Gear Guy

Can soft-shell jackets really do it all?

I know it's only August, but I have recently taken up running and looking ahead to the looming Ottawa winter. In preparing to outfit myself, I have been doing some reading about soft-shell jackets. The claim seems to be that I won't need to do the usual layering job with one of these—the soft shell can do it all. Is this right? Would a soft shell be the answer to a big part of my winter running wardrobe? Eric Ottawa, Ontario

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Never too early to start planning for winter, although I confess that thinking of January right now is more than a little depressing. See, most people claim that in their past lives they were a knight, or a princess, or a wizard, or something like that. I had a more humble past life as a lizard, basking on a warm rock, popping the occasional fly into my mouth, and soaking up the rays. In short, I love summer and its warm weather. Not Phoenix warm, though, where in recent days the daily lows haven’t wandered below 96. But around 88 to 90 degrees, with reasonable humidity, will do me.

Anyway, back to winter and running. You’re right, the new generation of “soft-shell” garments may indeed prove useful to you. As I’ve mentioned in this column before, I rode my bike the past two winters in Seattle wearing a Cannondale jacket made with Polartec Power Shield. Basically it’s completely windproof, sheds water well, and breathes nicely. Of course, Seattle winters aren’t like Ottawa winters, but I find that I can wear a light T-shirt, the Cannondale jacket, and be good for a two-hour night ride down to the mid-30s. Adding more base layers would make the jacket that much warmer.

REI makes a lovely Power Shield piece called the One Jacket, which sells for $198 ( Its only downside as a cold-weather running jacket is that it comes in fairly muted colors, so you might want to add a reflective vest or something of that sort. Marmot’s Super Hero Jacket uses Power Shield and Gore Windstopper to create a really nice all-conditions piece that sells for $225 ( It’s designed more with high-activity stuff in mind than REI’s One, so might be a good choice. Pricey, I know, but I think you’d get good use out of it.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to enjoy summer!

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