Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
Looking for the best women's softshell? We're here to help. We've tested 45 unique jackets in the last 8 years, with the best 10 in our current review. Each year, the technology continues to get more innovative and the designs more varied, so our review features a diverse array of jackets, including active, technical, and casual softshells, as well as a few hybrids, to offer a multitude of options for your favorite outdoor pursuits. Sandstone splitters, steep ice and mixed crags, windy coastlines, alpine wonderlands, granite domes, and technical trails made up just a portion of our testing playground. Across the desert southwest, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierras, our testers climbed, scratched, scrambled, hiked, ran, and cycled, to put every aspect and feature of these softshells to the test.
With almost as many jackets to choose from as there are stars in the sky, it can seem overwhelming to find the right one for you. We have worn, torn, used, and abused hundreds of jackets to help you find the best layers for whatever adventures you're planning to do. Check out our other reviews for a deep dive into the best rain jackets, women's hardshells, windbreakers, and down jackets.
Editor's Note: We updated this review on November 1, 2022, removing a discontinued product and ensuring that our lineup of products is still current.
Weight: 14.5 ounces (size S) | Number of Pockets: 2 hand
REASONS TO BUY
Great wind resistance
Harness-compatible hand pockets
REASONS TO AVOID
We loved the Arc'teryx Gamma LT for its high performance across the board and for striking the proper balance between opposing metrics, which is why it earns top honors. Even though it provides great wind protection and decent water resistance, it manages to be breathable when doing aerobic activities in cooler temps. The patented Wee Burley fabric is abrasion-resistant and durable while still providing excellent mobility. It has a flattering cut while not skimping on the features you want out of a softshell, including Napoleon-style harness-compatible pockets that are mesh-lined for extra ventilation and a two-way cinched helmet-compatible hood for an excellent fit while climbing, hiking, or ski touring.
Depending on how you intend to use the Gamma LT, this jacket's downsides may be inconsequential. Being made out of a more durable fabric and being well-suited for cooler alpine temps, it is on the heavier end of active softshells in our review. It is also pretty pricey. The cuffs are non-adjustable — which could be a feature or a deficit, depending on whether you prefer gauntlet-style gloves or cuffs that cinch over your gloves. That said, these drawbacks are minor, and for someone seeking a durable, weather-resistant softshell for alpine climbing, peak-bagging, cool-weather hikes, or ski touring, the Gamma LT might just be the one for you.
Weight: 12.5 ounces (size S) | Number of Pockets: 3 (2 hand, 1 chest)
REASONS TO BUY
Durable and breathable
Top-shelf features, bottom-shelf price
Wind-resistant UPF-50 fabric
Stow-away pocket for clipping to your harness
REASONS TO AVOID
Below average water resistance
Hand pockets inaccessible with harness
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie is a fantastic value. It ticks nearly every box that a durable wind layer for climbing or hiking should. It is lightweight, wind-resistant, breathable, abrasion-resistant, and highly stretchy. It has great features for the price — including a pocket that doubles as a stuff sack, so you can clip your jacket to your harness when not in use. It moves incredibly well, owing to the ultra-stretchy fabric, and even though it isn't very water-resistant, it is among the fastest drying active softshells in our review. It even has UPF-50 fabric to protect your skin from the sun. Add to all of this the fact that it is a very affordable jacket, and it is no wonder why this jacket is the staple softshell for most outdoor adventure nerds.
Though the Ferrosi is a great jacket, we have a few bones to pick. Its water resistance is below average compared to others in our test. However, it dries quickly and offers great 3-season protection. The fit is somewhat boxy, so if you're between sizes, you might consider sizing down. We also wish that the hand pockets were accessible while wearing a harness or the hip belt of a backpack. All these concerns aside, the Ferrosi is a great breathable, wind-resistant option at a fantastic price for hiking, climbing, and cycling.
