This is my first soft shell so I may not be the most qualified in terms of having a baseline to judge by, but I've been wearing a tradition shell for almost 20 years so I can surely compare the two. I don't know why I was so reluctant to go the soft shell route... I think it mostly stemmed from the believe that, "no way can that work." Well I was wrong. Not only did it "work" but far better than I could have ever imagined as well as my current gortex hard shell.
I'm a fairly decent sized dude. 6 foot and 205 lbs, yeah yeah I can shed about 15 pounds I know...and I wear 44 reg. jacket (talking suits here fellas) so I went with an XL. I don't like the "athletic fit" that I see with most softshells - it seems like it'd be too constricting. Not to mention the one I bought was the last one of last year's jacket and I got a smoking deal on it, so I went with the XL because that's all backcountry had.
Anyway to the shell. I'll start off by laying out what I normally wear (not including Spring riding) on top. Patagona lightweight crew capilene, patagonia lightweight T capilene and then the fleece liner that came with my columbia gortex shell. The fleece liner is definitely on the ex-weight side and is brushed as well. It sounds like a lot, I know, and I'm not the type of guy to overlayer, I hate being hot on the mountain, but that truly was comfy for me in most all conditions. What I now wear for layers under the soft shell: patagonia midweight crew capilene and said patagonia lightweight T capilene. That's it. So much more comfortable in the "bulk" department.
The first time I wore this shell, that morning on the hill it was 5 degrees outside. I was very warm and comfy. Later that day it got up to 35 degrees (air temp) and super sunny, a very warm day, and I wasn't hot in the jacket ever. Only once did I have to crack the pit zips for a chair ride up.
The second time I wore this jacket it was a far different day. Complete overcast, 10 degrees as a high and all day I was very warm and comfy.
The third time I wore this jacket it was 20 degrees and dumping snow (2 inches an hour) all day. A pretty moist snow by Colorado standards, and I was perfectly dry and warm and comfy all day. After this day I stopped bringing my hardshell and old layering system up in the car as back up.
Unbelieveable. It's amazing how this jacket can perform in such varied conditions. Since those first three days, I've been in all sorts of varied conditions and this jacket handles them all with ease.
The construction of this jacket seems pretty bomber. My friend's soft shell (arcteryx I believe) seems to be made of either lesser material or construction. This synchro seams are well constructed and there doesn't seem to be a weak spot on this jacket at all. Plenty of pockets for carrying snacks/lunch but not too many to jeapordize its performance.
I cannot pimp this jacket enough, it's well worth the asking price in peak season let alone on super sale in the offseason.