January 05, 2017
Jessica Tegerstrand

Women’s Softshell Jackets Buyers Guide

Active Junky took 10 women’s softshell jackets from the best outdoor clothing brands and tested them in varying scenarios and weather conditions to help you choose the best softshell jacket.

Editor's Pick Mountain Hardwear Straight Chuter Jacket

Mountain Hardwear Straight Chuter Jacket

Best for – Sticking it to mother nature! Our pick for prolonged exposure to rain and snow.
$270.00 + 6% Cash Back
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Also Great Outdoor Research Mithril Jacket

Outdoor Research Mithril Jacket

Best for – Battling the elements. Our pick for a dynamic adventure where the terrain might vary and weather is pervasive.
$69.95 + 7% Cash Back
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Also Great Patagonia Levitation Hoody

Patagonia Levitation Hoody

Best for – Packable protection that goes the distance. Our pick for a minimalist backpacking trip in a tropical climate.
$80.55 + 9% Cash Back
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Adidas Xperior Softshell Jacket

Adidas Xperior Softshell Jacket

Best for – Dry weather running or training in the fall to winter months to combat whipping winds.
$83.95 + 10% Cash Back
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Columbia Flash Forward Hybrid Jacket

Columbia Flash Forward Hybrid Jacket

Best for – Staying warm while maintaining freedom of movement; combating chilly afternoons while fishing.
$89.90 + 8% Cash Back
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Helly Hansen Paramount Insulated Softshell Jacket

Helly Hansen Paramount Insulated Softshell Jacket

Best for – Staying warm and dry through the storm; battling sideways rain and biting wind.
$139.83 + 9% Cash Back
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Kuhl Kondor Jacket

Kuhl Kondor Jacket

Best for – Going from trail to town; spending a day exploring and then maintaining style while rolling right into town.
$198.95 + 7% Cash Back
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Marmot ROM Jacket

Marmot ROM Jacket

Best for – Athletic activity that doesn’t require a lot of gear; hiking through a potentially wet Fern Canyon.
$79.99 + 4% Cash Back
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Mishmi Takin Misti Softshell Jacket

Mishmi Takin Misti Softshell Jacket

Best for – A little bit of warmth, and a whole lot of breathability; shoulder season hikes and explorations.
$100.00 + 0% Cash Back
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The North Face Apex Elevation Jacket

The North Face Apex Elevation Jacket

Best for – Staying cozy in the winter months and chilly nights setting up camp and around the campfire.
$124.95 + 7% Cash Back
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Softshell jackets are a little bit like the red-headed step child of the gear world: they won’t make the top ten list of gear essentials, but what is there not to love? They are the baby bear in between papa hard shell and mama insulated jacket. You still get some weather protection without the crinkly stiffness of a hardshell, and you get comfortable and breathable fabric that can stand up to light rain and snow. Plus, when you need a jacket that goes from trail to town and back again, they are a comfortable and stylish option.

Active Junky selected 10 women’s softshell jackets from the best outdoor clothing and apparel brands and took them out into varying conditions, weather, altitudes and sceneries and put them to the test to help you narrow down your search for the perfect softshell jacket.

Brands evaluated by Active Junky

  • Adidas
  • Columbia
  • Helly Hansen
  • Kuhl
  • Marmot
  • Mishmi Takin
  • Mountain Hardwear
  • Outdoor Research
  • Patagonia
  • The North Face


Dan Rhodes

How We Tested

Our Active Junky crew took chosen models on an ambitious road trip that spanned five states and a multitude of weather and activity challenges. From chasing elk in the Tetons and fly fishing on Silver Creek, to exploring the Redwoods and camping next to the Pacific, we splashed through every waterfall we came across, and took them on a bevvy of hikes through the wilds of grizzly country and along the windy coastline; plus we tackled the more urban, but still wild, streets of Jackson Hole, Boise, and Northern California. We got to see how these jackets performed while setting up tents and trudging through rain, then countered that with how they looked and felt saddling up to a cowboy bar or sampling some buffalo tartare at the local farm to fork.

Choosing the Best Softshell Jacket: 5 Questions to Ask

Finding the right piece of gear for the right task is a lot like problem solving. First define the problem, and that will help you know what to look for in a solution. Almost every advantage comes with some disadvantage, so you want to weigh what areas are most important for your personal variables.


Dan Rhodes

1) What weather will you likely encounter?

