Editors' Choice 2011: Rab Boreas/Aurora Pull-On Softshell Jacket

Get a softshell that's so light and versatile, you won't leave it behind on multiday treks.

“A softshell for backpackers,” raves our gear editor. Before trying Rab’s Boreas (women’s model is the Aurora), she says, “It was hard for this New Englander, who doesn’t feel safe without a hardshell, to justify pack space for a heavy, slow-drying softshell.” But the featherweight Boreas offers packable, fast-drying protection thanks to the blend of 86 percent polyester and 14 percent Lycra.

First, the materials are twisted together and then woven into a fabric that is both breathable and weather-resistant. (But no treatment or coating is used, which keeps breathability extremely high.) During a daylong storm of big, wet snowflakes in Capitol Reef, one editor paired it with just a baselayer and was amazed that it never wetted out. She was also grateful for the streamlined hood, which she pulled over a hat to block out neck drafts. While Rab promotes this top as a baselayer and softshell in one, testers split on the next-to-skin performance.

One loved the soft, snug fit and versatility: “I lived in it for two weeks in New Zealand.” Others preferred wearing it over a lightweight baselayer or T-shirt. Additional features like four-way stretch, a deep venting chest zipper, and long, rollable cuffs are welcome on every trip, and make the Boreas a great layer for highly aerobic activities like biking and trail running. Bummer: Like a lot of synthetics, it develops a funk after several days of constant (sweaty) wear. $75; 8 oz. (w’s M); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL; rab.uk.com