Types of Softshell Jackets
This review tests every available type of softshell jacket. Below we describe the pros, cons, and best applications for each type. Note that these categories are not mutually exclusive; some jackets tested are both stretch woven and fleece insulated, or membrane lined and fleece insulated. We list each jacket's type in the comparison table found above and in each individual product review.
These are typically lightweight models that prioritize breathability over weather protection. They rely on the tightness of the fabric's weave to protect from the natural force. Some are nearly windproof, while others block only the smallest gusts. They are ideal for climbing, backcountry touring, running, and cross-country skiing in dry conditions. Examples include the womens softshell jacket
These usually have a face fabric that is similar to stretch woven softshells, but have the addition of a membrane lining on the inside. Membrane lined softshells are the most weather resistant type we tested. Subsequently, they are less breathable than their stretch woven counterparts. These windproof models are best suited to ice and alpine climbing and can also be used for downhill skiing. Examples include the waterproof softshell jacket
These are perhaps the most versatile type of softshell jacket. Based on the occasion, the user can either layer the shell over base and mid-layers or just a t-shirt for warm days. Because of the versatility of uninsulated softshells, they work well in a wide range of activities. Some have windproof materials that excel in cold, windy environments while others are very light and are great for running on brisk days. Uninsulated softshells have the capacity to feel more breathable because there is one less layer blocking sweat from exiting the jacket. Finally, they are typically lighter, which makes them easier to throw in your pack on long trips. The uninsulated models we tested weigh between 8 and 20 ounces. Examples include the mens 3 in 1 waterproof jacket
Fleece insulated jackets are less versatile but typically provide a little warmth over their unlined counterparts. The downside of these jackets is that they are often too warm for milder temperatures. Many fleece insulated jackets are designed for casual use, but some offer excellent technical performance in very cold environments (below 20 degrees Fahrenheit) during activities such as ice climbing. Examples include the women full zip fleece hoodie
Water Resistant Compound
In the categories above, we do not distinguish when a jacket uses a combination of waterproof materials and softshell materials. This type of design, which we call water resistant compound, deserves special attention. We have found that waterproof compound
are ideal for warmer weather ice climbing and done-in-a-day alpine ascents, when dripping water commonly lands on your hood and shoulders. This is very technical type of jacket. We recommend this style of jacket for conditions in which you expect a little bit of water to fall on you, but not enough to warrant a full hardshell. For instance, climbing a long alpine route in the spring when the snow is melting all around you. For situations like this, these jackets shine because you would likely overheat in a hardshell, but they would also quickly wet-out a softshell jacket. That said, we think that fully waterproof jackets or more breathable softshells will work better the rest of the year. As a result, we only recommend this technical type of jacket if you're certain it will meet your needs. We didn't test any water resistant compound softshells this year.