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IN THE STORE Figure out your must-have features—like a chest pocket or hood—then find jackets that fit the bill. Soft shells are built to move, so get in there and wiggle around, mimicking the activities you’ll be engaged in. To gauge stretch, don the jacket, grab the cuffs, and strike an Incredible Hulk pose.
IN THE FIELD If things start getting clammy, your layering strategy could use some tweaking. To avoid ending up with two or three soaked tops under your jacket, delete one of them next time you head out. Know your shell’s limits: It was designed for certain conditions, and you should have the drill down. A single, lightweight merino-wool pullover—or one made of a similarly wicking fabric—will work with your top piece to keep you dry and warm.
IN THE FUTURE Hybridization will dominate as the boundaries between hard and soft shells disintegrate. In planning new outerwear designs, few manufacturers will stick to one suite of fabrics. Expect ever wilder combos of soft, stretchy stuff; slick, waterproof materials; fleece; down welded between layers of nylon; and even clear, flexible plastic—oh, yeah, and cubbyholes engineered for all manner of gadgetry. Then the cry for simplicity will go up again.