Soft Shell

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The most breathable soft shell here, the Verglas was our favorite jacket for high-energy excursions. Whether testers were climbing or simply riding their bikes home from work, they were impressed with the Verglas’s vast comfort range. Credit the thumb loops, hood, and a woven nylon fabric that’s treated with…

BEST FOR BACKCOUNTRY Unlike a lot of windproof soft shells, which rely on an embedded membrane, the Winter Guide’s gale-thwarting abilities come from a supertight weave, enabling it to breathe better than most. During a day of ski touring in Washington’s North Cascades that involved everything from cold descents to…

Good for Resort Two words: Tricked. Out. The Glenn has everything from a removable powder skirt to a headphone port to pit zips. But here’s the deal: With the exception of the removable (and superfluous) “hiking suspenders,” testers approved of every add-on, especially the hand gaskets with…

BEST IN BAD WEATHER The Touring Hoodie is fashioned completely from Polartec Powershield, a time-tested fabric that still provides one of the best combinations of stretchiness, breathability, and protection from the elements. Its sleek, understated design makes it a great choice for everything from day hiking to walking the dog,…

FORCE FIELD If you’re often out in the wet conditions typical of places like the Pacific Northwest, a classic Gore-Tex shell like the Albaron is an indispensable outer layer. It’s cut from Pro Shell, Gore’s best material, so it’s the most water- and windproof piece here, with user-friendly pit zips,…

COOL CHAMELEONOne of those rare pieces that delivers performance on the trail but still looks sharp on the street, this ingeniously paneled, 19-ounce hoodless number employs two breeds of Gore WindStopper—tough Trango on the yoke and arms, lighter Eiger on the rest—and its versatility is astounding: You’ll stay warm and…

Climbing. Hiking. Backpacking. We knew the Offwidth was a winner when every tester filled out the “best for” line of our test card differently. True, it isn’t the most breathable or element-resistant soft shell around, but that’s actually a good thing—you can wear it for a wider range of…

BARGAIN PUFFY Good luck finding an equally tricked-out, ski-specific soft shell at this price. In addition to a removable powder skirt and helmet-compatible hood, the Wildcard has everything you need—hidden pass clip, dedicated goggle pocket, and audio-player compartment with earbud port—for an organized day sans backpack. Its low-profile layer of…

Good for Resort The uninsulated, waterproof-breathable Odin was developed with input from four ski patrols across North America and Europe, then field-tested in Antarctica by ski mountaineer Chris Davenport. You can tell. Its shoulders and waist—where your pack rubs—are reinforced with Kevlar and TPU panels, there’s a…

SUMMER-WEIGHT CHAMP Meet our new warm-weather favorite. The track-suit-inspired Avido was a godsend in the middle of summer when we didn’t want to stuff a full-on rain shell in our packs but then got blasted by cold winds up in the hills. The reason, as one tester pointed out, is…

BARGAIN SOFT SHELL The Ascent’s house-brand, fleece-lined soft-shell fabric is windproof and nearly waterproof. Raindrops beaded and poured off the stretchy face fabric for hours, while a three-point adjustable hood sealed out blowing snow. And when we picked up the pace, the core zips let us dump heat. So what’s…

SONIC BOOMThis savvy 17-ouncer still looked fresh after an hour of running it through sticks and stones in the Santa Fe National Forest. The Omega‘s welded Gore WindStopper panels put up quite a fight when I tested the jacket’s hydrophobia by sliding down a snowy embankment—on my back. Verdict? There…

Technically, the streamlined Venta LT is a soft shell. But because most of the jacket (the shoulders, arms, and back) is cut from highly water-resistant fabric—Gore’s best Windstopper stuff—and its seams are taped, it shed steady Seattle rain nearly as well as our favorite storm shells. However, thanks to…

ALL-WEATHER PERFORMER Unlike most soft shells, which will keep you dry and comfy 90 percent of the time, the ultra-stretchy Tremor won’t wilt when conditions get sloppy. While OR won’t officially call the Tremor waterproof, our testers will. Thanks to a Gore Windstopper membrane and taped seams, the Tremor bested…

Good for Resort It may look like it schussed in from the eighties ski flick Hot Dog… The Movie, but with all the resort-friendly features—like pit zips and a powder skirt—the Gunpowder is a seriously technical puffy. The real secret to the jacket’s performance is that the…

PRACTICALLY WATERPROOF If you took your favorite base layer, hard shell, and soft shell and threw them all in a blender, it would be a terrible mess. But Westcomb’s mash-up makes terrific sense. A thin layer of merino wool on the inside wicks away moisture (like a base layer),…

HOTHOUSE How good is Arc’teryx at making jackets? So good that it’s managed to build a streamlined, stylish soft shell that thrives in the backcountry but looks at home in the city. On bitter Minnesota evenings, when everybody else started reaching for their puffies, our tester stayed toasty in the…

