The best softshell walking jackets reviewed (2022)

A softshell works wonders to protect you against wind chill. We recommend our favourite tried and tested softshell jackets.

Walking along ridgeline wearing softshell jacket and hiking trousers

by Trail magazine |

Wind chill can be a serious issue in the hills, which is why it’s right at the top of most mountain weather forecasts. Your first line of defence should be a windproof, whether that’s a lightweight windshirt or a versatile softshell jacket.

In this article, we've rounded up our favourite tested softshell jackets and also included a buyer's guide of what to look for in a softshell jacket.

Key features to look for

Water resistance: Softshells are generally water-resistant or ‘weatherproof’ rather than fully waterproof, relying on densely woven outer fabric and a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment to offer light to moderate water-resistance.

Wind resistance: This is the primary function of a windshirt and the major benefit of softshell over fleece. Wind-resistance is often measured by CC or CFM. The higher the number, the less resistant the fabric is to wind. A lightweight fleece typically measures about 60 CFM, while most softshells are rated between 10 and 5 CFM.

Hood: Although it’s ultimately a matter of personal preference, a hood is generally a useful addition, but think about whether you’ll want it to fit comfortably under a hard shell. Technical softshell jackets often have peaked and/or helmet-compatible hoods, with adjustment so they can be cinched in tight.

Fabrics: A windshirt is made from a lightweight, single weave fabric, offering basic wind protection with minimal bulk and weight. Single layer softshells are more substantial while still remaining breathable thanks to the use of a double-weave wicking fabric. Two-layer softshells offer increased warmth and water-resistance as well as windproofing.

Breathability: This refers to how much moisture vapour can pass through a fabric. Softshells are far more breathable than even the best hard shells, making them ideal for sustained active use in the hills when you need a good level of weather protection but not a full-on waterproof.

Stretch: Many softshell fabrics incorporate elastane (also called spandex or Lycra) for enhanced freedom of movement. Two-way stretch fabrics stretch either vertically or horizontally. Four-way stretch fabrics stretch in both directions.

Weight and packed size: Since windshirts are typically used as ‘on-off’ layers, low weight and packability are vital. Softshells, on the other hand, are often regarded as wear-all-day layers, which makes these factors less important – though overall weight and bulk are still considerations.

Pockets: Large pockets are great for storage. Napoleon-style pockets are placed in the centre of the jacket, next to the main zip, for easy access. Other jackets have side hand pockets, which are usually placed higher than normal so they can be used even if you’re wearing a rucksack.

Ventilation: Even the most breathable jackets can still get warm, so ventilation is vital. Some jackets feature pit zips or mesh-lined pockets, which can be opened to increase airflow. Wide cuffs that can be pushed up the forearm can also aid cooling.

Fit: Windshirts and softshells tend to have a slimmer cut compared to hard shell jackets. But you should still ensure that they don’t feel tight across the shoulders or chest and that sleeves cover your wrists fully.

The best softshell jackets

Just so you know, while we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this page, we never allow this to influence product selections.

Mountain Equipment Frontier

Verdict: Pretty much the ideal mountain softshell. Well cut, fully equipped and comfy, yet protective and durable.

Mountain Equipment Frontier Best In Test
©Photo: LFTO

Fit 5/5 | Features 5/5 | Construction 5/5 | Value 4/5 | Performance 5/5

Overall score: 96%

Pros: Comfortable, fully-featured

Cons: Would like a stiffer peak on hood

The Frontier is available in both men’s and women’s options. We tested the latter, which has a great cut: nicely fitted yet unrestrictive thanks to the four-way stretch fabric. This is a double-weave nylon-elastane blend called Exolite 210, with a soft inner for added next-to-skin comfort. The face of the fabric feels fairly tough, and we’d expect this to be a hardwearing jacket.

The Frontier’s long arms give good coverage in windy or wet weather, as does the generous helmet-compatible hood. This has three-point adjustment and a pre-shaped, stiffened brim, though lacks a mouldable wire peak. An inner Velcro tab means it can also be rolled away if preferred.

Hand pockets are well placed above the hips and lined with mesh, which means they can be opened for venting. The women’s version lacks the chest pocket of the men’s jacket, but you do still get a small internal security pocket to stow keys and valuables.

