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Gear Guy

Will a fleece or soft shell jacket alone get me through the winter?

I need a new jacket, but I’m not a big fan of bulky hardshells or anything too puffy, such as down jackets. Would a fleece or a soft shell jacket keep me warm enough in Colorado’s winter? Do you have any suggestions? Rachel Colorado Springs, Colorado


So, it sounds like you’re perfectly open to most anything on the market—except what’s on the market. Is that correct?

L.L. Bean Weather Challenger Jacket

Weather Challenger Jacket

The trouble with fleece is that by itself it usually isn’t all that warm—at least, not when worn as the primary insulating piece in cold weather. Most soft shells are aimed at the high-aerobic market, although there are exceptions which I will get to momentarily. One possibility is to get a three-in-one jacket, a piece that has a fleece liner that can be worn alone when it’s mild and dry, a shell that can be worn alone when it’s mild and wet, or you wear them together in cold weather. L.L. Bean makes a nice piece along these lines called the Weather Challenger Jacket ($159; It has a wind-blocking fleece inner jacket, with a water-proof breathable shell that uses Bean’s light 2.5-layer membrane material. It’s really quite snug; over a sweater, and with gloves and a hat (it has a hood), you should be fine in Colorado.

Another option is to look for a down sweater or something similar, use that as a primary layer, and then add a shell when it’s colder or wetter. Down sweaters don’t have the bulk of a down “parka," and they actually can be quite flattering. Patagonia makes a lovely down sweater for $175 (available in Fall at Over it, toss something such as Marmot’s Oracle Jacket ($150;, which gives you a waterproof-breathable layer in an array of stylish colors.

On the soft shell front, Mountain Hardwear’s Women’s Synchro ($185; comes with waterproof-breathable laminate bonded to a fleece liner. Plus it’s really quite nice-looking. Over another layer or so, I think you’d be fine with it during Colorado winters.

Hope that helps!

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Filed To: Snow SportsMidweightSoft Shell
Lead Photo: courtesy, L.L. Bean