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Group Tests and Best Buys

Best Softshell Jackets Reviewed 2016

We've tested 16 of the best softshell jackets on the market from the top brands to help you decide which one will work best for you.

We’ve tested almost 20 of the best outdoor and mountain softshell jackets to help you choose one that will work for you.

‘Softshell’ is hard to define exactly. In the main softshell jackets tend to be very weather resistant, but not fully waterproof even though some are very close.

The advantage of this is they tend to be more breathable, in other words more comfortable and less sweaty than full waterproof shell jackets when you’re working hard. There’s a wide spread of fabrics out there ranging from membrane-based ones, virtually waterproof materials, like Gore Windstopper Softshell at one end of the spectrum to fabrics known as ‘double weave softshell’ at the other.

In general, the more protective a fabric is, the less breathable it tends to be. And vice versa. On top of that, you need to work out which features are important to you. We prefer hooded designs simply because they’re more protective for example and like to have at least one zipped chest pocket to hold small objects and like a neat, close and efficient cut.

To read the reviews either scroll down the page or skip straight to your favourite brand using the links below.

Arc’teryx | Berghaus | Craghoppers | Fjällräven | Haglöfs | Helly Hansen | Mammut | Montane | Mountain Equipment | Paramo | Rab | Salomon | The North Face | VauDe

Verdict – Our Best Buys

Arc’teryx Tenquille Hoody: £130 / 290g

Review

Canadian brand Arc’teryx cut its sharp, pointy teeth on uncompromising technical climbing kit, but in recent years it’s turned its attention to walking and hiking as well, retaining the same impressive build quality. The Tenquille Hoody is made from a very wind resistant, closely-woven polyester with a soft liner for next to skin comfort, but also has stretchy and less wind resistant panels on the side of the trunk and underarms to improve comfort.

Overall it makes for a near ideal walking softshell. The closely woven fabric is wind resistant enough that you rarely need a full-on windproof and the water resistant finish copes capably with light to medium rain, at least in short bursts. It’s also light and packable enough to stash away in your pack if needed.

Those more breathable underarm panels work well to keep you comfortable on the move, though on windier days, you do know they’re there and in real hoolie conditions, you might wish for a pit-zip you close up instead, but in the main it’s a good trade-off that keeps you comfortable when working hard.

The hood’s good too, close fitting, but without obstructing peripheral vision and the fit overall is neat and comfortable, without being overly tight. Finally the soft-backed fabric feels comfortable against the skin, so it’s fine worn over a baselayer tee.

Our one minor frustration was that despite the spec claiming otherwise, the elasticated cuffs won’t allow you to roll up those sleeves. Mostly not an issue thanks to decent overall breathability, but it would be nice to have the option.

Verdict

Excellent all-round lightweight spring through to autumn hiking and walking softshell that hits a great balance between protection and comfort along with impressive build quality and a great fit. If we’re quibbling, rollable sleeves and maybe a stiffened peak to the hood would round things off nicely.

More info: arcteryx.com.

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Berghaus Pordoi Jacket: £120 / 450g

Review

A classic, no-nonsense, double-weave mountain softshell with a neat cut and stretchy fabric that gives surprising levels of wind and rain protection, but is breathable enough to keep you comfortable, particularly as the four pack and harness-friendly pockets all feature mesh linings, which double as vents if things do get hot and steamy.

The hood will fit over a climbing helmet and the stretchy fabric means it’s non-restrictive used like this. It also works decently with a bare head and moves with your gaze. If we were quibbling, we’d prefer a wired or stiffened peak rather than the slightly floppy one provided, but in heavier rain, you’ll probably have resorted to a waterproof anyway.

In lighter precipitation it’s fine and happy and on most spring to autumn days, you can wear it pretty much all day short of proper rainfall.

The cuffs will roll roughly halfway up your forearm if you’re that way inclined and include unobtrusive thumb-loops which you can either use or not depending on your inclination.

Verdict

A classic non-membrane, mountain softshell design with plenty of pockets and a decent cut. Not as protective a jackets using membrane-type fabrics, but the pay-off is better breathability and comfort when you’re working hard.

More info: www.berghaus.com.

