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Heavier and membrane soft shells - purpose?

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 mcawle 13 Feb 2020


Wondering if anyone on here wears thicker soft shell jackets and for what purpose. Bit of an over thinking post really.

I tend to wear a light soft shell (Mountain Equipment Frontier) over base and mid layer(s) as appropriate, then carry a shell and potentially a belay jacket in the pack depending on situation. I am thinking summer alpine and Scottish winter.

I have impulsively accumulated a couple of extra soft shells over the last couple years, but never used them really. They are Mountain Equipment Vulcan (older with Gore Windstopper membrane) and Mountain Equipment Mission (using a thick layer of their explore fabric, no membrane).

I am deciding whether to keep or sell them. Mostly I find them too hot with the sort of layering I use, but then I'm wondering what the purpose of manufacturing them is and who is buying them. Presumably I'm just not doing stuff in cold enough environments to warrant them.

Interested in hearing from anyone who wears thicker/membrane soft shells - why do you wear them and in what circumstances?



 Dave the Rave 13 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

I once bought a ME Aquafleece instead of the sensible option of an Ultrafleece. I think I was sold the hype and the jacket was all but useless. Now I hunt for a hooded XL Ultrafleece with no luck.One day.......

In reply to mcawle:

They can be good for high output ski touring/XC, paired with a belay jacket for rest stops 

 AlanLittle 13 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

I have Gore Windstopper winter bike leggings that are great for winter biking and walking. Rain resistant enough for anything but full on downpours, side zips for enough venting. But I've had jackets of similar materials that were, as Dave said, pretty useless. No useful warmth, combined with just enough moisture resistance to get clammy. Ugh.

 colinakmc 13 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

I have a heavy Rab soft shell (can’t remember its name ) with a waffle lining which comes out in dead of winter. Usually worn over a base layer and as required under a shell, it’s not ideal (gets a bit steamy) unless the temperature is well below freezing. 

 HeMa 14 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

The thicker softshells are ace in colder climates. My old workhorse is still the 'Ryx Gamma MX, which is getting a bit beat up. Works like a charm when it's below freezing all the time on mellow mixed and ice climbs (provided there isn't a lot of water running around).

In fact, most of the time the MX is too thin, so need to add layers underneath... when it's working fine, it's getting too warm for climbing -> shell time. Works nicely for ski-touring though in spring (and warmer conditions).

 Rory Shaw 14 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

I do d them useless, except to go to work/pub in. Generally to warm to wear and too heavy to carry. I use a windproof - ME Echo - and find it much more versatile.

 nathan79 14 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

I've got a Montane Sabretooth and a Mammut Ultimate. Both heavier (but not the heaviest) and membraned. Either of them and the appropriate choice of baselayer are my go-to for autumn/winter and summer alpine stuff. 

Perfect mix of weather-resistance (unless it's consistent heavier rain rather than snow) and breathable enough,

 Wil Treasure 14 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

I inherited a Mountain Hardwear one, with a membraned (and pretty much waterproof) fleece, no taped seams. I have very rarely used it rock climbing, and it's too hot, heavy and sweaty for hillwalking in general.

Best uses I've had:

Great for going to the pub. Has excellent pockets and little cuffs in the sleeves to keep the wind out.

I have used it ice climbing. It wouldn't be great in Scotland all the time, but on a good cold forecast it's actually a great layer, and much tougher than a hardshell jacket.

Best use has been on-piste skiing, which besides the pub is what I've used it for the most.

I use it a lot, but if it hadn't been free I wouldn't have bought one. If it got damaged irreparably I don't think I'd hurry to replace it.

 ColdWill 14 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

Cold dry environments like ice climbing in Canada. Hardly see GTX used there for climbing. GTX still useful if the ice is wet though so I used to carry a super light shell in my bag. Used to wear the old Gamma MX all the time or the Ascentionist.

