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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Weight 524g (size L)
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.
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.
Relatively low-priced soft shell jacket that is good for walkers needing to fend off wind and soaking mist.
In use 3/5
Value for money 5/5
OVERALL SCORE 80%
Mountain Equipment Echo Hooded £120
Material Exolite 125 stretch double weave (nylon)
Weight 327g (size L)
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.
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.
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.
In use 4/5
Value for money 4/5
OVERALL SCORE 80%
Haglofs Boa Hood £140
Material FlexAble stretch double weave (nylon face, polyester fleece back)
Weight 517g (size L)
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.
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.
Very good combination of features for damp, windy conditions, but both hood and cuff adjustment is limited.
In use 5/5
Value for money 4/5
OVERALL SCORE 84%
Rab Salvo £145
Material Matrix AP 2-layer stretch (nylon face, polyester fleece back)
Weight 631g (size L)
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.
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.
Ideal cold weather soft shell jacket, but could be too warm for milder damp conditions. The weight and price tag are drawbacks too.
In use 5/5
Value for money 4/5
OVERALL SCORE 92%
Mammut Ultimate V SO Hooded £219
Material 3-layer stretch Gore Windstopper
Weight 452g (size L)
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.
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.
Ideal general mountain soft shell jacket, but its hood would benefit from a little more adjustment to justify the price tag.
In use 5/5
Value for money 3/5
OVERALL SCORE 84%
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Love it or loathe it, soft shell clothing is here to stay, and its benefits grow as manufacturers think up ever more creative ways to use the concept. Soft shells were originally just windproof, then they became more water-resistant and durable – and finally, in some cases, they became waterproof. What tends to set them apart is that they are not too restrictive of movement, while managing to keep the worst weather at bay. However, some tended to be quite heavy and stiff, but they are now becoming lighter and softer while maintaining the durability and comfort that the genre claims as its own.
The latest incarnation of the soft shell breed is Haglöfs’ Roca jacket-and-trouser combo. It‘s billed as having new external taped seam technology, which makes the jacket more waterproof. The fabric is Gore Windstopper Soft Shell, and water may seep in eventually so these are not waterproof in the literal sense of the word – but they are more so than most soft shells.
On the hanger, this type of fabric has magnetic appeal. As soon as I touched it, I knew it was something special: it was amazingly soft and supple.
The Roca jacket and trousers felt light and unrestrictive as soon as I put them on. To enhance durability there are laminated patches on the jacket’s shoulders, plus on the knees and seat of the trousers. To allow these reinforced areas to remain breathable, the panels are perforated with neat little H-shaped Haglöfs logos... classy!
The trousers and jacket have a soft, thin, brushed fleece lining, adding a touch of warmth and comfort absent in ‘normal’ waterproofs. In the Lakes, however, I didn’t find them warm enough over a base layer. I ended up wearing my tried and trusted Haglöfs Gemini hooded fleece underneath, as well as a pair of stretch trousers to keep my legs warm. So warmth-wise these are more like a waterproof than an insulating layer, I feel.
The jacket pockets were perfect for accessing while wearing a rucksack, and the neat zipped side vents
added useful ventilation options. The trousers had braces, belt and snow gaiters as well as really long side zips. I found the cut of the trousers a little baggy around the lower leg, although some might prefer that style if they have chunkier legs than me! The knee was not as
well articulated as some overtrousers either.
The Roca Jacket and Roca Pant combination worked well, although it was not as waterproof as a full set of traditional waterproofs and as the jacket does not have a hood, it isn’t suitable for wet days in the Lakes. However, if you are heading to the snow in the Alps or Scandinavia, or just like wearing soft shell garments while sidestepping UK rain, this outfit provides a useful option that realigns the boundaries that define soft shell.
Material: Gore Windstopper Soft Shell
Sizes: S-XXL (men’s)
Weight: 426g (size L)
Made in: Bangladesh
Materials: Gore Windstopper Soft Shell
Sizes: S-XXL (men’s)
Weight: 634g (size L)
Made in: Bangladesh
Stockist details: tel. (01934) 877998; www.haglofs.se
Verdict: This lightweight and highly durable soft shell jacket-and-trousers combo has water-resistant fabric with taped seams But it has a high price tag, it’s not very warm, the trouser cut is not ideal, and there’s no hood on jacket. That said, it’s a useful system for mountaineering when worn over insulating layers.
