Soft shell jackets such as the Patagonia Mixmaster ($299; www.patagonia.com) have a lot going for them. Theyre nearly impervious to wind, shed light rain and snow, breathe well, and offer a much wider comfort range than a traditional shell-over-insulation layering approach.
The Mixmaster is one of the warmer soft shells out there. Its outer fabric is Polartec Power Shield, which I think is the best soft shell fabric. That is bonded to a wicking layer of Polartec Power Dry. Then the whole thing gets Patagonias very good Deluge water-repellent coating. Its cut is athletic, and the full hood keeps your head warm if need be. REIs One jacket ($199; www.rei.com) is similar, minus the hood and with a warm polyester velour lining.
Salomon does several interesting things on the soft shell front, including the 3 Mixer Jacket ($279; www.salomonsports.com), which combines breathable soft shell panels with more traditional hard shell fabric.
That said, keep in mind that soft shells are built for people involved in aerobic activitiesbiking, climbing, downhill or XC skiing (especially the latter), things like that. They tend not be super-warm if youre moseying around town or sitting in a football stadium. The Mixmaster, for instance, may be the warmest soft shell made, but it still wouldnt be my first choice as a straight insulating piece. For thatd Id go with a down parka such as Patagonias Down Patrol Jacket ($285) or L.L. Beans Primaloft-insulated Penobscot Parka ($129; www.llbean.com). Both have that outdoorsy-but-not-too-woodsy look that I think is great for bopping around town.
Get more advice from the Gear Guy as he picks this seasons top gifts in Away.coms Holiday Gift Guide. Youll probably find a few things to put on your own wish list, too.