Weight: 11 ounces (size S) | Number of Pockets: 3 (2 hand, 1 chest)
REASONS TO BUY
Fleece-insulated but highly breathable
Comfortable and great mobility
Highly wind resistant and warm
REASONS TO AVOID
Some sleeve slippage between fleece and shell
No stow-away pocket for clipping to your harness
The Arc'teryx Proton FL Hoody is a jack-of-all-trades hybrid for those who want something extra from their softshell. This jacket is a perfect companion on windy days, multi-pitch rock climbs, or high on alpine walls in the summer. To be honest, there is very little this jacket can't do: it is lightweight, has great mobility, and with an ultra-soft fleece lining, it is super cozy, even next to bare skin. The new hood is fully fleece-lined and more spacious than previous iterations. Whether you need a layer for alpine or multi-pitch climbing, insulation for ice climbing, or a breathable but decently warm layer for backcountry or cross-country skiing, mountain climbing, or hiking, this ingenious mid-layer is a great one to add to your kit.
Our review team noted very few drawbacks to this otherwise feature-rich jacket. For long rock climbing routes, it can be helpful to have a stow-away pocket with a loop to clip to your harness. Sadly, the Proton FL does not have this feature, so if you need to stash your jacket mid-route, you'll have to get a stuff sack specific for the job. The revised version of the jacket has some sleeve slippage between the fleece lining and the shell fabric when you pull it over long-sleeved shirts (especially fleeces). All that aside, if you need a cozy mid-layer with breathable insulation, the Proton is an excellent choice.
Weight: 9.5 ounces (size S) | Number of Pockets: 2 hand
REASONS TO BUY
Great hood design
REASONS TO AVOID
Not fully waterproof
No stuff sack
The Rab Kinetic 2.0 is an upgrade to the previous generation of the Kinetic jacket. It still features unbeatable water and wind resistance for a softshell with unbelievably soft fabric. This jacket also surprised our reviewers with above average breathability (water-resistant jackets are notorious for their lack of breathability). It is comparatively lightweight and enables unimpeded movement, owing to Rab's ultra-plush and stretchy ProFlex fabric. We love the top-shelf features on this jacket, including pockets that are accessible when you're wearing a harness or the hip-belt of a backpack and an innovative hood with an inner gasket to keep your face dry.
Given that the Kinetic 2.0 attempts to triangulate between a shoftshell and a hardshell, there are some minor things lost in translation. Namely, it is neither fully waterproof nor the most breathable jacket in our review. However, it does come close to accomplishing both. It is also not the most versatile jacket, mostly because it is not as warm as some of the other technical softshells. When it is fully zipped, the collar is too snug and stiff to be comfortable, and it poked us in the neck. Finally, it does not come with its own stuff sack, as previous generations did. Truth be told, these drawbacks are minor, and this plush hybrid, water-resistant, softshell is an impressive and lightweight jacket to add to your mountain repertoire.
Our team tested each of these jackets side-by-side in various climes, from blustery days climbing ice in the Rocky Mountains to surprisingly frigid desert climbing days in Indian Creek, Joshua Tree, the Black Canyon, and Red Rock. In this testing round, these 10 softshell jackets were put to the test shimmying up granite chimneys and jamming in Indian Creek splitters. We even wore these jackets in the shower to test how they performed under pressure (water pressure, that is). After more than 100 hours of rigorously testing these jackets, we've got some expert advice to offer about the best softshell jacket to match your needs.
Our testing of women's softshell jackets is divided across five rating metrics:
Weather Protection (30% of total score weighting)
Breathability (30% weighting)
Mobility (25% weighting)
Weighting (10% weighting)
Versatility (5% weighting)
This review is brought to you by a team of amazing women, headed up by Mary Witlacil. Mary spends her summers alpine climbing in Colorado and California. When she can get away, she chases sun the rest of the year in Colorado and the deserts of Utah, Arizona, and California. A true outdoor enthusiast, when she isn't rock climbing, this gal can be found swinging ice tools, climbing mountains, backpacking, riding bicycles, or sitting on a rock gazing at the clouds.
