Q:

What’s the warmest soft shell jacket out there?

I love the look of soft shell jackets instead of typical hard shells. But most soft shells I’ve seen are very thin with little or no insulation. Is there one that will keep me warm while I bounce around in Vermont? Eric Randolph, New Jersey

Nov 30, 2006
Outside
Outside Magazine
Patagonia Down Patrol Jacket

Down Patrol Jacket

A:

Soft shell jackets such as the Patagonia Mixmaster ($299; www.patagonia.com) have a lot going for them. They’re nearly impervious to wind, shed light rain and snow, breathe well, and offer a much wider comfort range than a traditional shell-over-insulation layering approach.

The Mixmaster is one of the warmer soft shells out there. Its outer fabric is Polartec Power Shield, which I think is the best soft shell fabric. That is bonded to a wicking layer of Polartec Power Dry. Then the whole thing gets Patagonia’s very good Deluge water-repellent coating. Its cut is athletic, and the full hood keeps your head warm if need be. REI’s One jacket ($199; www.rei.com) is similar, minus the hood and with a warm polyester velour lining.

Salomon does several interesting things on the soft shell front, including the 3 Mixer Jacket ($279; www.salomonsports.com), which combines breathable soft shell panels with more traditional hard shell fabric.

That said, keep in mind that soft shells are built for people involved in aerobic activities—biking, climbing, downhill or XC skiing (especially the latter), things like that. They tend not be super-warm if you’re moseying around town or sitting in a football stadium. The Mixmaster, for instance, may be the warmest soft shell made, but it still wouldn’t be my first choice as a straight insulating piece. For that’d I’d go with a down parka such as Patagonia’s Down Patrol Jacket ($285) or L.L. Bean’s Primaloft-insulated Penobscot Parka ($129; www.llbean.com). Both have that outdoorsy-but-not-too-woodsy look that I think is great for bopping around town.

Get more advice from the Gear Guy as he picks this season’s top gifts in Away.com’s Holiday Gift Guide. You’ll probably find a few things to put on your own wish list, too.

Filed To: Midweight, Soft Shell

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