You can find a jacket for every season and microclimate. But let's not forget: Soft shells were born in winter and excel when you're working hard in the cold and wind and snow. Some are every bit as waterproof as a hard shell, while others are as warm as streamlined puffies. And then there are jackets like Arc'teryx's Hercules Hoody, which you might not take off until summer.
Arc'teryx Hercules Hoody (1.3 lbs, M) $325 arcteryx.com
1. The Hercules garnered more envious comments than any other jacket we testedthere's just something about a sharp-looking soft shell with a fuzz-lined hood that people can't resist. But less obvious toucheslike flap-free drawcords and cuffs that repelled snow and rain without feeling constrictive or bulkyare what ultimately earned the highest praise.
2. Even with its fashionable cut, the Herc is first and foremost a top-notch performer. With a trim, athletic fit, it easily slides under a hard shell when the weather rolls in. And while the cut might prove restrictive with any other fabric, the Herc is supple and stretchy enough to allow complete freedom of movement. Plus it's one of the lightest shells we tested.
3. It adapts incredibly well to changing conditions. Credit a new fabrication of Polartec Powershield that has a high-loft, fleece-lined interior. The combination of a weather-resistant, breathable outer and a plush inner proved extremely versatile at the resort and in the backcountry, keeping us warm on windy ridges and venting excess steam once we started pumping again.