What to Look For When Buying a Softshell Jacket
Before we take you through our reviews of the best softshell jackets for men, we’ll introduce you to the basics of softshells.
This type of jacket is relatively new in the outdoor world, though in recent years, water-resistant softshell jackets have taken the industry by storm.
Here are some of the things you ought to know about softshells, one of the best mid layers or outer layers for aerobic activities in the outdoors:
What is softshell jacket?
Softshell jackets are garments designed for someone who needs a highly water-resistant and wind-resistant jacket that also breathes well.
If you’re new to the outdoors or aren’t much of a gear junkie, you may not have heard of this specialty jacket.
Softshell jackets are often made from a mix of nylon and elastane, which allows them to protect you from the elements without trapping in excess sweat and heat.
They are a great part of any layering system for active outdoor enthusiasts, as they can double as an outer layer in rainy conditions or as a mid-layer or baselayer in cold weather.
How is a softshell jacket different from a rain jacket?
What confuses people the most about softshell jackets is whether or not they’re the same as a rain jacket.
A good rain jacket, also known as a “hard shell” is made from a nylon ripstop fabric (or similar) and a thin waterproof breathable membrane, like Gore-tex or eVent.
Rain jackets are designed to be completely waterproof and windproof, though this does reduce their overall breathability.
Softshells, on the other hand, are only water-resistant and wind-resistant, so you can’t expect them to keep you bone dry in a torrential downpour as they lack a waterproof breathable membrane.
However, thanks to this lack of a waterproof layer, softshells are much more breathable than their hardshell counterparts, making them ideal for high-output aerobic activities in a light rain or in cold weather.
Additionally, a softshell jacket can be used as a base layer, mid-layer, or even an outer layer, depending on the weather.
In very cold weather, you can opt to use your softshell, especially if it’s a fleece-lined softshell jacket, as an insulating layer.
Or, if you have a softshell ski jacket or a highly water-resistant softshell jacket, you can use it as an outer layer in nearly any conditions.
Features to Look for in a Softshell Jacket
Before you buy a softshell jacket, however, there are a few things you ought to understand about this awesome outdoor layer.
Here are the top features to look out for in a quality men’s softshell jackets:
The main benefit of a softshell jacket over a rain jacket is in a softshell’s breathability.
Since a softshell, unlike a rain jacket, doesn’t have a waterproof breathable membrane, it tends to be much more breathable than a jacket that does have one.
This may seem confusing, as a “waterproof breathable” membrane ought to be breathable, right?
While it’s true that waterproof breathable membranes are breathable, they’re still not going to allow for as much airflow and ventilation as a jacket that doesn’t have one.
That being said, not all softshell are created equal in the world of breathability.
For the most part, the light softshell jackets are going to be much more breathable than a fleece-lined softshell jacket or a softshell ski jacket. This is because ultralight softshell jackets have less material and usually no insulating material, which allows for maximum breathability.
While a softshell jacket isn’t going to be waterproof like a rain jacket, any softshell worth the money is going to be at least a little water-resistant.
Water-resistant softshell jackets vary in how weatherproof they are, though the best men’s softshell jacket will be able to hold up in a steady rain for a couple of hours.
Much of a water-resistant softshell jacket’s weather-resistant properties comes from what’s known as a DWR treatment. DWR stands for durable water repellant, which is a kind of treatment that’s used on jackets to encourage water droplets to simply bead off of the fabric instead of soaking through.
Many of the best men’s softshell jackets will feature a DWR treatment that can be reapplied with a spray or in the wash whenever necessary.
While softshell jackets are often considered to be a sort of “miracle” layer, one place in which they tend to fall short is in terms of weight.
Although there are certainly some ultralight softshell jackets out there, many tend to be quite heavy, so that’s something to keep an eye out for when you’re shopping around.
If you really want a light softshell jacket, you’ll often have to compromise, either in terms of price, durability, or overall water-resistance.
Very few softshells manage to pull off being lightweight, affordable, durable, and water-resistant all at the same time, but we’ve seen it happen, so don’t be discouraged!
The Verdict: What is the Best Softshell Jacket for your Needs
Choosing the best men’s softshell jacket doesn’t have to be an impossible challenge.
Now that you know what to look for when shopping for a new softshell jacket, you’ll surely find the one that’s right for you.
That being said, if we had to choose just one of these five great jackets to win our award as the best softshell jacket for men, we’d have to go with the Arc’teryx Gamma LT Hoody for its fantastic blend of weather protection, breathability, stretchiness, durability, and light weight.
What’s not to love?