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Craghoppers Pro Lite Jacket: £45 / 380g

Review

Reduced from £60 to £45, the Craghoppers Pro Lite uses an own brand membrane fabric that’s fully windproof and close to waterproof too. The downside of that is that it can get quite sweaty when you’re working hard, but you get excellent weather protection even in short bursts of heavier rain.

Unfortunately there’s no hood, so you’ll still need to resort to a waterproof. That said, for £60, Craghoppers has a hooded version available, and that’s the one we’d suggest going for if you are after a very protective softshell on a tighter budget.

Other stuff to be aware of is that the jacket seems to be cut quite long and pack waist belts foul the hand pockets which also sit low. It also seems to have the opposite of a drop tail and felt slightly longer at the front than out back, which is the opposite of the norm.

Verdict

Good weather protection and a very appealing price, but the Pro Lite can feel hot and clammy on the move and is compromised by an overlong cut and the absence of a hood. We’d suggest the hooded version of the jacket as a better alternative for £15 more.

More info: www.craghoppers.com.

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Fjällräven Abisko Lite Jacket: £155 / 480g

Review

Swedish brand Fjällräven likes to plough its own, unique, slightly retro furrow and the Abisko Lite epitomises its left field approach. The hood, sleeves, shoulders, chest and main-zip storm-flap are all made from the brand’s signature G-1000 waxed polyester and cotton mix, while the rest of the jacket uses a closely woven stretchy Polyamide – Nylon to you and me.

The advantage of the stretch Nylon sections over full G-1000 jackets – there are plenty of those in the Fjällräven range – is a saving in weight and that forgiving stretch if you tend towards a cheery Scandinavian hunter physiology. The cut is medium and on  the long side rather than super fitted, but the stretch gives you leeway.

In use we really liked the jacket. It’s decently wind resistant all round and the more water-resistant G-1000 areas are sited so that they take the brunt of light rain – you can also up the wax content at home if you want to add even more water resistance. We found the jacket fine in light to moderate rain.

The built-on hood has adjustment for the front opening, but not for overall volume and as a result can sometimes obscure peripheral vision – particularly as it doesn’t move reliably with your head – but still gives reasonable protection. Ideally we’d like more stiffness to the peak as well.

Verdict

We love the look and feel of the Abisko Lite along with its combination of breathability and reasonable weather protection. Touches like the distinctive leather zip-pull and ‘fox’ badge are neat too and we liked being able to roll up the sleeves for additional cooling. The hood isn’t perfect, but it does a reasonable job and the looks are smart enough to wear out around town as well as on the hill.

More info: www.fjallraven.co.uk.

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Haglöfs Lizard II Jacket: £125 / 410g

Review

Haglöfs has been making softshells like this for yonks now, but we can’t help feeling they’ve dropped the ball a little with the Lizard II. The FlexAble non-membrane fabric is good – there are lighter under-arm panels too – and gives a nice balance of weather protection and breathability with plenty of stretch built in,  but we reckon it could be a little more fitted for faster-moving use.

We say that partly because the absence of a hood arguably makes it more suitable for biking and running where the longish cut and absence of a more defined drop-tail also count against it. Otherwise it’s not bad at all with elasticated, but rollable cuffs and a close-fitting collar both working well.

For more all-round mountain use, you might be better off looking at either the hooded Boa or Gecko Lite jackets. both of which use similar fabrics, but have hoods.

Verdict

A really nice non-membrane fabric, but we reckon a closer, less compromised fit taking advantage of the stretch in the material, and possibly a hood option would make the Lizard II a better all-rounder, though if the cut works for you, it’s still worth considering.

More info: www.haglofs.com.

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Helly Hansen Paramount Hooded Accelerator Jacket: £130 / 480g

Review

Potentially hard to track down, but the HH jacket we’ve been using is a decent mountain all-rounder using a stretchy, non-membrane Polyester fabric that gives a decent mix of protection and breathability and has been pretty well featured.

That means you get adjustable hem, cuffs and hood plus no fewer than four mesh-backed venting pockets, all of which sit clear of a harness or pack belt. The soft-backed polyester fabric may be slightly less durable than Nylon alternatives, but it feels comfortable agains the skin and the cut is neat and slim.

