Unlike most climbing jackets, softshells combine stretch, wind and water resistance and excellent breathability. This blending of conflicting features explains why softshells are the go-to garment for many climbers. Unfortunately, even with all this versatile weather protection, the lightweight softshell shirt, perfect for spring climbing, is probably under-gunned for serious winter conditions. Realizing this, manufacturers now offer a variety of softshell jackets tuned for specific weather and climbing conditions.
Here are some tips for choosing the best new softshell jacket for your climbing needs.
Hoods add valuable weather protection but also increase bulk and weight. If the jacket is used in milder spring weather, forgoing a hood makes sense. In serious alpine conditions however, with blistering cold, a hood is mandatory. Pit zips also fall into the same situation. Although they increase venting without exposing the body’s core to wind and cold they also add weight and bulk, and may not be necessary for less extreme climbing.
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Beefier fabrics increase durability but also add weight. This is not a problem on shorter approaches or in situations where jacket longevity is a priority, but when climbing fast- and-light, consider sacrificing some long-term durability for lighter and less bulky jackets.
Dogma – $150
Stripped of all clutter, the Dogma is a brilliant minimalist jacket. The simple, clean shape layers easily over other clothing and provides just enough weather protection for most three season climbing or mild winter mixed routes. Two vertically accessed chest pockets provide storage without interfering with pack waistbelts or harnesses.
Dragon – $235
With almost all its seams glued or welded, the Dragon’s weather protection approaches that offered by most hardshells. Low bulk water-resistant zippers under the arms provide ventilation while similar pocket zips ensure contents stay dry. Weather protection is further bolstered by a roomy and fully adjustable hood and elastic wrist cuffs with thumb holes. An excellent lightweight jacket for serious conditions.
Ferrosi – $130
This impressive lightweight softshell is perfect for spring, summer and fall climbing. The featherweight unlined fabric is highly breathable, wind resistant and durable enough for abrasive climbing environments. The most welcome feature however, is the jacket’s simple hood which transforms cold and windy belays into almost bearable outings. With its small pack size and light weight this could be the perfect Rockies summer climbing jacket.
Gamma LT Jacket
Unlined and with a tailored fit, the Gamma LT is a solid option for milder weather. The durable fabric stretches and moves easily during difficult climbing while the high placed mesh-lined pockets provide venting and don’t interfere with packs or harnesses. A fleece lined collar minimizes chaffing and a glued, zippered arm-pocket carries small backcountry essentials. This simple, stripped-down garment is ideal for going light and climbing fast.
Genesis – $400
With its waterproof welded seams and robust fleece-lined fabric, the Genesis jacket is perfect for damp, cold and abrasive conditions. Low bulk water-resistant pit zips allow venting without exposing the core and an adjustable hood protects the head without limiting peripheral vision. Marmot’s Angle Wing arms allow for long reaches and eliminate jacket ride-up while a small MP3 pocket acknowledges the importance of music during long articlehole approaches. This is a warm and durable function-driven jacket for serious weather.
For serious alpine climbing, few softshells match the distilled performance of the Laser. Starting with a highly articulated fit, Mammut adds function-enhancing features like water resistant zippers, thumb loop wrist-cuffs and an excellent helmet-compatible hood. The fit is roomy without being baggy and ideally suited to hard climbing. With its uncompromising functionality, this could be the benchmark softshell jacket for technical climbing.
Valkyrie – $250
The North Face
Featuring a contour-fitting hood and roomy torso, this fleece-lined softshell is geared for colder winter weather. The North Face wisely forgoes superfluous pockets and zippers keeping the Valkyrie sleek and ready for difficult climbing. The two high-placed hand warmer pockets are mesh-lined for venting and won’t interfere with packs or harnesses. The Valkryrie is an ideal choice for climbers seeking a warm, weatherproof shell that fits easily over other layers. -GA