In reply to mcawle:

Instructors who're standing around all day getting cold? My old tekmax buffalo was great for this.

 purkle 15 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

By thicker, I assume you mean a traditional softshell as opposed to a super lightweight windproof? If so, my ME one is great. I have no idea of the model but it's a good few years old. I wear it for winter bouldering, it keeps the wind off without making me crazy warm as soon as I'm exerting myself, and the fabric is really durable so I don't have to worry about ripping it. I also wear it for my work - dog walking (usually 6-7 hours a day of walking & cycling between clients) unless it's heavy rain. It's not fleece lined but seems to add warmth by keeping the wind off, and again I'm never worried about dogs jumping up on it & it ripping etc.

In reply to mcawle:

I have the same debate about mine tbh.

I have a ME Vulcan which sees most use as a day to day commute jacket when I'm on the train but is the basis of my layering come winter provided it's a cold enough day to preclude rain. 

I think it's brilliant for continental ice climbing with a decent mid layer underneath and I'm far less precious wearing it compared to a Goretex. Decent for winter rock climbing too.

I wore it for a fairly mild day in the snow over Snowdon (sorry, Mount Snowdon) a couple of weeks ago and found it versatile enough in terms of venting, sleeves up etc to shed enough heat for the tab up.

It's heavier, less versatile and less packable than a Goretex and a windproof but for the right kind of winter day the membraned softshell has its place.

 AlanLittle 15 Feb 2020
In reply to angry pirate:

I prefer densely woven (or knitted?) non-membrane softshells for that - Schöller or similar. I have an ancient Patagonia anorak made of that kind of fabric that has been my standard ski/snowboard/winter hiking jacket for years. Perfect for that kind of activity where there's negligible change of rain: windproof but completely breathable, robust, just warm enough with a couple of shirts underneath that I don't need a fleece or a puffy when I'm moving.

Post edited at 18:04
In reply to AlanLittle:

I was put off non-membrane shells after poor experiences with an Outdoor Research Ferrosi and a Rab Exodus. Both were so breathable you didn't notice you were wearing them, especially in the wind when it cut through them like they weren't there. Far less useful than a simple windproof in my experience.

 wbo2 15 Feb 2020
In reply to angry pirate:different strokes, different folks.  Like Alan I have a schooler fabric jacket that's really useful when it's cold and windy and I'm active.

  In contrast I don't find very thin jackets very useful at all.

 olddirtydoggy 15 Feb 2020
In reply to mcawle:

I've still got an old Mountain Equipment G2 jacket. Pit zips means it vents and the hood is like a heavy duty carrier bag that fits under a helmet, sounds useless but as a walking jacket over a base and midlayer it works great. My wife uses an ME Vulcan as her winter jacket and uses the hard shell when needed. Great jackets in winter on big mountain days.

 AlanLittle 15 Feb 2020
In reply to angry pirate:

I know what you mean about the Ferrosi, but the things I'm talking about are much thicker & heavier and *are* windproof - more equivalent to an old school canvas/ventile anorak, except they don't weigh a ton if they get wet. Also totally breathable. I tend to sweat heavily going uphill and can easily get condensation in a pertex windshirt.

In reply to AlanLittle:

To be fair I haven't had a lot of experience with them other than the Rab Exodus, which is their heavyweight matrix dual weave fabric. 

In a stiff breeze it did nothing to insulate me, so much so, after shivering in the park in Buxton one winter pushing the kids on the swings, I marched up the hill to Jo Royle's and bought a Paramo windproof which is half the weight and much warmer.

 mcawle 01 Mar 2020
In reply to mcawle:

Many thanks everyone, useful replies! After shivering on stances this Friday in more wintery conditions despite a big belay jacket, I now see the potential benefit in a heavier soft shell...

In reply to mcawle:

I wear a Berghaus Choktoi fleece, which isn't quite a softshell but is a fleece with a membrane.  It's perfect for everyday wear, where you don't want to be carrying layers.  On the hill it's also good because you don't have to add a layer to be windproofed and therefore potentially be too hot.

Almost nobody sells that kind of kit any more sadly.

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