 3-layer stretch Gore Windstopper

  • Men’s S-XXXL

  • Women’s XXS-XL

  • Weight 452g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The stretchy, premium Gore Windstopper fabric provides maximum wind- and water-resistance, while the inner open 3D-structured polyester backer improves comfort on the inside. The material is far softer and more supple than lower-priced jackets, so this is very comfortable when worn. Zipped side vents are provided for ventilation too. The hood has face drawcords, and fits and moves with the head pretty well. The pockets are particularly good, being large and easily accessible while wearing a rucksack. Overall, this is a great soft shell for mixed weather conditions.

HOWEVER

The cuffs are elasticated but there is no other adjustment, while the hood doesn’t get a rear volume adjuster and its peak is not stiffened. The two main pockets are OS map-sized, but some jackets have slightly larger pockets that are placed a little higher for even better access. This is not as warm as some others, but you can wear it over an insulating layer. Some may prefer other jackets for extremely cold conditions. The main drawback here is that challenging price tag though.

VERDICT

Ideal general mountain soft shell jacket, but its hood would benefit from a little more adjustment to justify the price tag.

  • Features 5/5

  • Weatherproof 5/5

  • Breathability 3/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 3/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%


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Best for budget: Fleece Jackets reviewed

UP TO £50
At this price you get a basic insulation layer that will provide the warmth needed for hillwalking, but it will tend to lack the benefits of more expensive products. The fleece may be slightly thinner, so it’s not as warm as some costlier options. You may not get any pockets nor a hood. More subtle missing details may include no draught baffle behind the front zip, the front zip may only extend to the chest and there may be no zip garage to prevent the top of the zip from scratching your chin or neck area. This price band of fleece jackets is good for general hillwalking, though, and if you are on a tight budget you don’t need to spend more to be warm and comfortable on the hills.

FROM £51 TO £100
There is a clear improvement in performance in this price band compared to the lower-priced products. The fleece materials may be slightly thicker, and therefore warmer, or you may get additional benefits, such as a pair of well-placed pockets or a hood. The fleece materials may also offer additional wind resistance or breathability, or they may have a more durable outer face so they don’t snag on rocks so easily. In general, the jackets in this price bracket are well suited to more regular hillwalkers who will benefit from the small but incremental extras on offer.

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£101 AND ABOVE
In this price band the benefits are directed to more specific user needs. So you get more stretchy materials that may offer excellent levels of moisture management, along with higher levels of breathability, wind resistance or warmth. You will also have excellent pocket designs that allow easier access while wearing rucksacks and a hood that fits and moves very well with your head. The overall fit of these jackets may be more tailored to produce a closer and more athletic style, which better suits the needs of more active users, climbers and mountaineers. Hillwalkers can still benefit from these designs, though, if they can stretch to the price tags.


BEST FOR BUDGET UP TO £50


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Snugpak Impact Fleece Shirt £25

 

  • Men’s unisex design XS-XXL
  • Women’s see above
  • Weight 352g (size L)
  • Materials polyester fleece

IT'S GOOD This warm and cosy fleece provides the basic insulation needed for year-round hillwalking. While it doesn’t fully block the wind it provides a good balance between wind resistance and airflow to allow maximum breathability when worn under a waterproof outer layer. The fit is reasonably close, so you can wear it under layers easily. You get a short chest zip with a large internal baffle near the chin to stop scratching. 

HOWEVER As it only comes in a unisex design the fit range may not be as ideal for
some as other options, so it’s one to try before you buy. You only get a short front zip, so you cannot ventilate it as easily as a jacket style with a full-length zip. There are no pockets at all, so you will have to keep compasses, maps, and guidebooks accessible through other means. Like most fleeces, there is no hem drawcord. Of course you may be able to live without these benefits easily so consider whether they matter.

VERDICT A low-priced fleece top that provides the basic insulation hillwalkers will need, but it lacks many of the benefits of higher priced options.

