Winter sports are always a great way to push out physical boundaries to their very limit. However, just because it’s time to test your endurance or balance in the snow doesn’t mean you have to feel your fingers going numb from cold at the same time; the proper winter gear will let you scratch off inclement weather from your worry list as well as provide a literal extra layer of protection from frostbite or hypothermia.
If you are just starting out in the world of winter hikes, or need to supplement your extreme wear collection with something slightly more portable than a hard shell jacket, then your next purchase ought to be in the soft shell section.
Soft shell jackets are not just cheap alternatives to proper hard shells, however; a good soft shell jacket can be equally stylish, flattering, and protective. It will include similar or equal wind and weather protection, but with a little bit more breathability. Not only will it prevent you from that disagreeable, soggy feeling that follows a quick sweat, but will even make your luggage a few pounds lighter.
Here are the 7 best soft shell jackets for men.
Available in: Baltic blue, pewter gray, lemongrass green, burnt orange, cobalt, red, and black
One of the most outstanding features of the Ascendant Hoody by the Outdoor Research is its weather versatility, which makes it an ideal companion for any backpacking trip. With the exception of the driest, warmer destinations, this jacket is one item that is assured to be handy at some point after leaving the plane.
Made from Polar Tec Alpha interior lining and a light Pertex shell, this jacket stays bright and shapely throughout dozens of washes. The extra layer of fleece improves insulation on this otherwise light and breathable jacket. We found it performs particularly well during those wet early spring days, where unpredictable rains would otherwise cut our tours short; instead, the water-wicking quality of this jacket will dry rather quickly without trapping any unpleasant smells or becoming impossible to carry.
For crisper days, the hoodie itself, lined hand warming pockets, internal storm flaps, and drawcord helm will cover all the angles where the chill could accidentally overcome your defenses. Finally, its hidden zipped chest pocket will keep your passport safe and dry.
Available in: black only
Ideal for energetic hikes and fast-paced slopes, the Patagonia Adze provides superior wind protection without weighing you down or making you stuffy; it’s made from nylon and Polartec, which are all on the thin and breathable side. However, they have been woven remarkably tightly to provide them with a tight and snuggle fit that will keep snowy winds where they belong.
The jacket itself has been smartly cut, which provides it with a movement-mirroring stretch and just a little bit of extra shoulder room, which will simultaneously enable you to make quick movements and provide you with an imposing and masculine body shape.
The neck and wind flaps are both lined with microfleece, which, unlike wool, adds extra warmth without irritating the skin. The hand-warmer pockets are compatible with both harnessed and bagpacks, thanks to their very resistant reverse-coil zippers, while the hidden chest pocket is remarkably roomy and discreet. Finally, the wrists are equipped with low-profile anti-rust hooks that will keep them tightly sealed around your hands. Even if you are wearing below-wrist gloves, they will ensure that you enjoy uninterrupted coverage.
Available in: Ash gray, forest green, oxide red, smoke gray, and denim blue
Top-notch winter gear brand Black Diamond is any skier’s favorite indulgence (or investment, depending on how devoted you are to snow landscapes and winter adventures). Thanks for their penchant for lifetime durability, minimalist designs, and gear compatibility, they have built themselves a much-respected name and logo that is well worth its high price tags.
The Dawn Patrol soft shell jacket is a great example; despite their relaxed style and the ease of movement they provide, in terms of performance, they sit between winter gear and tactical snow gear. Remarkably warm and water-resistant, they have been designed and tested for high-altitude conditions, where the lack of oxygen can make every extra gram feel like a weight.
This jacket has an adjustable hood that won’t interfere if you want to wear a ski helmet with it, as well as two internal drop pockets that are roomy enough to stash your gloves inside. The cuff tabs are Velcroed, which will help you keep everything secure even if you are rolling down a mountain. The internal lining is stretchy but not moist-trapping, while the outside manages to look sleek and composed throughout the day.
Available in: beach red, blaze orange, denim blue, neurostorm blue, olive green, leaf green, and black
If snow, hail, and watery cold are not quite on your schedule, but the possibility of rapid freezing winds is looking like a very distinct possibility, then Arcteryx has the jacket that will help you face the day.
