Still, the versatility of a good soft shell gives you some options. Lets say you normally pack a set of lightweight long underwear (bottoms and long-sleeve top), a mid-weight fleece jacket, and a Gore-Tex jacket. You could instead pack along an Arcteryx Easyrider Jacket ($289; www.arcteryx.com), made with Polartec Power Shield. Power Shield is used in the warm" style of soft shell; it insulates nicely, blocks out wind, and sheds snow and light rain. It also breathes so it stays comfortable in warmer conditions. Worn over a piece of light long underwear, you can wear the Easy Rider over a wider range of conditions than the mid-weight fleece. And because you dont have as much need for a full-bore rainjacket, you can get by with a lighter rain piece such as a Marmot PreCip ($99; www.marmot.com). You save some weight and some space in your pack, and are more comfortable overall.
Id be reluctant to leave even a light rainjacket homeif it got really wet, or if you were forced to bivouac, youd want it. But if the weather forecast warrants, it might be worth a try doing without. Youll still need a hatnone of the Power Shield soft shells that Im aware of (including the REI One, $179; www.rei.com) have a hood. If you decide that a hood is the most important factor, you might try Mountain Hardwares Hooded Synchro Jacket ($260, www.mountainhardwear.com). Its Conduit membrane and weather-protective exterior taping should hold up against the elements.
Pick up a copy of the 2006 Outside Buyers Guide, on newsstands now, for a look at the best jackets and 396 other torture-tested products.
Filed To: Soft Shell