Lightweight softshell jackets are a summer staple for both walkers and climbers. We compare 11 models here.
Jackets labelled “softshell” span an armada of fabrics, cuts and weights and these days there’s more variety and choice than ever for the discerning climber. Mountain Hardwear have produced the Super Chockstone Softshell which sits at the more lightweight and stretchy end of the spectrum, pitching it as “a great second layer for most alpine pursuits”.
The reasonable price and lack of features or premium branded fabrics suggest a basic jacket aimed at wide cross-section of the climbing and hill-walking market and I wanted to see how the softshell would handle the UK’s weather as early spring slipped into summer. Trying the softshell on for the first time I was surprised at how long it was, pulling well down over my behind. Typically I’d prefer a shorter length but the fabric isn't thick and hugs the figure well all the way down.
The cut is close in on my body, a little looser on the arms, with a single pull-cord around the waist which I don’t think I ever used. The arms are quite long too but not to the extent where I felt thumb loops would have been a better choice as the material bunches pleasantly when not pulled over the hands.
The softshell comes with a standard three pockets. The small chest pocket feels generously sized and will comfortably hold a smaller guidebook. Mountain Hardwear chose to locate it on the right-hand side which they say sits better in a world where most other shells feature left-side chest pockets, a good tactic assuming everyone doesn't follow suit! Below this are two large side pockets, although large is probably an underestimate. I've rarely encountered pockets as tall as these and they extend upwards to the fabric seam in line with the armpits. I imagine this is simply a side-effect of the jacket’s panel design for I found little use for a pocket this large. It does hold a bottle of wine nicely however.
In warm and breezy conditions, such as those encountered during springtime UK cragging or scrambling in Morocco, the softshell material felt at its best: rarely thick and hot enough to be unpleasant but always working well to keep the bite of the milder winds out. The material seems to flow and move as you’d hope, for instance unzipping the front to cool down lets the jacket hang open letting in the breeze rather than clinging to your body’s contours more rigidly. There is a remarkable amount of give in the fabric and this helps to compensate for the looser fit around the arms, I snagged it often but ripped it never.
Trying it out on some milder Scottish winter days I felt the wind more as it cut through to the layers below; climbing was pleasant only with a thicker baselayer (or more) beneath. The material isn’t dense and irrespective of the season I never found it very good at keeping out stronger gusts, the wind seemed to blast through the thin fabric. On the other hand, it wasn’t possible to contort my body into a position where I noticed the jacket giving the slightest resistance and it always felt good to move and climb across the rock wearing it.
The hood pulls over the head very closely with no adjustment possible. A small patch of soft-touch fabric protects the chin and with the zip pulled all the way up, the lower portion of the hood would sit equally well over or under the chin.
Whilst the jacket as a whole wasn’t especially effective at keeping the body warm in stronger winds the hood was surprisingly effective at providing that extra bit of wind protection around the head. I found myself taking advantage of it far more than I would typically bother to. I dislike hoods which zip-away around the neckline as they often feel like little more than an afterthought on a softshell and this one is very much integral to the design.
Amusingly, the fabric is so stretchy that the hood will pull right up over a helmet too but it took me a couple of months to even realise this. I’m unconvinced this was ever even intended, you look ridiculous and if you need to pull the hood up over your helmet very often then this jacket’s probably not right for the conditions you’re climbing in.
Following several months of near-continuous use it’s taken a lot of abuse but there’s little damage to show for this. There’s some noticeable pilling on the more abused surfaces (particularly the underarms) caused by wear not washing, but at least this damage is cosmetic only. The darker fabric strips along the cuffs look like they will delaminate one day but for now they remain predominantly attached along their length.
Whilst you could find cheaper softshells, I’d argue that at £100 it represents fantastic value for a spring-through-autumn multi-activity jacket. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed wearing it and assuming you aren’t too short to find the length the wrong side of irritating, you’ll struggle to find much at fault with this softshell. Just don’t expect it to stand up to any super blowy conditions.
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