Analysis and Test Results
Softshell jackets are an interesting gear category because they strive to do the job of multiple layers at once — resist wind, repel water, provide warmth, and breathe well. They aim to split the difference between comfort and weather protection, all without hindering movement. Unlike potentially life-saving layers such as waterproof hardshells and insulative baselayers, a softshell is great to have but won't keep you as warm as an insulation layer (like a puffy jacket) or as dry as a hardshell if you get caught in a serious storm. That said, given their mobility, breathability, and weather protection, softshell jackets are an ideal layer for many backcountry activities and mountain athletes.
The primary objective of a softshell jacket is to increase comfort through breathability and supple flexibility while offering some degree of weather protection. These layers are less stiff, noisy, and suffocating than hardshells, making them more pleasant to wear, despite not offering the same level of weather protection. A softshell is a great layer for colder temps where you're likely to encounter wind, dry snow, or intermittent rain but not an all-out deluge. They are also ideal for activities where you need wind or weather protection but are likely to build up a sweat, so breathability is a must. This includes activities such as climbing (rock, ice, mixed, or alpine), skiing (backcountry or cross-country, although for alpine/downhill, you'll want something warmer), snowshoeing, mountaineering, trail-running, peak-bagging, or hiking.
We have tried to distill the main types of softshells into three broad categories: active, technical, and casual. Active softshells are great as wind layers during aerobic activities. These softshells are not designed to keep you ultra warm or to provide premium weather protection, but they are great layers to keep you comfortable in wind or shade in otherwise warm weather. Technical softshell jackets are ideal for — surprise — technical pursuits like ice/mixed climbing, winter mountaineering, backcountry skiing, etc. These jackets provide superior weather protection but aren't as lightweight as an active softshell. By contrast, casual softshells are more ideal for winter and shoulder-season layering in urban environments.
Hybrid softshells are relatively new on the scene, and they attempt to bridge the gap between different jacket types — be it by providing extra insulation or water resistance. When hybrids are well executed, they tend to be the most versatile of the jackets in our review, but sometimes adding bonus functionality backfires and makes them uncomfortable or less useful than the jackets they're trying to mimic.
If you can afford a specialized item like a softshell, you probably still want to make the most of your money — who doesn't? We paid attention to how well each jacket performed relative to its retail price and considered their value in terms of jacket features, weather protection, and the niche they fill in your backcountry kit.
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie is both a great value and a top-performing jacket, a match made in outdoor gear heaven. It is a feature-rich active softshell that offers great wind protection, making it a perfect option for rock climbing, peak bagging, or backpacking.
We love the Rab Borealis for striking a similar balance between excellent features and affordability. This active softshell moves incredibly well and is ridiculously comfy, all without breaking the bank. Both of these layers are quite thin though — for thicker liners made for more inclement weather, you'll have to pay more.
A softshell jacket will never be as impenetrable to water and wind as a hardshell (aka a rain jacket) because hardshells are waterproofand windproof. By and large, softshells are only water and wind resistant. While there are some windproof softshells available (we have a few in this review), the designation of waterproof is mostly reserved for hardshells. In our review, we do have one jacket that nearly proves the exception to this rule: the Rab Kinetic 2.0. This jacket offers exceptional wind and water resistance. However, with extended exposure to moisture, the Kinetic 2.0 will eventually absorb water like other softshells in our review, proving to be more water-resistant than waterproof, as the manufacturers claim.
Some of the models we tested are more water-resistant than others, but these pieces are not as dependably waterproof as rain jackets in a severe storm. Overall, softshells are ideal for mild weather when you need some coverage from wind, snow, or light rain, but you're unlikely to need full-on storm protection. For this reason, softshells can be great jackets for alpine climbing, ice/mixed climbing, ski-touring, or even around town on a chilly evening. Softshells are ideal during the shoulder season when temperatures vacillate wildly or for aerobic backcountry activities in the winter when you need premium breathability to avoid getting chilled by your sweat. They're also perfect for days when your heavy ski jacket or hardshell are overkill. They're incredible layers for warm skiing in the spring or cool climbing and hiking in the fall when you're unlikely to encounter an all-out torrential storm. When evaluating each jacket's weather protection, we consider wind and water resistance, as well as warmth and sun protection.
