In 2005, I bought a Mountain Equipment Co-Op Composite 2 softshell jacket. It's the best purchase I have ever made. Unfortunately, seven years later it's starting to pile. I need a replacement. What do you recommend? Blair Turner, Saskatoon, SK
Nothing lasts forever. If you got seven years of hard use out of the Composite 2, you did well.
Mountain Equipment Co-op has replaced the Composite 2 with the Prodigy Hoodie ($175 Canadian). It’s made from Polartec Power Shield, which I regard as one of the best softshell materials on the market: it's tough, keeps you comfortable in a wide range of temperatures, and it's highly weather-resistant. The Prodigy comes with a hood, a longish cut (below the hip), and comfortable handwarmer pockets. MEC's Pedigree ($170 Canadian), is nearly identical, only without a hood.
In the U.S. market, I like REI’s Centre Peak ($199). It’s an update on the venerable REI ONE Jacket, which came out around the same time as your Composite 2. The Centre Peak uses Polartec’s relatively new Power Shield Pro material. I’ve been wearing a Centre Peak this winter and like it a lot—it has a nice, trim cut, and a look that’s outdoorsy but not too outdoorsy, which means it fits in well on both foul-weather hikes and trips to the dog park.
One last suggestion is Patagonia's Northwall jacket. It's the best choice if you're looking for jacket that can hold it's own on serious cold-weather adventures. Patagonia bonded a Polartec Power Shield Pro face to a mid-weight fleece lining. The result is a warm, durable, breathable jacket. Highly recommended for winter climbing and trekking, but at $449, it might be overkill for less serious use.