1. The best soft shells are jackets that rarely spend time in the closetthey'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 jacket is 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 downvents closed, hood up, warmer midlayer underneaththe 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 hoodfrom the chin to the back of the neckis 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.
18 oz; thenorthface.com