Soft Shell


My favorite jacket is nearing the end of its life, and I’d like to replace it with a similar do-anything version that’s comfortable in a range of temperatures. I’m looking for a highly breathable piece, and waterproofing isn’t that important. Andre San Francisco, California

I looking into purchasing my first soft shell jacket. I will be using it in the fall and winter here in Minnesota and for the occasional ski trip to Montana. What are your thoughts on custom-built soft shells and are they worth it? Eric Maple Grove, Minnesota

I need a new jacket, but I’m not a big fan of bulky hardshells or anything too puffy, such as down jackets. Would a fleece or a soft shell jacket keep me warm enough in Colorado’s winter? Do you have any suggestions? Rachel Colorado Springs, Colorado

In the Store: Don’t know what kind of arches you have? Dunk your foot lightly in some water and then step on a paper bag. See almost your entire foot? You’re an overpronator. See very little? You’re an underpronator (this is less common). »…

Sustainability meets performance in these eco-friendly products

Can you recommend a light soft shell with good water repellency for spring/summer hiking and biking? I take it from your past columns that Polartec Power Shield would be a bit warm. Also, should I look for one with a hood? Christopher Brooklyn, New York

I love the look of soft shell jackets instead of typical hard shells. But most soft shells I’ve seen are very thin with little or no insulation. Is there one that will keep me warm while I bounce around in Vermont? Eric Randolph, New Jersey

I need to replace my old Moonstone Activent wind shirt that I use for running. Can you direct me to another one, preferably a pullover? Dan St. Louis, Missouri

Taking their cues from urban sidewalks and fashion runways, sportswear designers redefine the look of winter

You trust Outside Online’s Gear Guy to answer all of your pressing questions about buying, using, and rehabbing gear. Now get his advice on the best buys for your friends and family this holiday season.

I’m looking for a fleece-and-shell combo that can be worn separately or together when needed. I’ve looked at The North Face Denali fleece but unsure of a shell to go over it. Can you recommend a system that can be used for everything from hiking to skiing without breaking the bank? Ryan Lubbock, Texas

I just moved to New England from Scotland, where the lack of defined seasons and nearly constant chilly rain make three-season gear essential. Should I shop similarly here or aim for two entire get-ups, one for lightweight summer trekking and one for colder months? Callum Boston, Massachusetts

What raingear would you suggest for bike commuting in rainy Seattle? I need something that will keep me dry but not slow me down this winter. Martha Bainbridge Island, Washington

Layering gets smart with cutting-edge fabrics and designs that let you do more with less

As a college student in Boston, I spend a lot of time outside in the freezing, windy winters. Will the Patagonia R4 fleece jacket keep me warm around town and on the New England ski slopes? Or do you know of any cheaper, comparable fleeces? Jenny Boston, Massachusetts

Get the most out of long summer days with featherweight performance gear for running, riding, climbing, and hiking

I going climbing this summer in Switzerland and looking to shed a few pounds off my gear. My idea is to dump all my fleeces (except maybe a vest) and heavy-duty shells in exchange for a soft shell. I’d like to find one with a hood that actually moves well with the head and allows for a helmet, too. What would be a suitable soft shell for Alpine mountaineering and rock climbing that is warm enough to not need fleeces, and waterproof enough to handle a Southeast Asian monsoon? Matthew Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

What type of jacket would you suggest as an all-season shell for somewhere like North Carolina? I would like to buy one that could be used in the winter as a shell for skiing but that is not too hot to wear in a summer downpour. Art Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Window shopping is nice, but there's nothing like wrapping your fingers around the sharp, hard edges of a new pair of skis to spark the urge to give (or get). To help you savor the mood this holiday season we present the year's best bounty in all its lust-worthy forms. From the slickest bike to the toughest laptop, these are the gifts you'll want to have—a

I want to replace my old all-purpose Mountain Jacket from The North Face, since it has lost its outer water protection and is fairly heavy. Would you go with a soft or hard shell? I cross-country ski, snowshoe, and hike with my malute in the Colorado mountains. Anne Silverton, Colorado