Soft shell is such a broad category that choosing just one really depends on your definition and expected use of the jacket. For me, a soft shell is a garment that is more wind- and water-resistant than a fleece and also more durable, which allows it to be worn on the hill whenever you can get by without your waterproof shell. To that end the Touring Hoodie fits the bill. Wear this in anything but heavy rain and it will be ideal. The weight of just 480g means you won’t mind too much if it sits in your rucksack part of the day. Put it on, and you have a cut that offers good protection and a little warmth, while the hood keeps the wind off your head and traps warmth without you having to don your waterproof so regularly. The fabric keeps the worst of the rain out too, so you can wear this in misty drizzle without getting soaked. Most importantly, it is still very breathable – so you can throw a waterproof over the top if you need to. The four-way stretch fabric makes this perfect for scrambling, which is when a soft shell is really worth having. The pair of large chest pockets are just the job for maps and compass too. But this won’t be everyone’s ideal soft shell. It has a high price tag, which is difficult to justify when comparable jackets are under £100. Furthermore some will not want a hood as a matter of personal preference rather than for practical reasons. Other soft shell garments are lighter, while some are a bit warmer, more waterproof and more durable. Also, there is no women’s fit .So mountaineers may want something tougher without a hood while some walkers will prefer a warmer, more breathable option.
Material: Polartec Powershield Light and Stretch
Weight: 480g (L)
Made in Tunisia
Stores in UK: 40
Verdict: Buy it if you want a superb all-round soft shell jacket that is ideal for most mountain activity – particularly hill-walking, backpacking and scrambling.
This provides a different kind of soft shell experience from some other jackets, but it is quite suitable if you want something beyond what a normal fleece can offer. It is made from a fabric that is more wind- and water-resistant than a conventional fleece and it also feels far more durable. Under the arms you get more conventional stretch fleece fabric for greater breathability too. Generally this feels quite warm , which in part is reflected in its higher weight. It is very slightly more breathable than some other soft shells as well, which is an advantage as it prevents overheating and allows it to be worn under a waterproof jacket without affecting the condensation control too badly. You get two large chest pockets that easily take a map, but better still you get an extra pair of map-sized chest pockets, and all these can easily be accessed while wearing a rucksack hipbelt. The body has a long cut with a scooped tail – which is ideal for most activity. Adjustable cuffs, hem drawcords and collar drawcords complete a very practical jacket. All that for just £90 is superb value and hard to improve on. But you do not get a hood, something that I think would be very useful in the windy, drizzly weather for which soft shells are designed. Similarly some soft shells are more wind- and water-resistant. This is a little heavier than some comparable tops too. As with the winning Montane shell, it does not come in a women’s fit.
Material: Freeflow soft shell, DryActiv Stretch
Weight: 568g (L)
Made in China
Stores in UK: England 60, Wales 15, Scotland 25, Ireland 5
Verdict: Buy it if you want soft shell with superb pockets and no hood, as this is by far the best option and ideal for just about any mountain activity.
This soft shell was a runner-up in March 2006. If you are after a practical jacket that fends off light rain and wind while being more durable than fleece, then this is just the job. It’s made from four-way stretch Gore fabric. The result is that you put it on and you feel comfortable and ready for action while not having to worry about brushing against rock, as it is reasonably durable. There are two huge chest pockets that take OS maps easily and are accessible when wearing rucksack belts. A hem drawcord and Velcro adjustment at the cuffs keeps the draughts out. Fleece lining in the pockets adds insulation too, while for 2007 the jacket gets a collar drawcord to help keep the wind out. Use this for hill and mountain walking, mountaineering, scrambling or sitting in the pub and you won’t be disappointed. There is nothing better at the price. But there is no hood, and others offer a little more warmth or a little more water resistance or a little more breathability. But for most people these drawbacks will not be an issue as this jacket puts ticks in most of the boxes that most hill-goers are concerned about.