There are dual tether hem drawcords, which provide easy adjustment while eliminating the risk of snagging. We also liked the semi-elasticated cuffs with Velcro adjustment tabs. This gives you the best of both worlds, since they can be cinched in tightly or pushed up the forearms for cooling in warmer weather. In the hills, the jacket wicks well and rarely gets too warm or too clammy, while also cutting out wind effectively. It’s an impressive and versatile mountain layer.

Weight 500g (women’s 12) | Sizes men's S-XXL, women’s 8-16 | Fabric Exolite 210 double-weave softshell with DWR finish (92% nylon, 8% elastane)

Montane Dyno LT

Verdict: A capable and well-designed softshell, with the most comfy stretch fabric of all those we tested. A little heavier than others though.

Montane Dyno LT Best Value
©Photo: LFTO

Fit 5/5 | Features 4/5 | Construction 5/5 | Value 4/5 | Performance 5/5

Overall score: 92%

Pros: Comfortable, fully-featured

Cons: Not the lightest, no women’s version

The Dyno LT is Montane’s midweight softshell, a versatile layer designed for 3-season use in the mountains. This jacket employs Granite Stretch fabric, a nylon-elastane blend that features four-way stretch and an eco-friendly PFC-free DWR finish. It wicks very well and feels pleasant against the skin. We found it to be slightly more stretchy and comfortable than either of the softshell fabrics used in the Black Diamond and Mountain Equipment jackets, though perhaps not quite as resistant to abrasion as the latter. But it moves exceptionally well with the body, even when scrambling or moving fast in the hills.

It is also reasonably protective, shrugging off winds and light showers. When it comes to features, this jacket is mountain-ready, with a roll-away, helmet-compatible hood with a wired peak and three-way adjustment. There’s a two-way front zip backed with an internal stormflap, plus three zipped outer pockets.

The twin hand pockets are mesh-lined for venting but are also placed high to keep them accessible when wearing a pack or climbing harness. They’ll also take an OS map. The hem drawcord cinches in at both sides for easy adjustment, and there are also Velcro cuff tabs.

For all-round mountain adventurers who hike, scramble and climb, this would be a great choice. It’s just a shame there’s no women’s version.

Weight 585g (men’s M) | Sizes men's S-XXL, women’s n/a | Fabric Granite Stretch double-weave softshell with PFC-free DWR finish (88% nylon, 12% elastane)

Black Diamond Cirque

Verdict: A well-built midweight softshell that offers a good balance of protection, comfort, durability and breathability.

Black Diamond Cirque

Fit 3/5 | Features 4/5 | Construction 5/5 | Value 5/5 | Performance 5/5

Overall score: 88%

Pros: Comfortable, well-built

Cons: Slightly roomy fit

We’re big fans of Black Diamond softshells. The brand’s Dawn Patrol jacket, despite being designed for skiing, works well as an all-round mountain softshell, especially in colder conditions. However, with its lighter weight, closer fit and smaller hood, the Cirque is arguably a more versatile choice, particularly for hillwalkers.

It’s made from a nylon-polyester-elastane blend, which features four-way stretch for freedom of movement. It’s a classic softshell fabric that offers a good balance of weather protection and breathability. It feels quite tough and is also bluesign-approved, which is a plus for sustainability.

Like a lot of Black Diamond clothing, this jacket has a fairly generous cut. If you like room for layering, go with your normal size, but if you prefer a trimmer fit, consider dropping down a size. Features include a chest pocket and twin hand pockets, placed out of the way of a rucksack hipbelt. There are also twin internal drop pockets for stashing gloves. Hem and cuffs are both adjustable, and the generous hood has rear volume adjustment. It all works very well on the hill, and this is a well put-together jacket which ticks most of the boxes for a midweight softshell.

Although we narrowly preferred the Montane Dyno LT and Mountain Equipment Frontier jackets for their superior features, the Cirque is still a solid performer, and the lightest of the three.

Weight 512g (men’s M) | Sizes men's S-XL, women's XS-XL | Fabric Double-weave softshell with DWR finish (75% nylon, 14% polyester, 11% elastane)

Jöttnar Njord

Verdict: A featherlight windshirt with all you need, this ultra-packable ‘on-off’ layer is ideal for fast-moving summit baggers.