1. The best soft shells are jackets that rarely spend time in the closet—they’re always in use. Such was the case with the Cipher. Its chest, tops of the arms, and part of the back panel are armored with Gore Windstopper fabric, while the rest of the jacket…

Down Economic stimulus in the form of a 650-fill down jacket with a soft, shaggy hood and a feminine cut. llbean.com…

DEEP-FREEZE FRIEND During a couple of back-to-back days of single-digit chairlift rides in the Alps, the insulated Evo shined. And thanks to a patchwork of supple fabrics—including swaths of breathable, super-stretchy material under the arms—it offers way more mobility than most ski puffies. The combo is perfect for skiing in…

Good for Resort It’s the love child of a high-end mountaineering jacket and a toasty resort parka! Combining Gore’s most durable waterproof-breathable fabric, Pro Shell, with PrimaLoft’s top-of-the-line insulation, the Sentry wowed every tester in the field, besting everything from arctic gusts on the lifts at Colorado’s…

RAIN BEATERThe big deal with this one? No sticker shock on a piece that can match the performance of jackets almost twice as pricey. A stylin’ hoodie with taped seams, the Mithril weighs in at 22 ounces, and though I doubted OR’s claim that its stretchy Ventia fabric was waterproof,…

Good for Resort 1. This hybrid jacket uses soft-shell material on most of the body, which gives it a slightly stretchy athletic feel and fit. But because it’s seam-sealed and reinforced with waterproof-breathable (hard-shell) nylon panels in strategic places—like the hood and the tops of…

It isn’t quite the holy grail, but for high output in bad weather, like ski-touring in a storm, this jacket gets darn close to solving the weatherproof-breathable equation. While it’s not technically waterproof—the seams aren’t taped—one tester stayed dry for hours in sleet and wet snow. And when the…

A WATERPROOF SOFT SHELL, FOR PEANUTS In the future you’ll be able to get the perfect jacket: soft-shell performance, storm-shell protection, and windbreaker economy. Until then, we have the Gamut, a bargain-priced waterproof-breathable soft shell that has taped seams for real-weather protection. It’s not quite the future—the proprietary fabric wets…

Resort Roomier than most resortwear, this waterproof jacket has a brushed-polyester lining, fuzzy collar, and removable hood. patagonia.com…

This soft shell is lined with a “bunny fur” fleece liner that’s so soft and fuzzy you’ll think it’s real. The polyester face isn’t waterproof but sheds snow well. thenorthface.com…

Good for Resort “It’s like you’re wearing a Muppet,” one tester said of the Flow’s ridiculously plush fleece lining. This jacket—the warmest here—is what you want if you’re heading somewhere frigid, like Wyoming or Alaska. But because all that insulation is wrapped in a waterproof-breathable eVent membrane,…

Good for Resort Just like the turquoise-and-hot-pink, three-in-one Columbia you skied in as a kid—only much better. The inner jacket, a trim-fitting, polyester-lined down puffy with pit zips and three internal pockets, is practically worth the price of admission on its own. Ditto the waterproof-breathable shell, with…

AEROBIC MASTER Good for Resort Hesitant about wearing a soft shell to the resort? Relax. In drier climates, the fleece-and-soft-shell Gamma SV is the perfect choice for hard-charging lift-lappers. Built with cozy, high-loft Polartec Power Shield fleece in the chest and a lighter version of the…

WESTCOMB‘s SKEENA HOODY. It’s extremely water-resistant, stretchy, and lined with a warm, wicking merino layer.

A SOFT SHELL ON STEROIDS Instead of storm-shell-vs.-soft-shell controversy, Switzerland-based Mammut gives us a truce: the Blend, which perfectly splits the difference. The hybrid’s hood, shoulders, and tops of the arms are constructed with a three-layer waterproof-breathable laminate, while the body is made of more-breathable, stretchy Polartec Power Shield. The…

Backcountry/Free-ride FlyLow broke into girls’ gear with a waterproof-breathable and lightly lined soft shell that’s warm enough for skiing but, thanks to ample pit zips, great for touring as well. flylowgear.com…

On stormy, wet days in the Sierra Nevada, testers swore by the Stingray. It’s made of waterproof-breathable Gore-Tex Soft Shell, which is both supple and tough. arcteryx.com Bonus: It’s equipped with a Recco avalanche-rescue reflector.