  • Features 3/5
  • Fit 4/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 3/5 
  • Value for money 5/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 76%

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Berghaus Arnside Fleece £45

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s 8-18
  • Weight 369g (size L)
  • Materials polyester microfleece

IT'S GOOD This is a lightweight fleece that offers a good level of insulation for milder hillwalking conditions. It allows airflow to ensure it doesn’t get too sweaty when worn under a waterproof jacket, but also resists wind a little too. There’s a full-length zip and two zipped pockets large enough to take an OS map. The pockets are placed slightly higher on the body than some other designs so you can access them a little easier while wearing a rucksack with a hipbelt. It has a reasonable general fit. 

HOWEVER Pockets are slightly higher than on more basic designs, but they don’t have the best access when wearing a rucksack hipbelt. The front zip doesn’t get a draught baffle on the inside, or a chinguard at the top of it. Fit is acceptable but closer-fitting designs, or those with more adjustment than just elastication at the hem and cuffs, could be better for more regular users. There is no hood and this jacket is not quite warm enough on its own in winter. 

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VERDICT A perfectly adequate hillwalking fleece if you have a small budget. Has some useful pockets and good general performance. 

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 3/5 
  • Value for money 5/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Craghoppers Timor / Caitlin £45

  • Men’s S-XXL (Timor)
  • Women’s 8-20 (Caitlin)
  • Weight 363g (size L)
  • Materials polyester fleece

IT'S GOOD This new jacket has
an additional chest pocket for stowing a compass or GPS receiver and this sets it apart from many others. It’s is great in summer and could be used in colder conditions if additional layers were worn underneath. The cuff and hem are elasticated and fit closely which helps to lock out the wind. The two main pockets are large enough for an OS map. The fit is slightly closer than some baggier styles, so overall, this is a good jacket for milder conditions.

HOWEVER The two main pockets are placed slightly too low on your body so their access is reduced when wearing a rucksack with a hipbelt, while the third pocket is placed a little too high on the chest as a rucksack shoulder strap tends to impede this more than necessary. Also the main zip doesn’t have an internal baffle to block out wind and there’s no chinguard at the top of the zip. The fit is closer than others, and the cuffs tended to ride up when scrambling, which left my wrists exposed. Others are a little warmer too.

VERDICT The chest pocket is useful and it’s a good general design but the pockets could be slightly better positioned.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 3/5 
  • Value for money 5/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 80%

BEST FOR BUDGET FROM £51 TO £100


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Mountain Equipment Litmus Jacket £90

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s 8-16
  • Weight 503g (size L)
  • Materials Polartec Thermal Pro

IT'S GOOD The use of Thermal Pro fleece makes this ideal for year-round general hillwalking as it offers good insulation and some wind resistance. It also benefits from a third chest pocket to stow a phone or GPS receiver while using the other two cavernous pockets for hand-warming or a map. All pockets are easily accessed while wearing a rucksack belt. Good details include a large internal flap behind the front zip to keep draughts at bay and a substantial zip garage to protect the chin from being scratched. 

HOWEVER It doesn’t have a hood, so on chilly days you need to pack a warm hat. Also, like many other fleece jackets here, there is no adjustment other than elastication at the hem or cuffs, so you need to try it before buying to check these areas fit well. For me, the cuffs were a little looser than would be ideal, and the sleeves were a little less well-fitted as some. So if you prefer a closer, more athletic fit then others are better. This is quite warm so in summer you may need to wear it with the front zip open, or choose an alternative thinner fleece.

VERDICT A good general fleece with excellent pockets if you don’t need a hood or want a more athletic fit.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 4/5 
  • Value for money 4/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Berghaus Pravitale 2.0 Extrem Men's Fleece Hoodie £90

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s none
  • Weight 547g (size L)
  • Materials stretch fleece

IT'S GOOD The fleece in this jacket offers a good level of insulation for year-round use, as well as a slightly tighter knit to help block out wind. The outer face appears less likely to snag, too, than others. You get a hood for cold conditions and the front zip has a good windflap inside that protects the chin from the zip. The two OS map-sized pockets are high enough to allow access while wearing a rucksack hipbelt. The fit is slightly longer than some and is neither overly close or overly baggy, making it a good style for hillwalking.