Jöttnar Njord
©Photo: LFTO

Fit 4/5 | Features 4/5 | Construction 5/5 | Value 3/5 | Performance 5/5

Overall score: 84%

Pros: Lightweight, highly packable

Cons: No women’s version

The Njord is a classic windshirt made from a tightly woven 20-denier nylon, which makes it the lightest layer here by some distance. Fit is true to size and the cut is trim without feeling restrictive.

The shaped cuffs cover the wrists fully and there is a pronounced drop tail for added rear protection. The hem has an elasticated drawcord and there’s a deep half-zip at the chest. A high collar protects the lower half of the face, and there’s a chinguard at the top of the zip too.

The hood is well-designed and very protective for such a lightweight layer, thanks to three-way adjustment and a stiffened peak. You also get a single chest pocket that doubles up as a stuffsack. The Njord packs down to almost nothing, stowing easily in the lid of a rucksack or even a hipbelt pocket.

This makes it ideal for ‘fast and light’ hill days. We wouldn’t wear it with a heavy pack, as that lighter fabric seems vulnerable to abrasion. And unlike heavier softshell jackets, it has no stretch. However, the excellent cut makes up for that shortcoming, and this is the ideal lightweight layer to pull on whenever you are suddenly exposed to buffeting wind. With a decent base layer on underneath, it does great job of reducing windchill.

Weight 137g (men’s M) | Sizes men's S-XL, women's n/a | Fabric Single-weave 100% nylon (20D) with DWR finish

Arc’teryx Gamma SL Hoody

Verdict: A superlight, breathable yet wind-resistant softshell with a stretch fabric for comfort and flexibility.

Arc’teryx Gamma SL Hoody
©Photo: LFTO

Fit 5/5 | Features 3/5 | Construction 5/5 | Value 4/5 | Performance 5/5

Overall score: 80%

Pros: Lightweight, breathable, packable

Cons: Not the warmest or the most weatherproof

Softshell jackets are all about versatile all-round performance, but this usually means adjusting the balance between several different factors, namely weight, durability, warmth, weather-resistance and breathability. The Gamma SL hoody places the emphasis squarely on the first and last qualities in that list.

The women’s version that we tested was impressively light (‘superlight’ in fact, hence the SL designation) and very breathable. It is also comfortable, far more so than a classic windshirt, since the double-weave Fortius 1.0 fabric contains elastane for a little stretch, enhancing freedom of movement. This ensures a trim yet unrestrictive fit, ideal for fast-paced mountain pursuits.

The streamlined features are relatively simple but generally work well, from the sensibly placed hand pockets to the nicely fitting hood. This has volume adjustment and a stiffened peak, so it can be cinched in for added face protection in windy or drizzly conditions. Cuffs and hem are elasticated, but not adjustable. It’ll cope with light drizzle but you’ll need to keep moving if you don’t want to get too cold.

Essentially, the Gamma SL sits somewhere between a featherweight windshirt like the Jottnar Njord and heavier softshells like the Mountain Equipment Frontier, Montane Dyno LT or Black Diamond Cirque. So if you want a lightweight wind-blocking layer with added all-day wearability, this is the perfect choice.

Weight 238g (women’s M) | Sizes men's XS-XXL, womens's XXS-XL | Fabric Fortius DW 1.0 (87% nylon, 13% elastane)

Rab Vapour-Rise Alpine Light

Verdict: A proven ‘put it on, leave it on’ layer that fends off the wind and provides a little insulation. We can see why it has its devotees.

Rab Vapour-Rise Alpine Light
©Photo: LFTO

Fit 3/5 | Features 4/5 | Construction 4/5 | Value 4/5 | Performance 5/5

Overall score: 80%

Pros: Light, versatile, good warmth for weight

Cons: Not the toughest, no stretch

The Vapour-Rise (VR) system has been a mainstay of the Rab range since the 1990s. It is essentially a 2-layer design consisting of a lightweight, wind and water-resistant Pertex outer combined with a fast-wicking liner.

Today, Rab’s VR line-up consists of three jackets, but for us the Alpine Light is the pick of the bunch, being the most versatile option for hill and mountain use. When worn over a light base layer, you can basically leave your fleece and windproof at home, since this does the job of both.