Good for Resort Resort jackets used to come in two varieties: There were the big, bulky numbers designed to keep you warm on the chairlift, and there were the lightweight shells you could take into the backcountry. But innovations in insulation, ventilation, and waterproof-breathable fabrics have…

HARD CHARGER Textile wonks say the Velocity’s Schoeller NanoSphere fabric—which runs across the jacket’s shoulders and back—is inspired by the especially water-repellent leaf of the white lotus. How closely it resembles its natural cousin we can’t say, but the Velocity does shed water better than most soft shells. And because…

BACKCOUNTRY STANDBY Good for Backcountry Technically, the Vanquish is a “soft” shell, but it certainly didn’t behave like one in the field. Gore-Tex’s Soft Shell material is fairly breathable and virtually waterproof—we didn’t test it in driving rain, but it easily shed several hours of…

Think of your winter workout gear, like SALOMON‘s lightweight, breathable MOMENTUM II SOFTSHELL JACKET, as a vacation investment—your ticket to transcending the slop and sleet to a warmer, sunnier plane (in your head, anyway).

SMART AND SIMPLE The Mojave earned the highest praise a soft shell can get when one tester said, “Awesome. The perfect combination of warmth, weather resistance, and breathability.” Credit goes to the fabric itself—the Mojave is made entirely of Polartec Power Shield, a standout for its standard-setting versatility—and the elegantly…

High Tech They make this classy jacket expensive, but the redesigned, built-in heating panels definitely work. On the high setting, you can get up to six 20-minute blasts of heat in the torso, sleeves, and collar. $800; rossignol.com…

In a single day skiing at Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin, we received four compliments on this striped, belted jacket. Style points aside, it’s also waterproof with fully taped seams, though it doesn’t breathe as well as its competitors. hellyhansen.com…

Form and Function The Ruston was the surprise hit of the test. For starters, Scott’s designers nailed the details on this highly water-resistant soft shell: The hood is top-notch, and there are good-sized pit zips. Even more impressive is that this jacket doesn’t scream “I’m wearing a super-techy soft shell!”…

The low-key ranch-jacket exterior of the Hard Place conceals some trick technology. A finish called NanoSphere magically repels stains and dirt from the abrasion-resistant Schoeller WB-400 fabric. A waffled liner channels sweat away from the back. And under the arms, a lightweight stretch fleece allows venting without unwieldy pit…

DUDE CRED Good for Backcountry FlyLow has a sense of humor. The care-instructions tag in this piece advises you first to “Drink Cold Beer.” But the Denver-based company also has a solid reputation for making durable, no-nonsense gear. And by using a highly water-resistant, stretchy “kung…

For slogs into the backcountry, this soft shell carried its (barely there) weight with smart features like a chenille-soft chin guard and slanted pockets you can still access with a pack on. It won’t stand up to a major snowstorm—the Pro Tour is only water-resistant—but it’s the go-to jacket…

WARMER THAN IT LOOKS When warmth matters most, grab the G50. On a late-fall backpacking trip in New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness, with temperatures plummeting into the single digits, one tester (who had forgotten his puffy) simply battened down the G50 and said, “I’m fine.” The surprising warmth-to-weight is due to…

Good for Backcountry We’re not too nuts about the term “all-purpose” either, but we hope you understand our point: Whatever you do, from resort skiing to snowshoeing, we’ve got the perfect jacket for you. Some, like the North Face Free Thinker II, are bedecked with nearly a…

This coat is a two-in-one piece: a zip-in reversible vest (insulated with synthetic fill) plus a water-resistant nylon shell. Wear the combo on a cold day, then sport the flower-printed vest at the bar later that night. spyder.com…

Fast and Light In a word: dense. That’s the best way to describe this thin but surprisingly tough and weatherproof jacket. Because its fabric is much more tightly woven than most soft shells’, it was, according to one tester, “way more windproof and burly than I would have thought.” Even…

Meet the jacket version of that warm friendliness Germans call gemütlichkeit. The microfiber inner cuffs are soft and help retain heat, the collar is snug but not too tight, and the fleecy collar caresses bare skin. Testers favored the coziness on gusty alpine ridges, when wind-resistance trumped breathability. 1.3…

TOWN AND COUNTRY Good for Backcountry Don’t worry, it’s also available in black and UPS brown. We were surprised that what looks like a soft-shell sweatshirt on acid could perform so well in nasty conditions. But this hoodie felt as at home riding the lifts on…

Can you help me find a winter running jacket that breathes, keeps the real cold out (think below 20F) and that doesn't require 3 layers underneath? Would love to run with just a single base layer (merino seems best in these conditions) under a jacket that won't over heat or leave me cold.Dan Chicago, IL Location (City, State/City Country)

From game-changing new materials (like moisture-wicking cotton) to evolutionary leaps in engineering (like a rotating helmet for extreme crashes), the avant-garde of 21st-century gear has just one thing in common: a total disregard for the status quo.

WHERE TO USE IT: The best surf road trip begins in San Diego and heads north. Start mellow, with the friendly Tourmaline break, in Pacific Beach. Camp on the bluffs at San Onofre overlooking Old Man’s, a longboarder’s heaven (parks.ca.gov), then switch to your shortboard and hit…

I'm new to hiking and would like some good clothing suggestions for day hikes in late spring/summer/early fall. I'm just not sure where to start.—TaraWashington D.C.