Material: Gore Windstopper
Sizes: S-XXL (men’s); XS-XXL (women’s)
Weight: 480g (men’s size L)
Made in Far East
Stores in UK: 40
Verdict: Buy it if you want a good all-round mountain soft shell with great pockets – and don’t want to spend more than £80.
This top provides another extension of the soft shell genre by being a little more durable and insulating than some other options, which is also why it is heavier. It is made from four-way stretch Gore Windstopper fabric, which is very water-resistant and windproof, while still being breathable. You get map-sized chest pockets plus a third small chest pocket, which combine to provide easy access to on-the-move essentials. They’ve also added a tiny zipped pocket inside one of the chest pockets for keys (but little else). A collar drawcord and elasticated cuffs help keep draughts out, while the close and slightly short fit is good for most mountain sport. Use this for winter action, mountaineering and scrambling and it should prove ideal, while those who feel the cold may also prefer it over some other options here as it is a notch warmer. But like most soft shells it does not get a hood, but of course many people will not be worried by that, especially mountaineers who will wear a helmet anyway. It is heavier than some other options, so this is better when worn rather than carried in the pack. Some may prefer more adjustment at the cuffs too. The price is perhaps a little high for what you get.
Material: Gore Windstopper
Sizes: S-XXL (men’s); 8-18 (women’s)
Weight: 694g (men’s size L)
Made in China
Stores in UK: no info provided
Verdict: Buy it if you want a durable windproof layer with a little more warmth for winter mountain travel and mountaineering.
This is a very practical soft shell jacket, being reasonably lightweight, stretchy and able to fend off wind and water. Most importantly of all it is also extremely breathable, so you can wear it under a waterproof when the storm clouds roll in. It is lighter and lower in price than some similar products too. The fabric is quite thin, and so this is more of a durable windproof than an insulating layer. The fabric is four-way stretch too, making this ideal for scrambling, mountaineering and climbing. Two map-sized chest pockets allow easy access to your mountain essentials on the move, while elasticated cuffs and a drawcord at the hem and collar keep the worst of the wind away. It has a shorter and slightly closer fit than some others. Use this for mountaineering, climbing, scrambling and hill-walking, and it should be ideal when worn over a base of insulating layers, as well as under a waterproof. But it is not as wind- or water-resistant as other fabrics, which is why it is so breathable and adaptable enough to be worn under a waterproof. There is no hood, whereas I would find one useful on a windproof garment when hill-walking. Others are warmer too.
Material: Storm weave
Sizes: S-XXL (men’s); S-XL (women’s)
Weight: 530g (men’s size L)
Made in China
Stores in UK: England 60; Wales 30; Scotland 20; Ireland 10
Verdict: Buy it if you want a lightweight, durable windproof that can be worn under waterproofs as well as over insulating layers.
Páramo garments benefit from the advantages of the soft shell concept as well as the hard shell concept in many ways, as they control condensation better than most conventional waterproofs, but are softer and more durable than most hard shells. This 3rd Element soft shell jacket takes the range of climatic conditions that soft shell garments can tolerate to a new level, as this jacket can be worn with or without the hood and sleeve sections. The hood and sleeves are attached with zips and when removed you have an insulating gilet. The fabric is waterproof when walking and yet exceptionally breathable. You get two map-sized chest pockets that can be easily accessed while wearing a rucksack. This is like no other garment we tested, and you will either love it or hate it depending on your particular requirements and activity levels. Either way it should definitely be considered alongside the best soft shell jackets for mountain activity. But it is quite heavy at 790g, although it is so waterproof you may not have carry a full waterproof with you at all. Looking at it this way, you could argue that it’s actually not heavy at all. It is very warm, even with the hood and sleeves removed, so that may limit its usage. The price tag means you need to make sure you really are going to use it.
Material: Nikwax Windproof outer, Nikwax Analogy Pump Liner
Weight: 790g (size L)
Made in Columbia
Stores in UK: England 40; Wales 2; Scotland 7; Ireland 1
Verdict: Buy it if you want a garment that can be used for a wide variety of activities as this offers a unique soft shell option.
