Gear Guy

Is there one soft-shell jacket that can do it all?

I've been searching for an elusive jacket for more than six months. My ideal selection would be a soft shell for fall/winter/early spring activities. The jacket would need a detachable/stowable hood, armpit zips, and two or more pockets for stowing gear.

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Well…pretty do-able, JD. The tricky part is the detachable hood. What you’ll find is that soft shells have hoods that are designed to stow neatly, but not to detach. And pit-zips? Ummm, probably not. These things are designed to breathe well without zips, which is a feature more called for in waterproof/breathable shells. I have several soft shells and have never really felt a need to have pit zips.

I think your first choice is going to be the Arc’teryx Gamma SV Hoody ($350). This is a classic soft shell, made with Polartec Powershield (the ideal soft shell material, in my view—warm, water-resistant, breathable, close to windproof), cut for active pursuits. It also has two hand pockets and a handy chest pocket, as well as a drawcord at the waist and a long drop in back to protect your bum. A very nice piece. In my view, perfect for your needs. It even has good looks.

Another very interesting option is Patagonia’s Speed Ascent Jacket ($375). It’s really a shell over a light fleece lining, and thus you’ll find it warmer than most soft shells. Probably too warm for some uses, but for snowboarding I think it would be great. The outer shell would be especially good in powder conditions, as it would slough dry snow right off. Hood is not detachable, and it has no pit zips, but I think that’s okay. And in black, it’s very sharp-looking.

Similar in design is Cloudveil’s Rayzar Windstopper Jacket ($300). It uses Gore’s breathable, light shell material, bonded to light fleece lining for warmth. Nice-looking piece. Or, take a look at Mammut’s Transmission Hybrid Jacket ($360). The interesting thing about the Transmission is that it uses different materials in different places. Waterproof on the shoulders and arms, as that is where you are apt to get wet. Around the torso, breathable Schoeller fabric, so you can get rid of excess heat. That’s a great idea, and very effective. Alas, same deal as the others. No pit zips, hood is stuck on there for keeps. But a great jacket.