The impressively constructed Arc'teryx Gamma MX earns top marks in this category. This fleece-lined jacket is an ideal option for mixed conditions and cold days while ice climbing or mountaineering. Armed with the Gamma MX, we hiked into frigid temps and blowing snow and climbed ice for hours, staying sufficiently warm and moving without feeling stifled. The thinner Gamma LT also scores well in this category despite not being nearly as warm because it fends off light moisture and wind admirably.
All of our hybrid and casual jackets earned competitive marks in this category. We were especially impressed by the plush and warm Arc'teryx Proton FL and the PrimaLoft insulated Athleta Rock Ridge. Each of these jackets provided more warmth than all but the best technical softshells without sacrificing too much in terms of breathability or mobility. The reason the Proton FL doesn't earn higher marks is that while it is warm and highly wind-resistant, it is among the least water-resistant of the jackets in our review. The exceptionally water-resistant Apex Bionic is one of the warmer softshells in our review, and it did well in our water-resistance test making it a great option for a winter jacket in an urban environment. One of the only reasons it did not garner higher marks in this category is that it lacks a hood, so if you're caught in the rain with this jacket, you better hope you have your umbrella to keep your noggin dry.
Breathability is one of the top reasons people buy a softshell jacket. If your primary need is weather protection, then you will want a fully waterproof hardshell, but when your weekend adventure plans include getting rowdy in the backcountry, a hardshell will never do. They can leave you feeling swampy, suffocated, and stuffy. Enter the softshell. A garment that aims to strike the perfect balance between breathability and weather protection so you can move unencumbered on your outdoor adventures.
Breathability versus Protection
Bear in mind, you ultimately want a breathable softshell that can also resist a decent amount of weather and keep you warm when needed. This is not an easy balance to strike, and your preferred outdoor pursuits will dictate what style of softshell is ideal for you.
We tested the softshells in our review in the sun and shade, rain, snow, wind, deserts, and mountains, doing various activities designed to get the blood moving and the sweat flowing. A few models constructed with very thin material scored well in this category. While we recognize that thin fabric and breathability are not the same things, we couldn't ignore the fact that jackets with minimal material often breathe well by default.
The top performers in this metric are the three ultra-stretchy and thin active softshells in our lineup: the Rab Borealis, the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody, and the Outdoor Research Ferrosi. The Borealis provides a surprisingly excellent barrier to the wind but doesn't provide the weather protection of less breathable options. The Alpine Start features a lightweight and stretchy Schoeller fabric that ensures you can move well without being stifled by sweat. And the Ferrosi has 4-way stretchy fabric, and the lack of bulk means that it's a fantastic option for layering over a thin fleece or under a big puffy. If you're working hard and keeping your core temperature high, these are all perfect layers for cutting the wind on brisk mornings, windy summits, or high on a wall.
The only jacket that bucks convention in this category is the Gamma LT. This is because it splits the difference between a technical and an active softshell. It has a thicker lining than most active softshells but is nowhere near as warm as most technical softshells. Meanwhile, it has fantastic ventilation in the pockets, making it almost as breathable as the thinnest jackets in our review. Minds blown. It is durable enough to climb scratchy granite cracks and long alpine routes while providing sufficient protection from wind and water without sacrificing any breathability.
Another great option, if you want a warmer jacket that still delivers on the breathability front, is the Arc'teryx Proton FL. This fleece-insulated but breathable hybrid features a moisture-wicking liner to manage sweat and keep you sufficiently warm in cooler weather. It's also a great companion on alpine rock climbs, shoulder-season multi-pitches, sun-rise trail runs, and aerobic activities of any kind where temps are cool, wind is likely, and you plan to work up a sweat.
If you're checking out a softshell at your local gear shop and you're not sure how breathable it will be, look for mesh-lined pockets. You can unzip these during strenuous activity to help dump heat. On the flip side, if a jacket says that it's fully windproof (as opposed to just wind resistant), it's a safe bet that it won't be super breathable.
