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Gear Guy

Which soft shell is light enough for spring and summer adventures?

Can you recommend a light soft shell with good water repellency for spring/summer hiking and biking? I take it from your past columns that Polartec Power Shield would be a bit warm. Also, should I look for one with a hood? Christopher Brooklyn, New York


Yes, I have offered the opinion that soft shells made with Polartec Power Shield can be a little warm when temps get above 40 F. That’s not cast in stone; they’d be just fine on days when it’s 46, misting, and blowing 20 miles per hour.

REI Mistral Soft Shell Jacket

Mistral Soft Shell Jacket

I think REI’s Mistral ($139; is just the ticket for what you need. The Mistral uses Polartec Power Shield, but it’s a lightweight version of the stuff (and also has a little less stretch). It has a woven nylon face that’s highly water-repellent and nearly wind-proof, and a brushed lining for a little bit of warmth. I’ve flogged the Mistral a few times since acquiring one last fall. I used it all winter for nighttime mountain biking in 30- to 40-degree weather, including rain and snow. I’d wear only a light or mid-weight wool T-shirt under it, depending on conditions. And, along with tights, gloves, and a beanie under my helmet, I’d be extremely comfortable. I’ll use it for some hikes and climbs this spring.

A good alternative to what you have in mind is the somewhat more old-fashioned “wind shirt." That’s a breathable, wind-proof (hence the name), and somewhat water-repellent piece that has the advantage of being lighter and usually cheaper than a soft shell. Marmot makes an excellent one: the updated DriClime Jacket ($100; Its brushed lining is similar to that on the Mistral and feels good next to skin, not cold and clammy.

Lastly, I’d go hoodless. Hoods add bulk, weight, and expense. I much prefer hats.

The Gear Guy reports from 2007 Winter Outdoor Retailer, the bi-annual gearapalooza in Salt Lake City. Check out his top picks for gear to watch in 2007.

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Filed To: Soft Shell
Lead Photo: courtesy, REI