Best Softshell Jackets 2021 | Comfy, Weatherproof And Versatile Softshells For Hiking, Running And Climbing - Outdoors Magic

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Softshell Jackets

Best Softshell Jackets 2021 | Comfy, Weatherproof And Versatile Softshells For Hiking, Running And Climbing

Falling somewhere between a waterproof jacket and a fleece, softshells offer versatile and weatherproof comfort. Here's what to look for and the best options out there.

The softshell jacket can be the most versatile item in your wardrobe, falling between a waterproof jacket and a fleece. We’ve tested a diverse range of jackets that cover all activities and needs.

The softshell is the everyday jacket, the throw-on-dog-walk jacket, the scale-a-mountain jacket, the long-distance-walk jacket. While they offer a number of useful benefits, one of the defining features of a softshell jacket is that they’re just, well, comfortable.

They don’t have the crackle of waterproofs, but they can usually stand up to much of the weather thrown at them, plus they are often stretchy and breathable. And that’s where any attempt at tying them altogether stops; the softshell is a nebulous concept.

What To Look For When Buying a Softshell Jacket

Among the jackets tested, we’ve brought together a wide range of examples, from super warm, thick, insulated jackets to thin, lightweight tops suitable for running (all weights given below are for a men’s large). On most of them, the outer fabric is a tightly-woven but stretchy material that offers a good deal of wind and rain resistance. The stretchiness makes them popular with climbers and mountaineers for example who are always reaching for handholds. Plus they are usually treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) that makes water bead off (they do need reproofing over time). They are not, however, always completely wind and waterproof, but the idea is that you can wear these jackets in all but the most torrential rain conditions.

The deciding factor for which to choose is, of course, end use. In our tests below, we’ve stated what we think each is best suited to, but there are factors to consider from the beginning. If you intend to wear the garment as your main coat, then you’d likely want a good hood for wind and rain. If it’s more as a mid-layer, a hood isn’t so important. The best hoods are adjustable and have stiffened peaks.

Also, consider the pockets and where they are placed. If you’ll be wearing a backpack, are the pocket openings clear of the hipbelt? Do they fit a map in? Other features to investigate are the cuffs and cords that pull the hems in. But most of all is the comfort. Does it fit well?

The Best Softshell Jackets Of 2020

  • Montane Dyno Stretch – Best Softshell Jacket
  • Fjällräven Kaipak
  • Craghoppers Roag
  • BlackYak Mishima Hoody
  • Salewa Pedroc 2 Stormwall Durastretch
  • Jack Wolfskin Whirlwind
  • Rab Kinetic Plus
  • Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoody
  • Cortazu Stretch Jacket
  • Devold Trollkyrkja

BEST BUY: Montane Dyno Stretch Jacket

Price: £100
Weight: 523g
Best for: Hiking, hillwalking, running, general outdoor use
Key attributes: Stretchy, well-articulated arms, excellent hood and collar

There are a diverse range of softshells in this test, but if you were to imagine a classic softshell, this would be it. It is reasonably thin, with loads of stretch. The material is also impressively wind resistant. One of the key selling points is its versatility. It is light enough to run with, in fact, it’s perfect for mountain running when you’re not expecting torrential rain but the wind is up. It works well as a mid-layer too with a hardshell easily slipping over it.

I particularly thought the hood was excellent. It has a stiffened peak and a cord around the back of the head that draws in well. It moves perfectly with the head. Another aspect is that the collar zips up to the lips, and comfortably so. And something that’s forgotten about on many jackets is an elastic loop that allows the hood to be stored – handy. It’s really well designed in this area.

The sleeves are long (this would be good for climbing and mountain biking for example), with Velcro cuffs. There are two large handwarmer pockets big enough for a map and with an opening above any hipbelt, and two chest pockets. Some people may prefer it longer in the hem, and it’s not a jacket to buy that will add loads of warmth if you’re looking for that. But, ultimately, this is an excellent jacket.

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Fjällräven Kaipak Jacket

Price: £235
Weight: 750g
Best for: Urban adventures, hiking
Key attributes: Versatility, stylish, eco credentials

The Fjällräven Kaipak jacket is packing some serious versatility and can, within reason, be worn pretty much everywhere and on any occasion – it’s well-suited to both city living and hilltop hikes. One of our favourite outdoor brands has delivered the goods once again here.

The Fjällräven Kaipak jacket is mostly made from the G-1000 Eco fabric: a tightly-woven blend of recycled polyester and organic cotton, with an eco-friendly wax treatment to aid water and wind resistance. It’s worth us pointing out that once this wax (called Greenland Wax) wears out, you can simply reapply it at home.

At the underarms, a lighter stretch fabric is used in order to aid breathability. This also gives you unhindered movement. You also get an adjustable hood with protective brim, deep chest pocket,  two zipped handwarmer pockets, two internal dump pockets, and a long front two-way zip with stormflap.