HOWEVER There is no women’s option or adjustment other than elastication at the hem, cuffs and hood and I felt I needed a slightly closer fit on the cuffs to be perfect. So one to try before buying. It’s perhaps a little warm for summer but would be ideal from early autumn through winter and into spring. Cuffs tended to ride up a little more easily than others that had a more athletic fit and performance. The price tag is reasonable for what you get, but of course you could spend less.

VERDICT Not perfect for every situation, but a good general all-rounder for most hill and mountain walking in the UK. A women’s option please!

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 4/5 
  • Value for money 4/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Haglöfs Tornado £70

  • Men’s S-XL
  • Women’s XS-XL
  • Weight 417g (size L)
  • Materials Pontetorto Tecnostretch fleece

IT'S GOOD The Heron is a good general hillwalking fleece for year-round use. It has an abrasion-resistant finish on the outside, good wind resistance, a fluffy inside and a good level of insulation for typical mountain conditions. The two main pockets are OS map-sized and easy to access while wearing a rucksack. The hood fits well and there is a baffle behind the front zip to block draughts as well as a garage for the zip. The fit is not overly close so you can wear thin layers under it if needed. The non-hooded version for £90 is ideal for hillwalkers, too.

HOWEVER The price tag is a little higher than others. The hem was slightly looser than ideal and as there is no hem drawcord it’s worth trying before buying. There is no adjustment, just elastication, at the cuffs or hood. Others have more insulation or an additional chest pocket and, of course, you can pay less if you need less insulation. While this fleece isn’t perfect, overall the downsides are small. 

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VERDICT Suits the needs of most hillwalkers. While small details could be better, it’s still a good option in either hood or non-hood versions.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 4/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 5/5 
  • Value for money 4/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 72%

BEST FOR BUDGET £101 AND OVER


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Mammut Aenergy / Botnica Light ML Hooded Jacket £115

  • Men’s S-XXL (Aenergy)
  • Women’s XS-L (Botnica)
  • Weight 415g (size L)
  • Materials Pontetorto Tecnostretch and DryFast

IT'S GOOD The materials set this apart from others by being a tighter knit than more open-knit designs so it blocks more wind but is still breathable, while the outer layer appears more abrasion-resistant than others. The fit is quite close and athletic with the elastication locking out draughts and the hood and cuffs fitting well. You get two OS map-sized Napoleon-style chest pockets on the men’s style while the women’s option has two side pockets that are lower on the body. There is a nice big internal baffle behind the front zip to keep out the wind and protect the chin.

HOWEVER It’s not the warmest fleece jacket available, so while great for active users and in warm weather, for casual walkers and in cool temperatures it will need supplementing with warm layers. Some other fleeces are more wind resistant, so a windproof layer may be needed.There is no adjustment at the cuffs, hood or hem apart from elastication so try before you buy. 

VERDICT Close-fitting design for active users but it is not the warmest option and men need to decide if they want Napoleon-style pockets rather than hand-warming side pockets.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 4/5 
  • Value for money 2/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 76%

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Berghaus Extrem 7000 Hoodie £130

  • Men’s XS-XL
  • Women’s 8-16
  • Weight 395g (size L)
  • Materials Polartec Power Grid

IT'S GOOD The Power Grid material has a grid pattern on the inside to improve insulation and an open weave to improve breathability so this works really well under a waterproof or windproof jacket. Extra reinforcement at the waist, forearms and hood improves durability. The hood, body and sleeves all fitted me closely, with tight elastication locking out draughts at the cuffs, hem and hood. Two main pockets placed high on the body allow easy access while wearing a rucksack hipbelt. Nice touches include a balaclava section in the hood and a soft fleece chinguard at the top of the zip. The close fit is great for more athletic users. 