Their Squamish model is made primarily from Nylon and Taffeta and is reinforced with their proprietary Tyono© rip-stopping blend for extra wind endurance. You will still get enough water-repelling DWR coating close to your shoulders and near your tight and snuggly wrist to keep yourself dry, provided the rain stays within the “drizzle” category.
While there are no side pockets, this jacket did include a supersized single chest pocket, which doubles as a place to stow the jacket itself. This was a pleasant surprise, but, by far, our favorite feature was the StormHood hoodie, which offers a soft brim that will help you keep your face’s point ends appropriately warm. For those of us who hate the sharp sensation of cold air hitting our noses or have a penchant for blue ears, this is a great improvement over standard cinch-cord hoodies.
Available in: Rage Red and black, Turkish sea blue and black, asphalt gray, sequoia red and bright red, olive green, coffee bean brown, and black
The North Face has risen to stardom for their versatility and their ubiquity; they have perfected the art of the winter gear that can be unashamedly worn in the city. This should never let us forget, however, that most of their pieces are incredibly warm and very high quality. Their Bionic 2 Hoodie soft skin jacket is a great reminder of the brand’s origins; the elastane, fleece, and polyester blend will keep you appropriately warm during a busy day without making you sweat or flushing you excessively.
Thanks to its relaxed fit, the overall impression is that of a rugged but stylish jacket. Thanks to its windproof material, this is the ideal piece to just keep on if you work outdoors or need to be constantly switching between interiors and exteriors.
Waterproofing is a bit limited on this jacket, though; while comfortable enough to allow you complete freedom of movement around your shoulders and back, it is not something that will resist a snowed-in peak or a wet day. The hood is easy to attach and take back off, although it could have used a cinch-cord. The herm, on the other hand, does have a cord that will let you adjust or secure the jacket as necessary.
Available in: black, gray, gray and orange, boulder gray, and steel gray
Columbia is generally regarded as a budget-friendly brand of outerwear and winter gear. They provide great options for those who need to keep their purchases on the “sensible” range and yet can’t risk it with cheap-looking, frail or flimsy “windbreaker jackets” that are bound to leave you exposed and shivering in the middle of your hike.
For that very particular (and numerous) niche, the Prime Peak is a great mid-range option for mid-severe weather. While not completely isolating or polar-vortex worthy, the Prime Peak offers superb waterproofing and good wind resistance. As for looks, the jacket is loose enough to let you move, jump, and toss bags around but without looking baggy or disheveled. There is a certain firmness to both the tailored liner and the elastane lining that turns this minimalist soft skin shell into a very versatile piece.
This model has two zippered side pockets in addition to a surprisingly roomy (and zippered) front pocket, an adjustable hem cord. The chin guard and cuff tabs also help you keep your edges firmly isolated from howling winds and rainy weather, ensuring no disruption from a quick downpour. The material is rugged and resilient, but was clearly built with an eye for durability even in rough conditions; the zippers are solid and don’t stick, and the padding stays in place even after one too many tumbles in the washing machine.
Available in: black, deep olive, cerulean, brick red, stone gray, granite gray, forest night, navy blue, stellar blue, fox orange, and jet black
Slim fitted and elegant, the Marmot Gravity is the ideal jacket for those fancy ski resorts where you can’t afford to break the dress code but don’t want to appear you are trying too hard or enduring a chill. It provides a clean look that would not look amiss even during a weekday, and enough room close to the neck and shoulders to let you add a hidden layer or enable easier movements. However, the discreet tailoring further down will help give you a pleasantly slim and sharp figure.
Wind resistance is more than acceptable, although this jacket performs even better on wet conditions; the sleek shell will keep all water out from zippers and creases alike, ensuring anything beneath stays perfectly dry. However, the side pockets are not zipped, just lined, so any important documents or electronics should be confined to the front pocket.
What Makes a Softshell Jacket Great?
Beyond the specific features you need in each jacket – which will ultimately depend on what you want it for and where you plan to wear it – a great soft shell jacket should provide you with great warmth, freedom of movement, and durability.
Almost all soft shell jackets are made from synthetic fabric blends, and each combination will bring its specific perks to the table. While weather resistance is to be expected, other perks, such as fleece or wooly linings, wind resistance, and hand warming pockets may be harder to find – and may not really be missed if you are not facing truly extreme weather or early-spring hikes.