Mobility is one of the most important elements of a softshell jacket. Softshell jackets are designed for backcountry adventures like climbing, skiing, and trail running — all activities that demand unhindered movement. There are definitely plenty of jackets geared toward casual urban outings, but regardless of your chosen activity, a restrictive jacket will not allow you to move freely enough to enjoy yourself. We looked for softshells that layered and fit well, were comfortable, and those that had stretchy fabric or other features to enable movement. We ended up with a diverse set of contenders whose performance spread all over the board.
Given that mobility is critical for a softshell, we reviewed several stellar options that exemplify unimpeded mobility. Spoiler alert: the top-performing jackets in this category were all active or hybrid/active softshells. Active softshells offer great mobility because they are typically made with 4-way stretchy fabric and are designed to allow freedom of movement. We were especially impressed with how well the ever-affordable Outdoor Research Ferrosi performed in this category. The stretchy fabric and looser fit allow for unimpeded mobility, ideal for trail-running, summer mountaineering, and rock climbing.
The Alpine Start also performed impressively well in this category. With stretchy Schoeller fabric, comfortable cuffs, an "alpine" gusseted fit, and a helmet-compatible hood, it provided incredible mobility so that we barely noticed we were wearing it.
The Borealis is another of our top performers in this category as it features 4-way stretchy fabric and a well-tailored design that enables unencumbered mobility while climbing — just what you need when you crave a little wind protection while high up on a wall or ridgeline. Many of the other active softshells and active hybrids performed well in this category as well, including the Gamma LT, Proton FL, and the Kinetic 2.0. Each of these stretch easily and move more like a shirt than a jacket.
It is easy to grasp why active softshells tend to move better than technical or casual softshells. Not only do active jackets have the stretchiest materials, but most technical and casual softshells are thicker and have a fleece lining that typically makes them a little stiffer. This is less of a problem for the casual softshells, as those are meant to be worn around town, but this is a big deal if you're looking for a technical softshell for ice climbing or backcountry skiing. Of the technical softshells, we found that the Arc'teryx Gamma MX boasted a stellar mobility-to-warmth ratio. In terms of mobility, it even outperformed some of the active jackets.
Jackets in this review ranged from 6.5 ounces at the lightest to 22.5 ounces at the heaviest. Most of the jackets were tested in size small. No matter what your needs are, our review has some fantastic options.
The Alpine Start Hoody proved to be the lightest-weight softshell in our review, weighing a scant 6.5 ounces. This jacket is so lightweight that you'll almost forget you have it with you, and it can be stuffed into its chest pocket for clipping it on your harness or stowing it in the bottom of your pack when not in use. Not only is it incredibly lightweight, but the fabric and design of the jacket lend to durability. We tend to associate ultralight gear with wearing out ultra-fast, but not so with the Alpine Start — it bucks the trend by being ultra-light and ultra-durable.
Next up, we have the Borealis and the Kinetic 2.0, which all weigh around 9-9.5 ounces. The Borealis is a perfect option for alpine rock climbing, peak-bagging, and backpacking, where weight and packability are major considerations. The Kinetic offers more weather protection and is the most water-resistant jacket in our review.
Like the two before it, this metric tends to favor active softshells and active/hybrids, with the Proton FL and the Ferrosi being the next lightest softshells weighing 11 ounces and 12.5 ounces, respectively. Both are great options for moving quick and fairly light. The Proton has a soft fleece lining for added warmth, while the Ferrosi boasts unbeatable mobility. The Fjallraven Bertagen Stretch Half-Zip is another lightweight active softshell, weighing only 13 ounces. Part of why this jacket is so light is that it is a half-zip pullover, a feature we love for when you don't want to deal with a zipper underneath your harness.