I'm looking for a warm three-season jacket. I have a hard shell and a TNF Denali for really cold situations. I've been researching the Arc'teryx Gma line and the Mountain Hardwear Synchro as options for a good jacket that can be worn for spring and summer hikes in the Sierras and Rockies. Any suggestions? Also, why do many soft shells not come standard with a hood? Michelle San Diego, California

I looking to buy Patagonia's Ready Mix as my first soft shell. What's your opinion on this shell? Will it repel light to moderate rain showers as advertised? Dan Portsmouth, New Hampshire

I often ski in both the east, mostly Vermont, and the west at mountains in Colorado, Utah, and sometimes California. I've heard a soft shell, specifically Mountain Hardwear's Alchemy, is perfect for out west where it's fairly warm and wind is the only real concern. I was wondering if it would also work in the east where it can get much colder, wetter, and windier. If not, would a simple waterproof shell worn over it be enough? Brett Westchester, New York

I've been looking at soft shells for an early fall trip up to Voyageurs National Park, and certainly like what I see from REI, The North Face, Marmot, and the like. Thing is, there's A) way too many choices, and B) I'd like to get something that I could also wear casually around the city. Any ideas? Henry Chicago, Illinois

I love the athletic look of soft shells and would love to buy one. The only problem is I've heard they're just that: shells, meant more for layering than for providing a single layer of protection. In your opinion, are there any soft shells that can provide both heavy-duty warmth and stand up to the rain and snow? I'll use this shell more for "getting around town" than I would for aerobic activities, so I want something that would keep me very warm in cold temperatures. Megan Spokane, Washington

I've been looking into soft shells to take on a NOLS [National Outdoor Leadership School] expedition to the Himalayas and have narrowed the selection down to Patagonia's Mixmaster or Beyond Fleece's Cold Fusion. I was hoping you could help me choose one based on durability, performance, and warmth. Kevin Mahopac, New York

Your prescription for matching next-generation outerwear with your favorite winter pursuit is ready

Lieber Ausrüstungmensch: Looking at the change of seasons and your report on the latest and greatest in the gear world, I'm trying to come up with a clothing strategy that maximizes economy of budget and weight. I'm a keen hiker currently living in Germany (near the Alps), but who will be moving back to the East Coast of the U.S. (Smoky Mountains!) soon. I want a system that will cover me when it's warm, cool, and wet. Should I go with a fleece-plus-shell combo, lugging around the deadweight when I'm not using it, or should I buy one of the do-it-all soft shells? Patrick Frankfurt Main, Germany

What's your take on the soft-shell craze if the activities are both ascent and descent in nature? In other words, I very interested in the breathability for aerobic activities, but concerned about warmth for activities like downhill skiing. Question is, can I have my cake and eat it too? Second, if I can have it both ways, what is your first choice and why? Brad Peacock Medina, Ohio

On extended backpacking trips, does it make sense to pack both a soft shell and a waterproof jacket? Or just take along the rain jacket? Also, since I come from Europe, I'm a little bit confused about what exactly cross-country skiing is. I know what telemarking is (those graceful people on the piste) and also langlauf (with the thin skis), but what is cross-country? Karl Cottenie Leuven, Belgium

Are there any objective tests comparing the hard- and soft-shell products of different gear manufacturers? Yes, there's a huge ount of marketing hype easily available, but beyond XCR's assertion that it's "25 percent more breathable than standard Gore-Tex," there doesn't seem to be any hard numbers comparing materials. This is surprising when you consider how much consumers are prepared to pay for the latest and greatest. Jeff London, United Kingdom

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

I looking into buying a soft-shell jacket and interested in the Cloudveil Serendipity, the Arc'teryx Gma, and another jacket from Salomon. What are your opinions on these jackets and are there any others that I should consider? Mike Kane Rock Island, Illinois

I'm wondering if you know the difference between all the soft-shell fabrics, specifically Power Shield and Schoeller Dryskin. Also, what's the deal with the ultralight rain shells like Patagonia's Microburst or Arc'Teryx's Sirrus SL? REI's Web site used to say that Sirrus SL is "truly an ultralight shell, thus should not be for everyday use." Are they suggesting the ultralight jackets are not that durable? Does it make sense to carry both a soft-shell and an ultralight rain shell on a long backpacking trip? Jenny San Diego, California

Stay on the winning end of the high-stakes outerwear gamble