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Hardshell jackets have a simple job: keep the wet stuff out and the dryness in. When the weather is foul or the conditions extreme, a hardshell is the jacket you can depend on. Softshell jackets, on the other hand, have a tougher job description. For high exertion and weather that ranges from sunny to inclement, they are designed to keep you relatively dry, while offering the kind of flexibility and breathability that hardshells don’t (and can't).
For this reason, there is a wide variety of women's and men's softshell jackets out there, from urban performers to alpine explorers. Our handy guide to ten of the best available will help you figure out which softshell is the right one for you.
10 Best Softshell Jackets for Men & Women
Best Overall Softshell: Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody
If you are going outside for an extended period of time in mixed conditions, the Arc’teryx Gamma MX Hoody will have you covered. Quite literally: with a weather-resistant and stretchy outer layer that's both water-repellent and windproof, a cinchable and helmet-compatible hood, and plenty of pockets in which to stash gear. All that, and it's still adequately breathable for when you get moving. The Gamma MX is well-suited to skiing, rock climbing, or everyday adventures.
Top Performer: Foehn Magna Polartec Power Stretch Pro Hoody
Foehn cut its teeth by making apparel that can hack it in the Canadian Rockies, whether you're climbing, trail running, mountain biking, or trekking. As such, their gear comes packed with all the goodies that will allow you to excel in adverse conditions.
The fleece-lined Polartec Power Stretch Pro Hoody is no exception. The Polartec fleece offers a comfortable, moisture-wicking, and quick drying interior layer, while the outer layer consists of a stretchy Japanese-made nylon overlay that has the feel of a windbreaker. Laser cut ventilations holes in the underarms and back allow you to shed excess heat when you get moving, and bungee cords in the waist and hood dial in the fit. The DWR treatment will also beat back mild showers. This hoody is going to be ideal for lengthy, high endeavor exertions in cold weather like running or cross-country skiing, and as with all Foehn items, it is Bluesign approved and conscientiously made.
Best for Moving Fast: Tracksmith Nor'Easter Jacket
The Nor’Easter Jacket is for those brave enough to venture out for runs at the height of winter. Its Schoeller Dryskin shell features 4-way stretch, but it's also water-resistant and wind-resistant, while a merino liner acts as a built-in baselayer to keep muscles from tightening up. The full-zip jacket has reflective back seams and pockets to stash your keys, gloves, or hat, including an interior sleeve for easy accessibility to your phone. There is no hood on the Nor’Easter, and the fit is athletic i.e. close to the body, so this isn’t the best softshell jacket to take on mountain expeditions. But for speed and warmth on the move, nothing beats it.
Best Packable Softshell Jacket: On Running Weather Jacket
In the lightweight and packable department, On’s Weather Jacket is a noteworthy option. The polyester and elastane fabric is highly flexible and features ventilation holes for breathability, while the DWR coating will dispense with light moisture. The ingenious cap-design of the hood allows it to stay on when moving with pace. The jacket also packs down into its breast pocket and features a palm loop so it can be carried around one’s hand for quick deployment. The combination of protection and ventilation in a lightweight package is unmatched.
Best for Winter Adventures: Beringia St. Elias 2.0
For serious fun in alpine conditions nothing beats Beringia’s St. Elias 2.0. This is a piece of outerwear made to go on backcountry adventures in deep snow. It is helmet compatible, loaded with pockets that can hold goggles and gloves, and long ventilation zippers dump heat quickly. At $600, the St. Elias 2.0 is the priciest softshell jacket on this list, but for those looking for the best performance during powdery descents, it's worth every penny.
Best for Biking: Patagonia Dirt Roamer
Unlike Patagonia's ubiquitous fleece jacket best sellers, the Dirt Roamer is made for one thing: mountain biking. The jacket is a breathable softshell that packs down into its own side pocket. One builds heat quickly while pedaling, so the Dirt Roamer is thin and stretchy, but it's like a rain jacket with enough protection to block chilly winds and mild rains. The hood is helmet compatible, and the look and regular fit are streamlined and functional, allowing this jacket to perform just as well off the bike as it does on it. For an even more heavyweight, fully waterproof version, check out the Dirt Roamer Storm.
Best Ultralight Softshell Jacket: Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
The Alpine Start Hoody from Black Diamond is a classic lightweight softshell jacket that seems to work well in almost any scenario, and it's only 7.4 ounces. Thanks to the Schoeller stretch-woven nylon shell, which is packable and breathable, it will help you regulate temperature in a variety of conditions. The jacket stows into its own chest pocket and has a carabiner clip for easy attachment to a backpack. On a chilly morning in the mountains or a cold weather coffee run, the Alpine Start Hoody will keep you warm and protected, and once the day heats up it is perfectly stashable, making it an easy choice when an extra light layer is all that you need.
Best Anorak: Klättermusen Lodur
When it comes to mountain-ready apparel, it's hard to beat Klättermusen, a Swedish brand that knows a thing or two about cold climates. The Lodur is a 3-layer softshell anorak built like a parka and meant to endure the harshest conditions while still offering the flexibility necessary to ski or mountaineer with comfort. The Lodur has features galore including reflectors, ventilation, side zips for easy on and off, helmet compatibility, and reinforced shoulders, long sleeves, and hips. The lack of pockets assumes that you’ll be traveling with a backpack, making the Lodur a highly specified men's jacket that won’t let you down on an expedition.
Women's Version: No
Ideal for: Mountaineering, skiing, snowboarding
Best for Climbers: Rab Borealis Jacket
Need a super lightweight and bombproof jacket that has all the flex and breathability you need for a big wall? The Borealis Jacket has your back, fits in your pack, and has a slim fit that won’t obstruct harnesses and ropes. It also won’t break the bank, as one of the most affordable offerings on this list. It still offers all the features you could ask for in a softshell, but it trims the fat, so to speak, making it a perfectly viable option for the crag and beyond.
Best City-to-Mountain Jacket: Western Rise AirLoft Hooded Jacket
Colorado's Western Rise has a lineup of apparel that can ace a commute as well as an ascent. The AirLoft Hooded Jacket is a warm insulated jacket with clean looks that can take you to the office or to dinner. Yet this jacket is no slouch. It has four-way stretch, resists the elements, packs into its back pocket, and uses a Japanese Toray fabric that is high on breathability and durability. If you only had space for one jacket in your closet the AirLoft might check off the most fall-to-spring boxes. Since it's similar to a down jacket with its insulation, it’s not going to be a great option for high output activities, but it is lightweight and warm enough to tackle most anything that comes its way.
Women's Version: No
Ideal for: Everyday wear, winter layering
More Great Softshell Jackets
We also like Columbia's Ascender Softshell Jacket ($110) because it has big & tall size options, Outdoor Research's Ferrosi Hoodie ($129), which is highly versatile and has UPF 50+ sun protection, and The North Face's Verbier Futurelight Jacket ($650) for skiing and snowboarding.