Unfortunately, technical and casual softshells don't earn the highest marks in this category. Even some of the burlier active softshells, like the Gamma LT, have a fairly average weight relative to the other jackets in our review. That being said, none of the jackets we reviewed are so heavy to raise red flags. Many of the technical and casual softshells make up for their heft by providing extra warmth, something that is critical when you're miles into a backcountry winter adventure.
The Athleta Rock Ridge weighs 17 ounces and is our only casual hybrid jacket; we maintain that it is reasonably lightweight for what it offers in terms of function. The heavier weight owes to it being part softshell, part synthetic puffy, with fleece side panels and PrimaLoft insulation. We love the versatility and style of this jacket for cruising around town or on the trail, and we never felt weighed down by it.
The jackets that weigh in the 20-ounce range are the less technical offerings in our review. They work well for casual, around-town use where you're not working up a sweat but aren't ideal for wrangling into your pack when you're headed into the backcountry for more technical pursuits.
Our review team maintains that while versatility is important, it is the least important metric we consider. It is also the most subjective of our review criteria. We assess versatility by considering features, durability, style, and ease of use between various activities and climates. Many of the softshells in this review come with excellent features that we thoroughly enjoy and regularly use. The jackets that ranked highest in this category were ideal for myriad activity types and could handle well in diverse weather. They proved durable and, could withstand the abrasion of granite walls and sandstone cracks and wouldn't disintegrate at the mention of crampons and ice tools. We also considered style. While style is subjective, it is important — no one wants to pay top dollar for an ill-fitting or unattractive article of clothing. Some of our favorite pieces in this review could move seamlessly from the trail or crag to dinner with friends (as long as you don't mind rocking brightly colored gear at the pub), a clear bonus in our book.
The jacket that earned the highest marks in this category was the Gamma LT. It has more insulation than your average active softshell but is lighter than your typical technical jacket. This means it can move between warmer days of ice climbing and cooler days of alpine rock climbing. We love it for shady mornings in the desert and windy summits in the summer. Add to this a flattering fit and attractive color options, and you can move easily from the backcountry to the bar without feeling like you look too sporty. We also appreciate the harness-compatible pockets and two-way adjustable, helmet-compatible hood.
Another unstoppable contender in this category is the Proton FL. While the Proton is not made to be an ideal layer for activities like ice climbing, it is among the most versatile because it can be worn as an outer layer on warmer days or as an insulating layer on colder ones. Our lead tester used this jacket all over the mountains and the desert, taking it up long alpine rock routes, desert towers, and sandstone fist cracks. When it was paired with another softshell, it proved ideal for ice/mixed climbing and for approaches to ice climbs on warmer days.
The Kinetic 2.0 earns top marks in this category for being a silky-smooth, highly water-resistant jacket ideal for summer mountain adventures or traveling. Rab claims this jacket is waterproof, but it wetted out in monsoon storms and isn't waterproof enough to trust it in an all-out rainstorm. That said, it is soft, stylish, well-constructed, and very water-resistant. Each of our highest-ranked active softshells also earned favorable marks in this category. The Alpine Start, Borealis, and the Ferrosi each offer great wind and sun protection while rock climbing, summer mountaineering, trail running, and cycling. Each of these jackets also has a pocket that doubles as a stuff sack, a feature we really like.
Truth be told, even though softshells claim to do everything, there are specialized niches for each style of jacket. Active softshells are ideal as wind layers while summer or alpine climbing, trail running, or hiking, while technical softshells are best for ice and mixed climbing, winter mountaineering, snowshoeing, and backcountry and/or cross-country skiing. Casual softshells offer great features for urban adventures but are durable enough to use in the backcountry, while hybrids attempt to triangulate between sub-categories and move between seasons. To decide what type of softshell is ideal for you, We recommend considering the primary activities you plan to do while using your new softshell. Then, it will be much easier to decide whether you need an active, technical, casual, or hybrid jacket.
With the many different types of shells and layers on the market, it can be hard to know which pieces will work best for your individual needs. We hope this review has answered some of your softshell questions and helped guide you toward the right model for your next outdoor adventure.
In the market for the best synthetic insulated jacket...
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.