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Craghoppers Roag Softshell Jacket

Price: £79.50
Weight: 863g
Best for: Hiking, general outdoor use
Key attributes: Comfort, waterproof membrane, well-priced

Cosy. That’s how we’d describe this jacket. Cosy. The interior is like crawling into a soft, thick pile rug. It’s lovely to touch and have against your skin. It’s a jacket, no doubt, built for cold, windy days on the hill. The kind of days that turn your cheeks red. The exterior too is built for the sharp weather. The material is AquaDry, a laminated, waterproof membrane. A DWR finish helps water fall off. The seams aren’t taped as they would be on a fully waterproof jacket, but we’d be surprised to see much water come through this.

Feature-wise, it’s pretty straightforward. There are two large handwarmer pockets, big enough for a map, but if you were wearing a backpack with a hipbelt, access would be hindered. There’s also a zipped chest pocket. There’s no hood, but the collar comes up to the chin and is comfortable. The fit is quite bulky but extends farther down the waist than most. This is a lovely, warm winter jacket, and all the better considering when we last looked, it was only £47.70!

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BlackYak Mishima Hoody

Price: £103
Weight: 405g
Best for: Climbing, scrambling
Key attributes: Stretch, lightweight, breathability

This is a specced-out climber’s softshell that will also serve any hillwalkers that are after a decent midlayer. There are a lot of things about the Mishima that climbers will like – the articulation, durable weave and breathability for instance – but it’s also one of those items that ticks all the right boxes for hiking, scrambling and even cold weather trail running.

The Mishima is made from two types of Cordura: a Cordura 4-Way Stretch on the outside and then a Cordura Heavyweight Fleece on the inside. Both are soft to the touch – kind of like a cross between standard fleece and standard softshell. The tight, dense nylon weave of the outer fabric offers a good level of durability, enough to easily withstand a sharp rock face, but it also has a nice bit of stretch to it so it won’t hinder your movement. There’s also some weather resistance – certainly enough to keep the wind off you and to withstand some light rainfall.

The inner Cordura is a brushed nylon fleece that’s soft and comfortable against the skin and offers a light level of insulation. The wicking qualities, we found, were good as well. The Mishima also features an elasticated hood, elasticated cuffs, zipped handwarmer pockets and a fairly athletic cut.

Read our full BlackYak Mishima Hoody review

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Salewa Pedroc 2 Stormwall Durastretch Jacket

Price: £160
Weight: 310g
Best for: Trail running, mountain biking
Key attributes: Lightweight, superb stretch, windproof

One of the lightest (310g) and the thinnest in this round-up, Salewa’s, deep breath, Pedroc 2 Stormwall Durastretch Jacket, is designed for ‘mountain training and speed hiking in colder conditions’. There is definitely a place for a piece like this, especially if you’re a runner or like to move quickly (it’s a good option for mountain biking too).

The Stormwall part of the name refers to its windproofing and water resisting properties. It stands up brilliantly against the wind and light rain. What makes it even more impressive is the large amount of four-way stretch. It’s a hybrid jacket, meaning it intelligently uses different materials on different parts of the body. For instance, there are thinner panels down the back and sides in the places where less protection is needed (particularly if you’re wearing a backpack) and where you’ll tend to sweat more.

Every layer of clothing acts like a little hindrance to your natural movement, but garments such as this go a reasonable distance in minimising the effort needed. Bear in mind it’s also a very snug fit; it worked best over a single long-sleeved base layer.

The hood is equally snug with a simple elasticated binding. It moves correctly with the head. There are two chest pockets and a small stuff sack that fits in an upturned baseball cap. Now my go-to running jacket.

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Jack Wolfskin Whirlwind

Price: £85
Weight: 692g
Best for: Winter hikes, pub walks, general hillwalking
Key attributes: Good price, warm, well-tailored around body, sturdy

To be filed along with the more substantial softshells, Jack Wolfskin’s Whirlwind is a pretty traditional jacket; one that would work well for long winter hikes and short pub walks. It’s impressive against strong winds and, thanks to the DWR, will stand up to a little rain too. Like all softshells, you’ll need a waterproof in the worst storm, but in this case only a light one.

Putting it on, it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the tailoring. It’s also reasonably long. The collar wasn’t very comfortable when it was zipped all the way up, it was too tight, so I had to leave the zip down a couple of inches. Inside is a cosy fleece lining.

The features could be diplomatically described as ‘no-nonsense’ (as you’d expect at this price). There are two handwarmer pockets, which would be cut off wearing a backpack, and a good sized chest (but not OS map shaped!). There are drawcords at the hem. The cuffs are simply elasticated – many have velcro here – but I didn’t find it a problem. This is a good, basic all-rounder for cooler weather.

