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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This windproof fleece from Vaude is light and flexible. It fits really well and its short length makes it easy to move around in. Although the collar is a little low, it is snug and the baffle small enough not to annoy you too much. Totally windproof and light, so works well as an extra layer on cold days without getting too hot. Packs away easily and the versatility of the elastic cuffs and mesh pockets is good. A higher collar would increase warmth.
Verdict: A good looking, lightweight fleece worthy of its price tag. Well suited for high mountain activities and packs away easily, but doesn’t really need the baffle.
Colours: Black, hibiscus, dark pink, metallic
Sizes: 36-44 Euro, (UK 10-18)
Fabric: Pontetorto Windproof 100
Men’s version: Lombok
Contact: 01665 510660; www.vaude.co.uk
This windproof fleece from Tog 24 is quite roomy and the arms are a little long. The mid-height collar isn’t great, the zip chafes in cold weather and the collar baffle tangles up in your hair. The fabric doesn’t feel as good quality as some. There are some useful features – adjustable Velcro cuffs, sleeves that pull up to your elbows, large well-placed handwarmer pockets and several inside pockets. Keeps wind and rain out well, but the main zip keeps snagging.
Verdict: Warm and versatile with lots of pockets, although some of the features reflect its low price. Not recommended for long hair unless you’re prepared to cut out the baffle.
Colours: Red, royal
Fabric: Gore Windstopper
Men’s version: Resolve
Contact: 0870 2406099; www.tog24.com
This windproof fleece from The North Face is a lovely feminine design in a soft fabric. The collar is high, although a little loose, and the deep hood adds style and comfort. The relaxed fit and deep handwarmer pockets are excellent. There’s no collar baffle. Really warm and pretty good breathability, helped by ventilation from the mesh handwarmer pockets. The hood is good, but could do with a drawcord to stay up in the wind. Adjustment in the cuffs would be nice too.
Verdict: Great for walking, but just as good for going to the pub. With some adjustment in the cuffs and a slightly tighter collar it would be superb.
Colours: Four, inc. tangle green, black
Fabric: Windwall fleece/Grid fleece lining
Men’s version: No
Contact: 01539 738882; www.thenorthface.com/eu
This windproof fleece from Jack Wolfskin is slightly loose, but it covers your hips nicely and is spot-on for arm length. The soft fabric is also comfy to move around in. However, the baffle might snag your hair, and a higher collar with protection over the zip would be good. A very warm midweight option with enough flexibility in the cuffs to allow some adjustment when you get hot. It packs down well, but mesh in the pockets for extra ventilation would be nice. The main zip feels pretty flimsy too.
Verdict: A totally windproof and very comfortable offering, but a little pricey. It would also benefit from some ventilation and would be snug enough without the collar baffle.
Colours: Light pepper, black, fern green
Fabric: Polartec Windbloc
Men’s version: Yes
Contact: 01434 633363 (brochure line); www.jack-wolfskin.com
This windproof fleece from Sprayway is a pretty good fit (apart from the shortish arms) with a shortish body, making it easy to walk in. The high collar and soft chin guard are excellent, but unfortunately the baffle on the collar can tangle in long hair. A warm, good-looking hooded jacket with well-placed ventilation pockets and underarm stretch panels. Stiff and heavy fabric though, and the hood makes the collar feel too rigid. The Velcro cuffs are also rather tight to pull up.
Verdict: A warm technical fleece with some useful features. The Gore Windstopper fabric is pretty stiff though, and the baffle won’t suit those with long hair.
Colours: Ruby red, black, haze
Sizes: 8-18 (XS-XXL)
Fabric: Gore Windstopper
Men’s version: Crux Windstopper
Contact: 0800 605050; www.sprayway.com
This windproof fleece from Lowe Alpine is a superb fit, and the snug, high collar is good. The cuffs work well, using the stretch in the fabric to pull up and down, although some elastic would be better. The cosy feel of the Aleutian Windshield fabric is good, too. Warm, windproof with good breathability when you’re working hard. Mesh-lined pockets offer some ventilation and are well placed for easy access with a rucksack. The shoulders are reinforced – ideal for carrying heavy packs.
Verdict: Does everything a windproof fleece should do, yet is light and compact enough to pack away when not needed. Expensive, but worth it.
Colours: Four, inc. true red/black, black
Fabric: Aleutian Windshield
Women’s version: Yes
Contact: 01539 740840; www.lowealpine.com
This windproof fleece would score quite well were it not for the ridiculously baggy cuffs, which are really annoying as well as inefficient. A good fit in the body, with a snug high collar. The fabric is also easy to move in. Really light and compact, it keeps the wind off well and packs down easily. The baggy cuffs let it down for insulation. Mesh-lined pockets provide additional ventilation.
Verdict: A well-featured, lightweight windproof that performs well on the hill at a superb price. Would score higher if the sleeves fitted better.
Colours: Midnight/mercato, black, red/black, outback/black
Fabric: Regatta’s Windguard fleece
Women’s version: Yes
Contact: 0161 749 1313; www.regatta.com
This windproof fleece from Outdoor Scene is nice to wear, with a lovely soft fabric, high collar and stretchy fleece cuffs. A drawcord hem traps heat well. It’s rather heavy and bulky, but does a good job of keeping the wind out. Breathability is also pretty good. Quite low handwarmer pockets – not ideal with a rucksack on – but the insides are a good size.
Verdict: A good windproof fleece with a soft, cosy feel at a very good price. However, it’s very heavy and quite bulky to carry in a rucksack. Check the fit too.
Colours: Matt navy, darkest spruce
Fabric: Windoff Laminated fleece
Women’s version: Ascot
Contact: 01159 852200; www.outdoorscene.com
This windproof fleece from Keela is a great fit – just the right length in the body with good long sleeves and elasticated cuffs. The high collar is good, and the chunky, cosy fabric has a lovely soft feel to it. Windproof and waterproof, it has Keela’s innovative and breathable Innovation X1 lining providing all the protection. It certainly keeps the wind off and does well in the odd shower, but is rather warm for strenuous walking.
Verdict: A well-priced, chunky and good-looking jacket best suited to less energetic walking or extremely cold, windy weather. A good casual jacket too.
Colours: Grey/black, black
Fabric: Zetland 100 Micro/ Innovation X1 lining
Women’s version: Eden
Contact: 01592 777000; www.keela.co.uk
This windproof fleece from Berghaus is a little on the tight side, and the non-stretch cuffs are also tight, making it tricky to take on and off. The soft, snug fabric is good, and the drawcord hem works well. The neck baffle tucks away too – good for long hair. The pockets are perfectly positioned – nice and high – and you can store a map in behind the pocket linings. Plenty of adjustment with venting pockets, but it is difficult to pull the sleeves up, so you might get rather hot.
Verdict: A lightweight, well-featured option that keeps the wind at bay and isn’t too much trouble to carry. But check those cuffs before buying.
Colours: Rio red, black, eclipse
Fabric: Gore Windstopper Hurricane
Women’s version: Yes
Contact: 0191 516 5700; www.berghaus.com