The hood is fine and grips the top of the head nicely to move with it, though the brim is a little soft – in heaver rain you’ll need a waterproof anyway.

Verdict

Helly is best known for baselayers and sailing kit, but this is a pretty decent effort at an all-round mountain softshell. A wired peak would be one possible improvement as would more rollable sleeves, but on the whole, this a very decent all-rounder.

More info: www.hellyhansen.com.

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Mammut Ultimate Hoody: £210 / 500g

Review

If you’re going to call something ‘ultimate’, it had better be good and, in a high mountain sense, the Mammut Ultimate Hoody is quite impressive. The fabric is Gore’s functionally waterproof and completely windproof Windstopper with a funky two-tone backer – the jacket’s not waterproof because the seams aren’t taped, but it can cope with quite heavy showers before the rain starts to seep in and should deal with snow indefinitely.

The pay-off from that is that compared to a non-membrane fabric, you lose a lot of breathability and it’s easy to get hot and sweaty. Mammut has an answer to that though, the pit-zips are humungous and stretch right down to the hem of the jacket, so you can pretty much open up the sides to form a sort of open sandwich-board smock configuration for massive cooling.

We do think Mammut missed a trick here – press-studs at the hem would give you the option of keeping it fastened together at this point, though in most use, pack straps or harness will limit the gaping anyway. You can open the flaps from either end giving you various options. Bottom line: there is venting aplenty, though the sleeves do not roll up. Boo…

It’s nicely made and the fit is super neat and very ‘alpine’ – do not apply if you’re carrying additional girth – and lines are kept as clean as possible with adjusters for the hood, for example, tucked away where they can’t flap or snag. It’ll fit over a helmet too, though we found it a close sort of fit, which limited head movement just a little – best to try first if you have a long neck we think or wear it under the helmet where it works just fine, but means, of course, to remove the hood, you need to take off your lid first. Not always a good idea.

Verdict

A super protective high mountain softshell that makes sense in the Alps, but trades a fair bit of breathability for that weather proofing, though thats off-set a little by those humungous side-vents. It’s a proper investment too, but if you’re heading for big peaks, it might make sense. We’d prefer a stiffened peak to the hood wherever we were going, without a helmet, this one is compromised. For faster, lower stuff, we’d be looking at a non-membrane alternative.

More info: www.mammut.ch.

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Montane Sabretooth Jacket: £175 / 570g

Review

Like the Mammut Ultimate Hoody, the Montane Sabretooth is a full-on mountain softshell using a membrane-type fabric, in this case Polartec’s impressive PowerShield which is pretty much windproof and very water resistant, but trades the last few points of ultimate protection for increased air permeability which means more comfort, less fug.

You can actually feel the difference sat in a room – it’s simply less clammy than Windstopper – and it translates to more comfort working hard on the hill, particularly if you run on the hot side of the fence.

The fabric has a little stretch and also a thin fleece backer, which makes it too warm for most summer use, but adds additional warmth and comfort on cooler days. It’s also classically well featured with four harness-friendly pockets, adjustable and rollable sleeves and a fully adjustable hood complete with a small but perfectly formed wired peak. We found it sat neatly under a helmet or  under one giving good protection and movement.

Alternatively, there’s enough adjustment to stick it neatly over a bare head with plenty of lower face protection. Finally the hand-pockets do vent a little, but for warmer use, some additional options might be nice.

Verdict

A really nice colder conditions mountain softshell that gives high levels of protection, but with just a little traded for better comfort. Probably our favourite membrane-type softshell fabric in a we’ll thought-out design.

More info: www.montane.co.uk.

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Mountain Equipment Frontier Hooded Jacket: £120 / 500g

Review

We like EXOLITE fabric, its a stretchy, Polyamide/Nylon based material with a tough-feeling outer and comfortable inner surface and a good level of wind resistance and rain protection, though as with similar fabrics, for sustained medium downpours and upwards, you’ll be reaching for a lightweight waterproof.

Where ME’s all-round softshell scores is by getting everything just about right. The cut is excellent, close fitting and neat without being suffocating, everything’s adjustable, you can roll the sleeves up for extra forearm cooling, and tab the hood down out of the way when you don’t need it using a Velcro-fastened, erm, tab.