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Rab Kinetic Plus

Price: £180
Weight: 295g
Best for: Hiking, trail running
Key attributes:Waterproof, stretchy, comfortable, very light

The Rab logo is a sign of quality. You can generally be assured of a functional fit and quality build. The Kinetic Plus is their softshell, and it’s a mostly wonderful jacket – the very stretchy, and fully waterproof material makes it stand out alone.

The fit is particularly good: slim, well-tailored and with a nice length. Raising the arms doesn’t lift the jacket. The part we liked most about it was the material. It’s very soft, even against the skin, and very stretchy.  It would be great for climbers. The material is the manufacturers’ own Proflex fabric. On runs and high energy activities, I’ve also found it to be pretty breathable. The outer has a water repellent finish, and the interior wicks away the moisture effectively. There are two large pockets.

So far, brilliant. The hood when it is pulled up is also one of the best. There’s a stiffened peak, plus a stretch section that makes for a great fit. The zip comes up to around the upper lip. The main issue I found with the Kinetic Plus was that when the hood is down, and the zip is done up high, the stretch on the hood pulled it uncomfortably tight around the neck. If you have the hood down, you really need to undo the zip a couple of inches. It’s an annoyance in an otherwise brilliant jacket.

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Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoody

Price: £128
Weight: 391g
Best for: Climbing, scrambling
Key attributes: Freedom of movement, lightweight, sleek cut

The Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoody is perfect for climbers. Two features that illustrate this perfectly are the product’s articulated pattern, which encourages a wide range of movement, and then there’s its alpine helmet-compatible, two-way adjustable hood. Shout out also to the sleek, low-bulk, snag-resistant cuffs with stretch knit, providing versatile coverage and comfort.

Other features worth discussing are the two secure handwarmer pockets, with a ventilating mesh backer for breathability, and the external zippered left-chest pocket for additional storage. If the thought of hitting the crag without at least four fruit and nut bars on your person at any one time puts a shiver down your spine, the R1 has you well covered here. It’s pocket options will also work well for maps, pocket guidebooks, and valuables (they’re very secure).

In terms of materials, the R1 TechFace Hoody is 92% polyester – 69% of which has been recycled. The other 8% is an elastane breathable stretch double weave with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. The double-weave fabric, which has a grid-like structure of fleecy squares, provides a little insulation, but warmth isn’t the aim here. Instead the R1 TechFace Hoody is designed for fast and light adventures, with the stretchy materials providing excellent freedom of movement.

Read our full Patagonia R1 TechFace Hoody review

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Cortazu Stretch Jacket

Price: €125
Weight: 220g
Best for: Running, high tempo activities
Key attributes: Great breathability, useful features, nice fit

Courtesy of this up-and-coming brand from the Netherlands, the Cortazu Stretch Jacket is a simple, lightweight and stretchy softshell that’ll keep the wind and a bit of light rain off you. Available in men’s and women’s versions, the Cortazu Stretch will serve well on those summer hikes or bike rides when the sun is out but the breeze is cool. At just 220g it’s also a handy thing to keep in your bag just in case the temperature drops, or to whip out when you’ve stopped on a summit to have lunch. It’s also fairly casual looking, so it’s not going to look out of place in the city or at the pub with friends.

The Toray softshell material here is wafer thin; just one layer of polyamide softshell fabric woven with a stretchy PU. As you can see, there’s a full length, one-way zip that leads up to a chin guard and modest collar. At the bottom of the jacket, the hem is toggled so you can cinch it in. There’s a little DWR coating to add a bit of water resistance – enough to see off a short spell of light rain anyway. Unfortunately, this DWR isn’t free from any PFCs. The fabric also provides a level of breathability that would suit high tempo activities.

All-in-all it’s a simple jacket that’ll serve well for cold weather running or as that layer to keep in your pack ready to whip out when things get breezy.

Read our full Cortazu Stretch Jacket review

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Devold Trollkyrkja

Price: £468
Weight: 230g
Best for: General outdoor use
Key attributes: Breathability, eco-friendly, innovative

Devold’s Trollkyrkja jacket is a softshell made from 100% merino wool. This has been achieved through the use of Optim technology to develop a woollen face fabric that is both water and wind resistant. It is woven from exceptionally fine merino fibres and treated with a process that results in an extremely tight, dense fabric to offer enhanced water and wind resistant properties, while retaining merino’s renowned breathability.

The result is a jacket that regulates temperature well, moving moisture away from the body and continuing to provide warmth even when wet. Taped seams further add to its weatherproof qualities. The fit is an active cut with articulated elbow construction, dropped rear hem, adjustable cuffs, twin hand pockets, a high collar with an adjustable hood and a zipped external chest pocket.

The main downside is the price. At just over £460 this thing ain’t cheap.

Read our full Devold Trollkyrkja review.

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