These are what you picture when you hear “soft shell”—tightly woven polyester or nylon, DWR-coated, stretchy, and capable of fending off all but the most severe conditions.
BEST FOR: Cool-weather hiking, snowshoeing, nordic skiing, mountaineering.
WHY THIS ONE: Columbia Sportswear’s Key Three is lined with metallized fabric dots that lock in body heat. And with its thick, stretchy face fabric, it was warm enough to wear snowshoeing in subfreezing Minneapolis. Pit zips helped dump heat once we’d warmed up.