Gear Review: Icebreaker Kodiak Hood/Arctic Hood Softshell

Feel good, look good, and perform at your best in this high-tech merino softshell.

[most comfortable]

This merino jacket looks like town wear, with thick pile on the interior that’s as cozy as your favorite sweatshirt. But the exterior is treated with Schoeller NanoSphere, which improves on wool’s natural water repellency. The technology imitates the hydrophobic action of some plants and insect wings: Microscopic nanoparticles adhere to the fibers (they can’t be washed off) and have a ridged surface that sheds water and oil, while tiny pockets of air between particles maintain merino’s natural breathability. The result is a weather-resistant jacket that offers low-bulk warmth, yet still breathes better than conventional softshells. “It kept me from steaming up on hard climbs on really cold days when I still needed outer-layer protection,” says one tester who wore the Arctic (women’s version) while snowshoeing in Colorado’s Medicine Bow Mountains. Fit is trim, with a broad elastic hem that seals in body heat. Thinner panels under the arms and around the shoulders allow for better ventilation in those sweat-prone areas, and provide full freedom of movement for poling. Downsides: It’s not windproof and not as abrasion-resistant as a conventional softshell, and the shallow hood and low collar provide less weather protection than most. $270; 1 lb. 4 oz. (w’s S); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL;