Soft Shells

The North Face Cipher Windstopper

The North Face Cipher Windstopper     Photo: Photo by Mark Wiens

Ignore the Forecast
Keeping out the weather has never felt better. From a waterproof-breathable soft shell that costs a hundred bucks to one of the most eco-friendly storm shells ever made, the latest jackets deliver on all fronts. And none more so than Gear of the Year winner The North Face Cipher Windstopper, a soft-shell hoody that, because it performs so well in such a wide variety of conditions, quickly became our go-to jacket for everything from hiking and skiing to running and canoeing.

The North Face Cipher Windstopper (18 oz) $149 thenorthface.com
1. The best soft shells are jackets that rarely spend time in the closet—they're always in use. Such was the case with the Cipher. Its chest, tops of the arms, and part of the back panel are armored with Gore Windstopper fabric, while the rest of the jacketis cut from lighter- weight, more air-permeable house-brand material. The result is a surprisingly weatherproof jacket that rarely let our testers down.

2. The keys to the Cipher's versatility are its hood and chest pocket vents. With the massive, mesh-backed chest pockets cracked (and hood down), the Cipher kept me cool and dry hiking in 50-degree temps and running in sleety, just-above-freezing conditions. Battened down—vents closed, hood up, warmer midlayer underneath—the Cipher fended off wet snow and biting wind in Wyoming.

3. The adjustable hood fits equally well with or without a helmet. Even so, the Cipher's overall cut is athletic, and it fits best over light to midweight base layers. Plus, the base of the hood—from the chin to the back of the neck—is lined with a soft micro-chamois. But the real clincher is the price. Until recently, you had to pay almost twice as much to get a jacket with such high-performance fabrics.

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