Are you looking to take the postman pledge and not allow rain, snow, sleet, or hail to stay you, or are you looking for a fair-weather piece that will get you through a little rough spot or two? If it’s the latter, then your softshell choices are vast, but if it’s the former, taped or sealed seams and waterproof zippers will be key. Pay attention to the fabric membrane or coating and if the jacket is water resistant or waterproof. Just remember that oftentimes you give up some breathability and freedom of movement to gain weather protection.

2) How much movement will you require? 

Do you want to be able to jitterbug your heart out? Or off the dance floor, are you looking to tear up the slopes or traverse your way up a cliff? Or do you want to slow it down a bit with a nice waltz…or hike? If you want freedom of movement you will want to lean toward softshells with good stretch to their fabric, which will likely mean a thinner or non-existent lining. But more stretch generally means less warmth and less weather protection.

3) What level of internal moisture will you be dealing with?

Some of us sweat a lot, some a little, and it all depends on what sort of activity and conditions we are experiencing. One huge benefit of utilizing a softshell is that breathability is highly improved over a hardshell, but you are giving up some weather protection to get it. And likely the better it breathes the less it insulates heat. 

4) How much warmth do you need the jacket to maintain? 

Some softshells are made to be cuddly and insulated cocoons of warmth, while others are meant to be lean, mean guards against the elements. If you are going to be faced with low temps and want your softshell to help you out a bit in the warmth department, look for insulation or heavier linings. If you don’t need to rely on your jacket for warmth, you can select something a bit lighter and a bit leaner. Greater warmth retention tends to lessen breathability and restrict movement.

5) Are you concerned about weight or packability? 

If you plan on taking this into the backcountry, weight and the ability to pack easily might be factors to consider as well. Not all of those we selected fit this niche, but depending upon how much weight and room you have to spare, there are a few options worth considering. Softshell jackets don’t tend to excel in this area as compared to other types of jackets. The trade-offs here will lie with warmth and weather protection. Keep in mind, if you are heading into the wild, you will likely still want to pack your waterproof hardshell jacket for when the clouds really open up, or an insulated jacket for when the temps turn to freezing. However, layering with your softshell after activity or even during is always an option.


Dan Rhodes

As you can see, selecting the right piece of gear can feel like a shell game. As you chase one cup, you lose focus on the others, but with the plethora of options in the softshell market, you are likely to find something that suits your fancy.

Universal Attributes

All the jackets we tested bring something to the table in each of the following categories. Active Junky used these Universal Attributes as a guide when testing and evaluating to help select our favorite ten. Then, we selected one Key Attribute for each jacket to highlight where they really shine, listed in each product review. 

Breathability

Activity in a jacket of any type can be a war between wanting to be warmer and wanting to be drier; we looked at how well each jacket combats moisture build-up.

Warmth

There are a myriad of thickness and lining options in the softshell jacket market; we considered which one is right for which climate.

Weather Protection

If we didn’t need protection from the elements, we would probably just run around in our birthday suits… I mean… we looked at how well each jacket battles the wind and keeps out the rain.

Fit

A softshell is a bit of a luxury, so you want it to look like a million bucks, but still have the stretchy freedom to move as your spirit guides you.

Features

The devil is in the details, or at least it can be; we considered all the little additions that can make, break, or do absolutely nothing for each jacket.

Women’s Softshell Jackets Reviews

Mountain Hardwear Straight Chuter Jacket Mountain Hardwear Straight Chuter Jacket

Best Women’s Softshell Jacket

The Mountain Hardwear Straight Chuter is the closest thing to a hardshell in performance that we tested. The Dry Q really ups the ante for weather protection. Instead of a pre-finished fabric, the Dry Q is constructed in layers to combine materials of differing properties into a shield against the elements. It is especially made for snow and the backcountry; it has the bells and whistles that make bombing down the slopes a little easier and a lot more comfortable.

Tester Comments: “In outdoor activity there is a line between when the technical performance of your apparel adds to your comfort and when it protects you from harm. The Straight Chuter is the softshell I want in my pack when I cross over that line and weather protection is no longer a luxury, but an imperative.”

Looking for more information about Mountain Hardwear Straight Chuter Jacket? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$270.00
Before Cash Back
$253.80 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$450.00
Before Cash Back
$396.00 After Cash Back
10% Cash Back
$450.00
Before Cash Back
$405.00 After Cash Back
Outdoor Research Mithril Jacket Outdoor Research Mithril Jacket

Most Versatile Softshell Jacket

Taped seams and waterproof zippers seal this Ventia softshell up tight. It looks technical, and performs just like it looks like it should. This jacket could shine hopping off a ski lift or hiking in the backcountry. It’s burly enough to face all kinds of weather and flexible enough to work with you through all kinds of physical activity. The weather protection it brings to the table is upper tier and the versatility of design makes it easy to utilize.