This soft shell weighs 644g; outstanding hood movement; stiff peak; external seam tapes make this waterproof; welded seams for less bulk, lighter weight and softer feel; brushed fleece lining adds warmth; pit zips for venting; two chest and two waist pockets. But waist pockets easily obscured by rucksack belts; chest pockets too small for maps; high price.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a hooded soft shell and can tolerate the pockets.
This soft shell weighs 664g; Gore-Tex Soft Shell fabric; Paclite hood rolls into collar; external taped seams on shoulders; pit zips for venting; waist pockets easily take an OS map; Velcro adjustable cuffs; brushed polyester lining adds warmth. But access to pockets could be better if they were higher on the chest; expensive.
Verdict: Buy it if you can tolerate the pocket location, as otherwise this is a great all-round soft shell.
This soft shell uses extremely water-resistant fabric; brushed polyester lining adds insulation; cavernous chest pockets; excellent movement in removable hood; side vents; Velcro adjustable cuffs; superb movement in sleeves. But 884g is heavy; not as stretchy as some others; not as breathable as some.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a fully featured durable soft shell for walking, mountaineering or winter.
This soft shell has two map-sized hip pockets; one smaller chest pocket; three mesh pockets inside; Velcro adjustable cuffs; collar drawcord; very tough fabric that is very wind- and water-resistant and very breathable. But 810g is heavy; high price tag; pocket access is not easy when wearing a rucksack.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a very durable, water-resistant jacket and don’t need the best pockets.
This soft shell weighs 460g; water-resistant and windproof fabric; fleece-lined collar for extra comfort; glued seams for softer feel and less bulk; Velcro adjustable cuffs; small chest pocket for compass; waist pockets for maps; collar drawcord; excellent movement in sleeves. But waist pocket access is obscured with rucksack belts; no hood.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a lightweight, windproof, durable layer, but don’t need the best pockets.
This soft shell weighs 404g; very stretchy Schoeller fabric; merino lining adds insulation and comfort; very water-resistant; durable fabric; two map-sized hip pockets; smaller chest pocket; short, close fit with scooped tail. But access to main pockets is easily obscured by rucksack belts, which spoils an otherwise useful jacket.
Verdict: Buy it if you can tolerate the pocket access, as the fabric and cut are ideal for mountain sport.
This soft shell weighs 582g; 4-way stretch fabric is very durable and wind- and water-resistant; map-sized hip pockets; useful small chest pocket. But other fabrics are more stretchy and feel less restrictive; access to hip pockets is easily obscured by rucksack belts.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a durable jacket for mountain sport, and can live with the pocket access.
This soft shell weighs 574g; exceptionally breathable fabric; micro wicking lining adds comfort and insulation; good water repellency; rollaway hood; excellent sleeve movement; map-sized chest pocket; elasticated and Velcro cuffs. But waist pocket easily obstructed; not as durable or water-resistant as others; no stretch.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a mid layer that is more windproof than a fleece, rather than a water-resistant and durable soft shell
This soft shell weighs 466g; very breathable fabric that is very durable; Velcro adjustable cuffs; two map-sized hip pockets. But fabric soaks up water easily compared to more water-resistant garments; rucksack belts easily obscure pockets.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a durable mid layer rather than water resistance and can tolerate poor pocket access.
This soft shell weighs 700g; waterproof fabric; side vents allow cooling; chest pocket just about takes an OS map as do hip pockets. But not as stretchy as some others; access to hip pockets is easily obscured by rucksack belts; no collar adjustment to keep draughts out.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a waterproof fabric that is durable and can tolerate the hip pockets.
This soft shell weighs just 312g; 3-layer stretch fabric is fully waterproof including the seams; simple design reduces bulk and maximises breathability; small chest pocket. But no hem or collar drawcord; no cuff adjustment so wind can whip through the jacket when biking or running; not as warm or as breathable as other soft shell options.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a very lightweight, stretchy waterproof without many features.
This soft shell weighs 450g; completely windproof; durable, exceptionally water-resistant fabric; ideal design for running and mountain biking or climbing. But very little insulation; not the most breathable; two-way stretch fabric; no OS map-sized pockets; access to hip pockets is easily obscured by rucksack belts; no hood.
Verdict: Buy it if you want a durable wind- and water-resistant layer.