The hood’s good too. It’ll happily engulf a climbing helmet, but also has enough adjustment to work well without one. The stretch in the fabric helps maintain mobility there too.

Verdict

A super capable all-round mountain softshell with a great cut, neat features and an excellent balance of weather protection and breathability. Membrane-based fabrics are outright more protective, but if you run hot and sweaty something like the Frontier Hooded makes perfect sense.

More info: www.mountain-equipment.co.uk.

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Paramo Bentu Windproof / Fleece Combo: £100 / £115 – 390g / 410g (£215 / 800g)

Review

The fleece/windproof combination isn’t entirely new to Paramo, but this version along with the more technical Enduro variant, is. The fleece uses a dense fabric with water repellent finish that’s more wind and water resistant than normal fleece. It has a marled finish and a slightly felty texture with a simple jacket design with a main zip and two zipped hand-pockets.

The added wind resistance and DWR means you can wear it in blowier conditions than normal fleece making it a bit more versatile. Where it gets really interesting is when you team it up with the matching Bentu Windproof.

This is a more featured design with an adjustable hood, four pockets and full Nikwax Analogy waterproof linings to the hood and shoulders. That means it’s either a handy mountain windproof with extra water resistance up top – not the lightest option, but it has the features you’d expect from a full waterproof jacket – or…. drum roll…

… team it with the matching fleece and its the equivalent of a functionally waterproof, Nikwax Analogy jacket. In practice it mostly seems to work pretty well. The cut is medium – not fitted, but not sack like – and both components work decently alone.

Together they also seem to do the job, but with one major downside, the combination – for us at least – is a little bit too warm for milder conditions where we’d normally not use a fleece. In winter, as with standard Nikwax Analogy, we suspect it would work really well in the UK, but for milder weather, unless you run quite cool, it’s actually warmer than a standard Nikwax waterproof jacket.

Verdict

We like the simple fleece used alone and likewise, the windproof, while the not the lightest out there, does a really good all-mountain job with a decent, and waterproof, hood thrown in. What we found problematic was the two garments in combination. It’s not that they don’t work as advertised, but they’re simple pretty warm which in summer conditions limits the combination’s usability. It’s also, at around 800g in total, a little hefty.

More info: www.paramo-clothing.com.

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Paramo Enduro Windproof / Fleece Combo: £145/£100 – 440g/390g

Review

If you’ve already looked at the Bentu review on the preceding page, you’ll have some idea of what’s going on, but the Enduro is the more technical version of the fleece and windproof combo, aimed squarely at climbers. Use them separately or combine them for a waterproof solution is the gist of it.

The Enduro fleece is a hoody with a double-ended half zip, pit-zips and an under-helmet hood. It’s a dense fabric with a water-repellent treatment that shrugs off light showers and has more wind resistance than standard fleece. Surprisingly usable on its own, particularly in stiller conditions.

The cut is close and neat too, though there’s not much stretch in the fabric, so you might want to try for fit before buying. Meanwhile, the Enduro Windproof is a jacket design with windproof, wired and helmet-friendly hood plus pit-zips which match nicely with the ones on the fleece.

The one thing we don’t particularly like or get on the Windproof is the non-adjustable, elasticated hem. We just didn’t like the way it sat and, for the sake of a few grammes, we’d have preferred an adjustable, shock-corded hem. It’s personal preference, and to be fair with a harness or pack it’s less obvious, but we’d still have liked the option.

Otherwise it’s a capable mountain windshell, though without the Bentu’s handy waterproof hood and has handy pit-zips which work well to keep temperatures low. The hood’s characteristically decent too, helmet compatible with a wired peak and plenty of facial side protection though at the cost of a little peripheral vision.

Where it gets interesting – again – is if you combine the two layers. As with the Bentu, the combination of fleece and windshell is pretty warm, too warm in milder conditions even with the matched-up pit-zips. And then there’s the hood. The fleece hood will jus about go over a helmet, but feels restrictive so you have the choice of leaving it off or doing an over/under gig where the fleece sits under the helmet and the windproof goes over the top.

