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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