HOWEVER Casual walkers may prefer something less figure hugging. While it fitted me fine there is no adjustment at the hem, cuffs or hood apart from firm elastication, so try before buying. The material is quite an open weave so doesn’t block wind. The price tag is high for what you get.

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VERDICT A close-fitting, athletic design that’s great in mild conditions but needs a windproof or waterproof layer in a breeze and additional insulation in colder conditions.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 4/5 
  • In use 5/5 
  • Value for money 2/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 80%

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Salewa Ortles Full Zip Fleece Jacket £145

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s 8-14
  • Weight 415g (size L)
  • Materials Polartec Power Stretch Pro

IT'S GOOD Polartec Power Stretch Pro is a superb fabric that provides plenty of insulation, exceptional stretch and wind resistance. It’s also more abrasion resistant than more open-knit designs. The result is a figure-hugging jacket without restriction of movement, and it’s warmer than many other fleeces making it good year-round option. You get two main pockets that are placed just high enough to allow access while wearing a rucksack hipbelt, and the front zip has an internal baffle to block draughts.

HOWEVER It’s a great fabric but it’s so pricy, especially when you consider there’s no hood or additional features apart from a couple of pockets. The material is very figure hugging and probably doesn’t need any adjustment at the hem or cuffs, but you don’t get any anyway so it’s one to try to be sure it fits and that you feel comfortable in its close, athletic fit. In summer it may be a little too toasty as it fits so closely – even with the front zip open it will tend to stay warm.

VERDICT A superb fabric that hugs the body and provides good warmth for British mountain use – but the price tag may freeze you in your tracks to the checkout!

  • Features 3/5
  • Fit 5/5 
  • Comfort 5/5 
  • In use 4/5 
  • Value for money 1/5 
  • OVERALL SCORE 72%

Vaude Timbu Jacket

This insulated jacket weighs 524g; all the pockets are external with zips; the hem adjusts with a drawcord while the cuffs are elasticated; the collar is lined and the zip has a chinguard; it comes with a smallish stuffsack. But the price is creeping up for what you get; features are okay but it’s still rather bland with little to make it stand out; no hood or neck cinch.

Tog rating 2.5

A high price for a basic design.

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Rohan Frostlight jacket

This insulated jacket weighs 300g; reversible with a smooth ripstop fabric for outdoor use, or a ‘crêpe feel’ fabric for town; elasticated cuffs,

hem and collar; one zipped pocket to stow the jacket into plus two open handwarmer pockets. But for the price it’s seriously slim on features and adjustment.

Tog rating 2.7

Good for city breaks when you need something to wear off the plane.

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Marmot Flurry Jacket

This insulated jacket has  fully adjustable hood and lined collar; three external zipped pockets (two lined), and a zipped stuff pocket inside; elasticated Velcro cuffs and drawcord hem. But the stuff pocket is on the small side; although there is a hood, there is no method of rolling it out the way; heavy at 760g; no women’s version.

Tog rating 3.2

A good, warm jacket with a hood and ample features but heavy.

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Páramo Torres Smock

This insulated jacket is the only smock we looked at, so if you have a preference for this style, it will certainly be a contender. It should also be considered if your normal hill-walking ensemble is the Páramo system, as the Torres smock is designed to work over other Páramo garments. Notable features include a fully adjustable hood with a wired peak and a large kangaroo-style pocket to keep hands warm. The smock has an extended front zip to assist ventilation and access. The cut is also on the generous side, so as to make overlayering easier. The Torres has one of the highest Tog values, making it ideal for colder weather. But if you don’t wear Páramo generally, you may find the fit draughty and rather shapeless, due to it being cut on the larger side to fit over the Analogy clothing system. There is also no method of storage offered and the bulkiness will no doubt put some off too.

Outer fabric Nikwax Windproof

Inner fabric Nikwax breathable

silky lining

Insulation Nikwax Insulation

Colours black

Sizes XS-XXL

Weight 753g (size XS)

Made in Vietnam

Stores in the UK 50

Tog rating 3.1

If you use the Analogy system it will be a super-warm addition.

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