Tester Comments: “I cannot decide whether I like this jacket more for its movement and weather protection while skiing down the Rockies in Montana’s cold smoke or while hiking along California’s misty Lost Coast. Like me, I guess it will just have to stand at the ready for both possible adventures.”

Looking for more information about Outdoor Research Mithril Jacket? Read the full review

Buying Options

7% Cash Back
$69.95
Before Cash Back
$65.06 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$208.00
Before Cash Back
$183.04 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$260.00
Before Cash Back
$228.80 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$260.00
Before Cash Back
$228.80 After Cash Back
Patagonia Levitation Hoody Patagonia Levitation Hoody

Best Minimalist Softshell Jacket

Strong weather protection in a light and compact package. Versatile and easy to stash, this Patagonia softshell jacket is dynamic enough to move and breathe with you through any activity. The Levitation is a great piece for layering, so if you are looking to adjust to conditions by adding or removing layers, it could be the softshell for you.

Tester Comments: “I was packing light for a 3-week trip to Vietnam with only one carryon bag, but knew that despite the hot and humid destination, I still needed a jacket for the occasional showers and a layover in chilly South Korea where I didn’t want to be stuck in the airport. After a lot of experimentation, I selected the Levitation. Due to its relatively small packing size, as well as offering both wind and water protection with breathable construction, I felt it did what I needed without filling up too much of my bag.”

Looking for more information about Patagonia Levitation Hoody? Read the full review

Buying Options

9% Cash Back
$80.55
Before Cash Back
$73.31 After Cash Back
5% Cash Back
$107.00
Before Cash Back
$101.65 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$179.00
Before Cash Back
$157.52 After Cash Back
11% Cash Back
$179.00
Before Cash Back
$159.31 After Cash Back
6% Cash Back
$179.00
Before Cash Back
$168.26 After Cash Back
Adidas Xperior Softshell Jacket Adidas Xperior Softshell Jacket

Made to combat wind and stick with you as you move. A hybrid fleece softshell, this was not meant to stand up to rain, but breathes almost like it’s mesh. The Xperior is designed for comfort with fabric and details that guard against abrasion. Adidas keeps performance in mind with a fit a little on the small side. It packs tight and is lightweight, so there are not a lot of cons to throwing it in your bag just in case. 

Tester Comments: “Adidas’s Xperior Softshell Jacket has quickly become one of my go-to running jackets this fall. It fights off the wind and chill without overheating and breathes like a dream. Plus it is set up with enough well-placed pockets to stash everything I need. This entire piece has a luxe feel and helps make those early morning runs a bit easier.”

Looking for more information about Adidas Xperior Softshell Jacket? Read the full review

Buying Options

10% Cash Back
$83.95
Before Cash Back
$75.56 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$129.00
Before Cash Back
$113.52 After Cash Back
11% Cash Back
$128.95
Before Cash Back
$114.77 After Cash Back
Columbia Flash Forward Hybrid Jacket Columbia Flash Forward Hybrid Jacket

The Columbia Flash Forward Hybrid Jacket is a strong combination of warmth and comfort. This hybrid insulated softshell eliminates some of the bulk of a fully insulated jacket by focusing its warmth at your body’s core and giving your arms the full range of motion and comfort of a softshell. We found the Flash Forward roomy enough to slip on top of waders, but still snug enough to maintain good warmth and have a comfortable fit. Surprisingly warm for the small amount of insulation, it is a handy softshell jacket to keep in your closet.

Tester Comments: “After a long day of fishing we loaded up as the temperature was rapidly dropping. As the air started to bite, I was grateful for the respite of the car, and was marveling at how quickly the heated seats kicked on. But then I realized the car didn’t have heated seats, and it was the Flash Forward keeping my core warm and cozy!” 

Looking for more information about Columbia Flash Forward Hybrid Jacket? Read the full review

Buying Options

8% Cash Back
$89.90
Before Cash Back
$82.71 After Cash Back
Helly Hansen Paramount Insulated Softshell Jacket Helly Hansen Paramount Insulated Softshell Jacket

Stay warm and dry in this versatile insulated winter jacket. Helly Hansen puts out a few different items in its classically styled Paramount line that are made to eat up the wind and rain, but this one was winterized with the added benefit of PrimaLoft to keep you warm. The traditional and simple styling of this jacket allows it to fit in, but maybe not conquer, the fashion scene, while still providing a solid shield against the winter weather. 