The fit is relatively roomy, though there’s a hem drawcord to cinch it in, plus a simple but fairly effective elastic-bound hood with a stiffened peak and rear Velcro adjustment. There are also twin mesh-lined chest pockets. Impressively, this softshell weighs just 312g in a men’s medium. That’s down to the lightweight fabrics used, including that Pertex Quantum Air nylon shell.

In conjunction with the wicking liner, it means this jacket feels superlight and airy, yet staves off wind chill effectively. Good airflow and breathability keep you cool, dry and comfortable across a broad temperature range. It’s also finished with a DWR to deal with on-off drizzle. The only disadvantage is that it lacks the stretch of other softshells and feels fairly delicate, so this isn’t a jacket built to take too much punishment.

Weight 312g (men’s M) | Sizes men's S-XXL, women’s 8-16 | Fabric Pertex Quantum Air shell (100% nylon) with DWR. VR Wicking liner (100% polyester lining), with VR Airflow mesh (100% polyester)

Fjällräven Keb Jacket

Verdict: Worth considering if you’re fed up with Gore-Tex but are after a supremely well-built and weatherproof shell.

Fjällräven Keb Jacket
©Photo: LFTO

Fit 4/5| Features5/5 | Construction 4/5 | Value 3/5 | Performance 3/5

Overall score: 80%

Pros: Tough, weatherproof

Cons: Heavy, not the most breathable

As the hefty price tag might suggest, the Keb is a breed apart from all the other jackets in this head-to-head. It is certainly windproof, and it is also a softshell as it doesn’t feature a waterproof membrane or taped seams.

But this is a far heavier, tougher and more weatherproof jacket than any of the alternatives here. It employs a hybrid construction using two fabrics: a conventional stretch softshell material and a more durable G-1000 Eco polycotton blend, made from recycled polyester and organic cotton.

These panels can be treated with Greenland Wax for added weather-resistance. This gives you a jacket that will perform almost as well as most conventional waterproofs in all but the most torrential downpours. Or, if you’re anticipating better conditions, the panels can be left untreated (or just wash the jacket to remove the wax), which then offers improved breathability.

The Keb also features a cavernous hood, two zipped chest pockets, twin zipped side vents, adjustable cuffs and hem and a chunky main zip with inner and outer stormflaps. We tested the women’s version and found the fit to be excellent, making for a trim and comfy shell with room to layer underneath. We found it too warm and heavy on occasion, but for cold, changeable mountain conditions it was reassuringly protective.

Weight 590g (women’s M) | Sizes men's XS-XXL, women’s XXS-XL | Fabric G-1000 Eco (65% recycled polyester, 35% organic cotton) with PFC-free Greenland Wax finish

Keela Hydron Jacket

Verdict: Though the fit isn’t perfect and we’d like more stretch, the Hydron offers more warmth than most midweight softshells.

Keela Hydron Jacket
©Photo: LFTO

Fit 3/5 | Features 4/5 | Construction 5/5 | Value 3/5 | Performance 4/5

Overall score: 76%

Pros: Warm, wicks well

Cons: Not the most flexible fabric, fit a little boxy

At first glance, the Hydron looks like a standard softshell jacket, but there’s a little more to it than meets the eye. That’s because it uses an unusual 2-layer construction consisting of a polyester face fabric bonded to a gridded nylon liner.

The fabric has a little stretch, though isn’t as flexible as some. But the lining is a winner, featuring raised fluffy rectangles interspersed with broad channels. This feels soft against the skin while balancing warmth, airflow and wicking ability.

Although it is a little too warm on the hottest days, it insulates better in colder weather compared to other midweight softshells. Unfortunately the cut is a little shorter in the body than the other women’s jackets we tested, though the sleeves are nice and long, with Velcro cuff tabs to cinch them in at the wrists. The hem has easy one-handed drawcord adjustment on both sides.

The large hood has three-point adjustment with an excellent wired peak, giving good face protection while remaining stiff enough to stay in place in strong winds. There’s a Velcro tab to roll away the hood and the main zip is backed with a stormflap. The women’s version of the Hydron has no pit zips, though these are found on the men’s jacket. However, mesh-lined hand pockets at least offer some venting. These technical features make for a mountain-ready softshell that is ideal for chilly autumnal adventures.

Weight 590g (women’s 12) | Sizes men's XS-XXXL, women's 8-20 | Fabric AirXtream fabric (shell 80% polyester, 15% PU, 5% elastane; lining 100% polyamide)

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