In any case, it does make the waterproof combination a little too warm outside winter for us at least.

Verdict

An ingenious idea, but as with the Bentu, the combination of fleece and windproof was a little too warm in milder conditions for us. We also disliked the elasticated hem of the windproof, though that’s personal preference. In cooler conditions it makes a lot more sense – use either garment separately or combine when needed, but on balance we’d choose the full on Paramo Enduro Nikwax Analogy jacket over these two in combination.

More info: www.paramo-clothing.com.

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Rab Vapour-Rise Alpine Jacket: £140 / 330g

Review

The original VR Lite jacket was one of our all-time favourite all-rounders to the point where if a vengeful gear angel descended and demanded all out kit bar one item, it’s arguably what we’d have kept hold of. Why? It’s incredibly versatile: we’ve used it for walking, mountaineering, mountain biking and even for winter trail running.

It has just enough weather protection from the Pertex Equilibrium to cope with dry through to mixed conditions and wicks and breathes like crazy. It’s light too, so if you do need to take it off, it’s no problem to stick it in your pack.

This new version feels pretty much like the original to wear: it’s close fitting, has rollable sleeves and an excellent helmet hood with a wired peak. If you do get warm, the Napoleon chest pockets are mesh lined. It doesn’t feel tough, but several years of abuse have taught us the while the outer fabric may bobble, it’s surprisingly durable.

And while it makes a decent outer garment in its own right – note in really hot conditions, the micro-velour liner may make it a little too warm – it also layers really well under a waterproof shell jacket when needed. A bit like a lightweight fleece with super powers.

Verdict

Brilliant lightweight softshell with improbable clothing super powers – its one of those systems that needs to be used to be appreciated, but once you’ve tried it, you’ll never look back.

More info: rab.equipment.

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Rab Vantage Jacket: £150 / 530g

Review

There’s lots to like about the Vantage: it’s a neatly cut, well-specced, technical mountain softshell with a decent hood and understated good looks. It’s also, in the way of membrane fabrics, very water resistant and fully windproof. Everything’s adjustable, everything’s neat.

Unfortunately there’s a downside, the fabric simply isn’t breathable enough for active use if you run warm. We found it really sweaty on the move even in cooler conditions, not helped by the microfleece backer which adds a little extra insulation. On balance, we reckon a waterproof jacket would make more sense.

Alternatively, Rab has some excellent non-membrane softshells in its range like the Sawtooth Hoodie.

Verdict

Nice jacket but not breathable enough unless you run quite cool.

More info: rab.equipment.

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Salomon Ranger Jacket: £99.95 / 470g

Review

We weren’t sure what to expect from Salomon’s softshell, but we were pleasantly surprised. The stretch, non-membrane fabrics is wind and a little water resistant, breathes well and, thanks to a brushed backer, feels nice against the skin.

The cut is neat and fitted and hood cuffs and hem are all adjustable. And it’s a great colour too, just a really nice blue. Mostly it just gets on with things in an effective, unassuming way,

Verdict

Understated and capable non-membrane softshell with full adjustability and suave gallic good looks.

More info: www.salomon.com.

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The North Face Summer Hooded Jacket: £110 / 440g

Review

The Summer Hooded jacket – try saying that after a few pints – is a simple, no frills, no membrane, active use softshell. There’s no adjustability to cuffs, hem or hood, but somehow they all sit just right and the stretch fabric is cut close, neat and streamlined.

It works well in windy and mildly damp conditions too and breathes well enough to do double duty on the bike or on mountain and moorland runs. There’s nothing gimmicky or novel about it – in fact it reminds us of one of our favourite old Haglöfs softshells – it just works.

And while some think that The North Face is too ‘high street’, the reality is that when it wants to, it can do pure outdoors kit very well indeed.

Verdict

A really nice, no frills, no membrane, simple softshell jacket that fits well and comes in a very fetching shade of green. we like it a lot.

More info: www.thenorthface.co.uk.

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VauDe Larice Jacket: £140 / 520g

Review

VauDe’s Larice softshell comes fully loaded with handy features: there are long, stretch cuffs with thumb-loops built-in, zoned construction with a lighter, slightly less wind-resistant fabric under the arms and down the sides and a neat close-fitting hood. It also incorporates extensive pit-zips which can be used either as under-arm ventilation or core vents – or both.