1. If there’s one thing you need, it’s a nice pair of bibs. Whether or not the contoured fit of Sugoi‘s RSE bibs ($200; sugoi.ca) helped lessen muscle fatigue, as advertised, was hard to gauge. But both the moisture-wicking interior and quick-drying chamois received rave reviews.

1. Zoic‘s Black Market ($69; zoic.com) quickly became our go-to shorts. The reasons: plenty of pockets, a loose but not baggy fit, and, most important, an inner short with a super-comfy chamois. Mountain biking apparel MTB style 2. Thanks to its street-smart style and semi-fitted…

I need a soft-shell jacket with high breathability that I can also use for casual wear most of the time. I'm going to use it on spring and cool summer nights. Basically something I can wear with a T-shirt after hiking or rock climbing, something highly breathable and wind proof, but it doesn’t need to keep me too warm. Should I wait until new models come out in spring or buy one now? Ugur Istanbul

What gear do you recommend for bike commuting in winter? The Editors Santa Fe, New Mexico

Presenting nine foolproof rules to keep in mind when scouting for presents (or just a little swag for yourself), plus 67 great products we couldn't keep under wraps.

What is the best women’s full-length parka for very cold weather? Linda McFarlane Calgary, Alberta

Outside's guide to the best new concepts in gear, garb, human performance, and green.

The Eddie Bauer Mountain Guide soft-shell jacket marks the company’s return to making expedition-worthy gear after outfitting the original American Everest expedition, in 1963, and later sliding downhill into women’s casualwear. Eddie, we’ve missed you. $229; firstascent.com Eddie Bauer…

I ride my bike to class every morning, and as the temperature drops, I have a jacket problem that is two fold. 1) My fleece does little to stop the piercing cold winds. 2) My hard shell retains too much body heat, and I feel like I’m in a furnace. What do you recommend? Bary Charlottesville, Virginia

Stay warm and dry through the miles, no matter how nasty the weather gets

I work outside year-round (at the flightline of an airport), and in the winter the cold wind really gets me. I need a jacket that is comfy, warm, and tough, and that blocks wind. With all of the shells out there, I'm overwhelmed. What do you suggest? What about pants? Mike Apalachicola, Florida

1. Most frontside skis are too precise and exhausting for freeskiing. Not the pared-down CX 80, which does away with heavy add-ons like complex binding plates for a more responsive feel. It’s ten millimeters fatter than most, but its World Cup­–inspired…

You answered a question in 2004 about the best gear for cycling in freezing temps. What's changed since then? John Alexandria, Virginia

Any suggestions for a travel jacket that can also hack it as a weather-protection piece and meeting wear? It doesn't have to look like a three-piece suit, but it should up the ante on standard backpacking gear. Rick Edmonton, Alberta

1. SHELL MontBell's Mistral Parka is a hooded squall shield that vents well enough for sweaty runs and packs down to a softball-size bundle. $110; montbell.com Trail-Running Gear Essentials   2. SUNGLASSES The new VR50 lenses in Oakley's Flak Jackets block blue light to make trail details…

My wife and I will be hiking the Inca Trail in April, and I would appreciate your opinion about appropriate raingear. We’d want something waterproof-breathable, right? Ed Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

I bought the Arc'teryx Theta AR, but returned it because, for that kind of money, I hoped it would have a thin liner or just be slightly more substantial in warmth. I’m now thinking about the Arc'teryx Gma MX Hoody. I'm not traversing the Alps, but since I will be outside in the winter months when it rains (and that's usually everyday!), I want something of high quality. Any ideas? Scott Eugene, Oregon

When I’m hiking, I sweat, to put it delicately, with the regularity of Old Faithful and with the intensity of Niagara Falls. What do you recommend in the way of a wicking base layer and a lightweight breathable jacket for fall hiking? Or perhaps you know of a DVD I can watch of someone else hiking (sweat-free). Meir New York, New York

Hint: It's not the toboggan.

I'm looking for the perfect trail running jacket: soft shell to eliminate the noise of nylon, breathable so I don't overheat, and resistant to light rain and wind. I chasing a unicorn, or does such a beast exist? Blake Lexington, Kentucky

1. Bern Muse Helmet Slope Style This downsized lid has zero bobblehead factor yet still has room for a removable liner (with speakers). $99; bernunlimited.com 2. Marmot Furlong Like it or not, you will get noticed in the lift line when you’re…

I looking for an expedition-weight cold-weather jacket for skiing, hiking, and all around wear. I tend to get cold easily. I would also like something with a lot of pockets, and is waterproof and windproof. Oh, and somewhat stylish. Can you suggest a few for me to choose from? Thank you! Joy Tacoma, Washington