One globetrotting tester was skeptical when we sent her to South America with this barely-there, hoodless softshell: “It’s so lightweight and thin, I was sure it would be useless on hikes above 14,000 feet,” she says. “But it earned my trust on Ecuador’s high peaks, where the weather changes quickly and often.” Credit Windstopper Active Shell fabric, Gore’s lightest, most breathable windproof membrane—together with the DWR-treated polyester face fabric. The Ultimate Light repelled icy gusts, misty rain, and light snow on summits as high as Ecuador’s 16,818-foot Volcan Iliniza Norte. (Like most softshells, it’s not fully waterproof—a 15-minute rainstorm soaked through at the elbows.) Our tester reported exceptional breathability while grinding up 40-degree slopes on a trio of Andean volcanoes (though on the most strenuous stretches, pit zips provided essential venting). “I topped it with a light puffy on the windblown summit and stayed warm enough to hang out for a snack break,” she says.
The streamlined cut allows for versatile layering: The Ultimate Light performed equally well over a baselayer tee and under a puffy or hardshell in colder conditions. Testers especially appreciated the soft face fabric, cozy zipper garage at the chin, and stretchy thumbholes. Other raves: a smooth-running zipper that doesn’t bunch under a hipbelt; easy-to-grab zipper pulls, even while wearing gloves; and grapefruit-size packability. $199; 11.6 oz.; mammut.ch