The main – blue – area of the fabric is a Nylon-based 100% windproof stretch fabric, while the black side panels and centre back area use a lighter, stretchier material that’s still 80% windproof, but more breathable than the main material. It means you’re getting a lot of wind and rain protection, but with a little more breathability than a non-zoned jacket and it does seem to work up to medium levels of activity anyway, at which point you can reach for the venting zips.

The jacket gives good protection against wind up in light to moderate rain, though you’ll still need to carry a lightweight waterproof for more serious downpours.

The fit is close and streamlined, no compromises here, but there’s plenty of stretch and you can – for example – happily roll up those sleeves for a little more cooling. Finally the hood is a non-adjustable, close-ish fitting number that’ll also just about stretch over a climbing helmet or, if you prefer, sit under it. No peak though.

The looks, we suspect, you’ll either love or hate, the bright colour combinations definitely have a distinct Euro / alpine vibe. We liked them, but you may feel a little out of place just going to a gentle Sunday roll over Helvellyn say rather than on more technical terrain.

Verdict

We love the close fit and decent protection levels of the Larice and it’s good to have those huge vents and rollable sleeves for when things get hot and bothered. The thumb-loops we could live without, but they’re not intrusive and, if you’re a fan, they’re proper ‘cover most of your paws’ items. A really nice alpine-style softshell with looks to match.

More info: www.vaude.com.

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Verdict – Our Best Buys

We were actually generally impressed with how competent pretty much all the softshell jackets we tested were. We’re not quite saying you should choose on the basis of your favourite colour, but everything we used did a job. That said, there have to be winners, so here are a few of our top picks.

Non-Membrane Softshells

The so-called double weave fabrics are our favourites for general u se, particularly if you move quickly and run on the hot side. They provide just enough protection from wind and rain, but without sacrificing comfort. One thing to bear in mind, is that with use, the water-repellent finish tends to wear off, so rain resistance decreases unless you’re prepared to re-apply a water-repellent finish.

For us, there were three stand-outs here. If you’re after an all-round, wells-specced mountain jacket that you could use for everything from walking to full-on mountaineering, the Mountain Equipment Frontier Hooded Jacket is a well-designed, comprehensively specced jacket that does pretty much everything you want it to and nothing badly. It has a decent hood, good fabric and a neat, but not ridiculously tight cut.

Next on our list, for summer use, is The North Face Summer Hooded Jacket it’s simple, neat, has no excess frills, but does everything you need for milder weather walking, biking, running and climbing. Also impressive for pure hiking and occasional biking use, is the Arc’teryx Tenquille Hoody it just works, though you do lose a little protection in high winds.

Finally, a little bit lighter and a little bit different, the upgraded Rab Vapour-Rise Alpine Jacket is a brilliant, proven outer come mid layer that wicks and breathes brilliantly, has a full helmet hood and works just as well under another layer as it does on its own. It’s one of our favourite jackets of all time and would be our overall winner for general use.

Membrane Softshells

We didn’t test as many membrane-based fabrics, partly because by the time you get into fabrics like Windstopper and Polartec Power Shield, which have great weather resistance, but at the expense of breathability, you start to wonder if you’d simply be better off with a conventional waterproof.

That said, for serious, high mountain use where snow rather than rain is your main adversary, the Mammut Ultimate Hoody made from Gore Windstopper softshell fabric, is an impressive, all-singing, all-dancing, technical mountain shell albeit at a price.

Our other pick would be Montane’s proven Montane Sabretooth Jacket, a nicely specced, cold weather-friendly shell that uses Polartec’s Power Shield fabric to provide improved breathability compared to 100% windproof fabrics. It’s been around for a while, but it still works.

Others

It may sound like a cop out, but there are plenty of other good choices too. The Berghaus Pordoi is all round competent for example, the VauDe Larice is a sort of unusual mid point between membrane and non-membrane jackets and, if you’re feeling quirky, the Paramo fleece/windproof combinations work well in cooler conditions and give you interesting mix and match options into the bargain.

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