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Will Renwick explains what to look for when choosing a softshell jacket for hiking and tests out eight options on the market 


A waterproof jacket is designed to keep you dry and a fleece is worn to retain warmth. But what should you expect from a softshell?

In many ways, they seem to have been created as a halfway house between the two. Even the best waterproof jackets can cause a degree of clamminess, especially on ascents. A fleece will keep you warm, but the downside is that it will soak up even the lightest rain and often won’t offer much in the way of wind protection. A good softshell finds the middle ground and offers resistance to both wind and rain while also allowing more breathability than a waterproof.

With the right layering, a good softshell can be worn all-year-round and all-day-long as well – potentially removing the irritation of regular stops to add or take off a layer (in all but heavy or prolonged rain). For this reason, a softshell is particularly useful for high tempo or strenuous activities.

For any hike in the UK’s mountains (where rain is nearly always a risk) carrying a waterproof jacket is essential. With this in mind, some hikers – particularly backpackers – might forgo a softshell, choosing to put up with the frustration of regular stops to remove or add a waterproof rather than having to carry the extra grams. For the TGO Challenge this May, for instance, I won’t be packing a softshell and will rely on a simple fleece and waterproof jacket layering, purely to keep weight down.

However, for my next day trip in the Brecon Beacons when weight isn’t too much of a factor, I’d certainly opt for a softshell to keep out the wind.

Softshells vary in the extent to which they balance weather protection, warmth, weight and breathability. Some are thin and lightweight with a moderate level of weather protection but high breathability – these are best suited to strenuous activities. There are also hard-wearing, thick softshells that are much warmer but often less breathable – these are better suited to tougher conditions. The jackets tested cover both of these variations and just about everything in-between. I have reviewed each one with year-round day walking in mind.

Check for this

1. Fabrics
Softshells are normally made from stretchy woven fabric and the amount of weather protection this will afford depends on how tight the weave is. There are also products that use a membrane similar to that found in waterproof jackets – these might offer more weather protection but they can also be less breathable.

2. Hood
I prefer hillwalking softshells to include a hood that offers a level of protection from both wind and rain. Softshells designed primarily for activities like running and cycling might not have hoods. The best hoods will have points of adjustment and a stiffened peak.

3. Fit
A softshell should be comfortable over a baselayer or even a midlayer in winter, and should also fit under a waterproof if necessary.

4. Pockets
Ideally a jacket will have handwarmers for extra protection from the wind, and these will be large enough and placed appropriately to access when wearing a hipbelt. A pocket that will fit a map is also useful.

5. Cuffs
Wide cuffs are useful for ventilation; these will normally have Velcro-style adjustments and can be pulled over a glove. If the cuffs are elasticised, check that they hold closely and comfortably to the wrist.

Note. They all come in different colours… they aren’t just blue and black!


 

Columbia Whisper Creek

Columbia Whisper Creek Softshell

“A high performance jacket at a good price.”

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Jottnar Garm softshell

Jottnar Garm

“One of the thickest jackets tested. It has some useful features.”

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Patagonia Adze jacket

Patagonia Men's Adze Hybrid Jacket

“Its Windbloc membrane performs well against the elements.”

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Didriksons Echion Stretch

Didriksons Echion Stretch Jacket

“A basic jacket that performed well.”

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Vaude Larice jacket

Vaude Larice Jacket

“A lot of thought has gone into this jacket’s design.”

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Keela Stretch softshell jacket

Keela Stretch

“A very versatile option for the hills.”

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Outdoor Research Ferrosi

Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody

“The thinnest, lightest and stretchiest of the jackets tested.”

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Bergans Stegaros

Bergans Stegaros Jacket

“A jacket built for tough conditions.”

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