This review photo shows the REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket chest pocket.

REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket Review

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The new REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket is a do-it-all lightweight jacket with a water-resistant finish and 4-way stretch. It’s aimed at hikers and campers, but you can use it as a midlayer underneath a hardshell, too.

To get us a closer look, REI sent Man Makes Fire a review unit. This is what we learned:

REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket

The REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket is best for outdoor adventurers who are active — people who like to hike, run, or ride in mostly good weather. The REI Co-op Activator has a durable water repellant (DWR) treatment that sheds light rain and snow — but it’s not completely waterproof like a hard-shell jacket.

On the other hand, the Activator is made from a comfortable 4-way stretch fabric that moves with you. Plus, the articulated elbows make the jacket feel like it’s part of your arms and shoulders — it doesn’t bind or pull.

The Activator is also very breathable, so when you’re working hard on a hike moisture easily escapes.

The nylon/polyester/spandex fabric blend does a decent job of blocking wind, but it’s definitely not windproof.

This review photo shows the REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket DWR finish with water droplets.
The DWR finish works well to shed light rain and snow.


You get two zippered hand pockets that sit a bit higher than standard — so you can access them if you’re wearing a backpack with a waist or hip belt. REI has been raising the pockets on many of its jackets for this purpose, and it works well. They seem high at first but turn out to be just fine in use without a backpack.

There is also a single zippered left-side chest pocket with a headphone cord passthrough port.

Best Cases for the Activator

This review photo shows the men's REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket.
The regular fit version comes in three color options while the tall version is available in black only.

The REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket has a simple overall design that looks surprisingly good in person. Think of it as a lightweight athletic jacket — it looks just as good out on the sidewalk as it does on the trail.

The fit is trimmer than most REI jackets, but the sizing seems to be right on — I like it a lot. In fact, the Large Tall version fits me nearly perfectly with a trim profile. For most jackets, I tend to wear XL, but because the sleeves in the tall version are longer, I can size down (I have long arms).

Obviously, the Activator is a great lightweight jacket for hiking, biking, and even some climbing. The 4-way stretch is fantastic.

Better yet, tall jacket versions that have longer sleeves are great for highly active adventurers who ride or climb — there is nothing more annoying than moving your arms around and having your sleeves slide up to expose your wrists and forearms.

As for warmth, it’s not as warm as lightweight down or puffy insulated jackets, but again, it’s far more breathable, which helps to release moisture when you’re active. In 25-degree Fahrenheit weather with a t-shirt, it’s not warm enough for me, even when I’m busy hiking or shoveling snow. But active in 35-degree weather? Possible. 45-degree weather? Doable for me. At least, it’s doable for me in the middle of winter when my body is more used to winter weather. Right now, in February, 50-degrees feels balmy . . . but in August? Frigid.

This photo shows the REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket women's version.
The women’s version comes in five color options.

So the warmth is relative to your activity and maybe even time of year. I can imagine that the Activator will make a fantastic camping and fishing jacket — it’ll cut the early-morning chill but won’t overheat you if you head out for a hike. Depending on where you live, it’ll be great for fall and spring.

Shop the Activator now from REI and get FREE Shipping!

What about layering? Because of the athletic fit, you probably won’t be able to easily fit much more than two light layers underneath it. For instance, a merino wool base layer with a fleece pullover is going to be snug. On the other hand, it layers underneath a waterproof hardshell or rain jacket with ease.

The Verdict

The REI Co-op Activator Soft-Shell Jacket is a great high-activity lightweight jacket. It’s trim but stretchy, and if you get caught in some light rain, fog or snow, the DWR will shed quite a bit of moisture. Plus, we’re big fans of the Tall sizing option. Highly recommended.

Get the Gear:

Athletic fit (with a new Tall size option!)
4-way stretch fabric breathes well
DWR sheds light rain and snow
No real cons -- it performs as expected for a lightweight soft-shell jacket
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