In this paper, we present the design, fabrication and characterization of fully soft pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs) with low threshold pressures that are intended for direct cardiac compression (DCC). McKibben type PAMs typically have a threshold pressure of at least 100 kPa and require rigid end fittings which may damage soft tissue and cause local stress concentrations, and thus failure points in the actuator. The actuator design we present is a variant on the McKibben PAM with the following key differences: the nylon mesh is embedded in the elastomeric tube, and closure of the end of the tube is achieved without rigid ends. The actuators were tested to investigate the effects of mesh geometry and elastomer material on force output, contraction, and rise time. Lower initial mean braid angles and softer elastomer materials provided the best force, contraction, and rise times; Up to 50 N of force, 24% contraction, and response times of 0.05 s were achieved at 100 kPa. The actuators exhibited low threshold pressures (<5 kPa) and high rupture pressures (138 kPa – 720 kPa) which suggest safe operation for the DCC application. These results demonstrate that the actuators can achieve forces, displacements, and rise times suitable to assist with cardiac function.