Tester Comments: “Generally, I am a fan of layering when the cold weather hits, but this one-stop-shop for warmth, wind, and rain protection is a keeper. I used the heck out of this jacket on an especially wet trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming I took recently. The hotel was eight blocks from town and no matter how much it rained and threatened to snow, there was no reason to hail a cab with this baby handy.”

Looking for more information about Helly Hansen Paramount Insulated Softshell Jacket? Read the full review

Buying Options

9% Cash Back
$139.83
Before Cash Back
$127.25 After Cash Back
10% Cash Back
$199.99
Before Cash Back
$180.00 After Cash Back
Kuhl Kondor Jacket Kuhl Kondor Jacket

Urban styling with a feminine silhouette and solid protection from the elements. The Kuhl Kondor balances a sleek and formal look with a highly water resistant shell. Kuhl puts a lot of focus into the details and delivers a jacket with quite a few bells and whistles. It is styled a little more street and a little less mountain, but can still stand up to the great outdoors.

Tester Comments: “The Kuhl straddles my two worlds with ease. I found it was stylish and formal enough to not raise any eyebrows at the office, but also tough enough to combat the rain and wind when I ventured outdoors. Without sacrificing technical performance, it classes up my winter wardrobe!”

Looking for more information about Kuhl Kondor Jacket? Read the full review

Buying Options

7% Cash Back
$198.95
Before Cash Back
$185.03 After Cash Back
Marmot ROM Jacket Marmot ROM Jacket

Light layer that uses Gore-Tex Windstopper to put up a strong shield against any gale. The Marmot ROM is a solid softshell jacket that offers the classic characteristics of movement, breathability, and wind protection. With comfort in mind, Marmot tailored this with an athletic fit and used fabrics with a lot of stretch and flexibility. This piece is easy to stash making it a great hiking companion, and breathes well making it a great running companion.

Tester Comments: “The Marmot fits like a glove – A weather resistant, stretchy, breathable, and light glove. I liked the way the ROM moved with me. It did not hinder me in any activity and could easily be tightened at the waist, hood, and cuffs to allow for the occasional trailside inversion yoga challenge.”

Looking for more information about Marmot ROM Jacket? Read the full review

Buying Options

4% Cash Back
$79.99
Before Cash Back
$76.80 After Cash Back
6% Cash Back
$92.50
Before Cash Back
$86.95 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$128.99
Before Cash Back
$113.52 After Cash Back
4% Cash Back
$128.97
Before Cash Back
$123.82 After Cash Back
Mishmi Takin Misti Softshell Jacket Mishmi Takin Misti Softshell Jacket

A mid-weight softshell jacket made with moisture control in mind. Tailored for a more petite frame, the fit is a little tighter and the arms and torso are a little shorter. A striking jacket, the shell and accent colors used throughout the Mishmi Takin line really pop. A newcomer to the market, Mishmi Takin is making some waves as an up and coming creator of high quality jackets and gear that performs in a rainforest as well as on a mountaintop.

Tester Comments: “Mishmi Takin was a brand I hadn’t had the pleasure of using and abusing yet. Build quality, attention to detail, and a focus on performance were all present. I like the insertion of pizazz with some of the styling. I will be keeping my eye on this brand.”

Looking for more information about Mishmi Takin Misti Softshell Jacket? Read the full review

Buying Options

Mishmi Takin
0% Cash Back
$100.00
Before Cash Back
$100.00 After Cash Back
The North Face Apex Elevation Jacket The North Face Apex Elevation Jacket

The North Face delivers a lot of heat for the size and weight of its Apex Elevation Jacket. With 100g of PrimaLoft insulation, it’s going to keep you cozy in most winter weather you’ll find yourself in. The Apex isn’t going to be a year-round staple, but could definitely be a winter essential. The Apex has just enough warmth for colder temps and strong winds. It boasts some strong water resistance, a comfortable fit and good detailing.

Tester Comments: “Right out of the box it looks bulkier than your standard softshell jacket. It does have a little added weight and loft due to the insulation, but once I slipped it on, it shaped up to be a well-fitted jacket that is surprisingly flattering. It’s hard to find a winter jacket I don’t get lost in, but the Apex is both substantial and well-fitted.”

Looking for more information about The North Face Apex Elevation Jacket? Read the full review

Buying Options

7% Cash Back
$124.95
Before Cash Back
$116.21 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$149.00
Before Cash Back
$131.12 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$198.95
Before Cash Back
$175.08 After Cash Back
11% Cash Back
$198.90
Before Cash Back
$177.03 After Cash Back
5% Cash Back
$198.95
Before Cash Back
$189.01 After Cash Back