I've been looking at soft shells for an early fall trip up to Voyageurs National Park, and certainly like what I see from REI, The North Face, Marmot, and the like. Thing is, there's A) way too many choices, and B) I'd like to get something that I could also wear casually around the city. Any ideas? Henry Chicago, Illinois
Anyway, I digress. I like REI's soft-shell pieces a lottheir One Jacket ($199; www.rei.com), made with Polartec Power Shield, maybe the best single soft-shell material, is terrific. But it does have a sort of Talking Heads techno-modern look, and too easily marks you as an outdoor geek. It's hard to beat for function, though. Another very functional choice is Marmot's new Super Hero ($225; www.marmot.com), which uses six different soft-shell fabrics from Gore and Malden Mills, placing them strategically where they'll best resist weather or abrasion. Like REI's One, it's pretty sleek for a good technical fit, but it has colored panels on the shoulders that give a little more urban snap.
Another good choice might be Cloudveil's Prospector ($135; www.cloudveil.com), which also has an edge on price. The Prospector is more of a light rain shellit's not real warm, compared with something such as the Onebut over a light top it offers a good mix of breathability and weather-shedding abilities. And, it's pretty good-lookingparticularly the brick/charcoal color combo (in my humble sartorial opinion). In the same vein is Patagonia's Dimension Jacket ($240; www.patagonia.com), a light, breathable rain shell that stops just short of keeping you dry in hard rain. But it also is the best-looking jacket in the group, so worth a look.
More jackets reviewed in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.