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.
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.
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.
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.