Like Goldilocks in a bear’s den, I have spent years trying to find the perfect softshell for spring skiing.
The ultimate goal for a backcountry skiing softshell is to go on at the trailhead during early starts, pack easily when temps rise, and come back on again while climbing windy ridges and descending cool couloirs. Softshells need to be comfortable, breathable, and soft—hence the name—while still offering some protection from wind and light precipitation. They need to fit comfortably under a packable rain shell in case the clouds break, and, considering the close proximity of ski edges, crampons, ice axes, and heavy backpacks, a good softshell needs to be durable.
This is a difficult code to crack, and many brands ultimately make softshell jackets that are too hot for springtime or too thin to last more than a season.
However, this spring I tested the Arc’Teryx Gamma LT hoody for numerous tours in Colorado’s Front Range, and I think the brand got it just right.
First, the design of the jacket is ideal for backcountry skiing. Two chest pockets and one internal stash pocket are comfortable for putting hands in, but still high enough to be accessible when wearing a backpack waist strap. They are big enough to hold skins during descents, and because the interior of the main two pockets are made out of mesh, the pockets keep phones and electronics close to the body and warm, extending battery life.
While all of the jacket’s fabric has four-way stretch, Arc’Teryx incorporated gusseted underarms and cuffs so it moves with the user especially well. These stretchier panels are also a bit thinner, which allows for heat and moisture to escape more easily. There is enough stretch in the upper back to allow for comfortable movement, especially when wearing a heavy backpack.
The fabric in the Gamma LT is air-permeable, which means that hot air can get out more easily. While this does mean the jacket is not entirely windproof, it was still extremely comfortable and warm during testing just east of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park on a particularly breezy day that registered windy gusts over 50 miles per hour.
The jacket is coated with Arc’teryx Nu, a plant-derived and biodegradable water-resisting treatment. When some unfrozen precipitation lightly fell from the sky while starting a tour to get above an inversion near Eldora Mountain Resort, water droplets beaded and rolled off the fabric without leaving a trace.
While I probably wouldn’t trust the Gamma LT in a downpour, it does fit nicely under a packable rain-specific hard shell I always keep in my spring backcountry skiing pack.
The overall feel of the Gamma LT isn’t quite as soft as some of the other softshells on the market. While this might be considered a drawback, what it means in practice is that the fabric is actually very durable. After over a dozen days of testing in Colorado, including close contact to crampons while in my backpack as well as hours’ worth of friction against a fully-loaded backpack when both dry and wet from sweat, the Arc’Teryx Gamma LT still looks as fresh as the day I took it out of the box. It might not smell that way anymore, though I expect it to look great for years to come.
Thankfully, because it’s a softshell that does not incorporate any fancy membrane fabrics, I can wash it with my regular clothes and detergent, which takes care of the smell every time.
Arc’Teryx Gamma LT Hoody Details
- Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
- Weight: 545 g / 1 lb 3.2 oz
- Materials: 56% nylon, 34% polyester, 10% elastane
- MSRP: $249, arcteryx.com
Shop for the Arc’Teryx Gamma LT Hoody on Backcountry