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What are soft shell jackets for?

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 elliot.baker 13 Nov 2022

I have inadvertently purchased a soft shell jacket (don’t ask)… before I try and sell it - can someone explain what they’re actually for? I’ve never seen the appeal of a weighty but non waterproof jacket. Is it literally for days in the hills when you’re super confident it’s going to be cold / windy but not rain?? (How often does that weather/confidence combination happen!!?) why not just wear a down jacket instead, or a hoody/base layer combo?

7
 DaveHK 13 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

Less sweaty than a down jacket, more windproof than a hoody. Lots of people like them although I find a midlayer/windproof combo more versatile.

> How often does that weather/confidence combination happen!!?

Quite often I find especially if you're rock climbing or in the winter but I'd often take a waterproof too.

Post edited at 19:30
 alx 13 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

> I have inadvertently purchased a soft shell jacket (don’t ask)… before I try and sell it - can someone explain what they’re actually for?

You wear them. You put each arm through each one of the holes that feed into the long tubular sections. You will need to look for clues as to understand the right sequence of arm to hole so that it fits correctly, these can be identified by where the collar label or zips might be.

Best of luck.

Post edited at 19:31
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 Jenny C 13 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

Substantially more breathable than a hardshell and water resistant enough that on damp days (or in short showers) the reduction in sweat production means you may actually stay drier. Also wind resistant, which again is a huge bonus if you're someone who easily overheats when doing activity.

​​​​​​Personally for walking my softshell gets far more use than the waterproof, pretty much year round. 

 blackcat 13 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

Just keep it?it will come in handy as a windproof i dry colder conditions,when a waterproof is not needed, try walking up a mountain in a down jacket youl sweat buckets.There you go and no sarcasm😆

In reply to elliot.baker:

Have you just bought a particularly heavy one? I wouldn’t call mine weighty compared to a hoody and it has the significant benefit of being windproof and perfectly adequate in anything other than heavy rain (even if the outer is soaked the inner somehow stays dry - not quite sure how but I can literally wear it straight out the washing machine. Capillary action?). I can’t think of anything worse than walking up hills in a down jacket, and waterproofs get pretty sweaty too so I’d rather not wear that if it’s windy but not particularly wet. I find a t-shirt and soft shell is all I need for 90% of British hill weather. 

I’d go as far to say that my now 15 year old  vapour-rise is the best bit of kit I’ve ever bought, and definitely the most used. I was sceptical when I bought it, but it’s one of the only things I own that I reckon actually lives up to the marketing hype. Different systems suit different people though I guess.

 Forest Dump 13 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

Also don't get them!

I run hot, so would rather a lightweight windproof than a soft shell and proper shell for rain. If its just foggy, shit drizzle or the odd shower I'll get damp, but tend to be sweaty anyway..

In reply to elliot.baker:

I agree with Stuart, I have a Rab Alpha Flux jacket that gets more use than any other jacket. I climb in it loads from autumn to spring, use it loads on the hill, base layer and the Alpha flux copes with most stuff with a hard shell over the top if it’s really nasty.

very light and breathable, I love it.

In reply to elliot.baker:

Softshell is a broad term. They may or may not have a membrane, so breathability will vary hugely. I've got a softshell with a membrane and it's essentially too hot on the move and too cold when you stop. A softshell without a membrane is basically a fleece with a tight knit weave outer with DWR for weather protection. In theory they're good but I just find them heavy for what they are. A lightweight primaloft jacket paired with a hardshell will be lighter, warmer, more breathable and more weatherproof as a combo IMO. 

1
 bouldery bits 13 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

The issue here is the vocab of 'softshell'.

That's like saying I've bought some 'bread.'

Yeah, but is it a sourdough, a flat bread, a hot dog bun or cheese plait?

What kind? That'll dictate the best uses. 

I own more than 1 softshell - from a super skinny windproof to a full weight insulated thing (Buffalo) and a few options in between. 

 Webster 13 Nov 2022
In reply to purplemonkeyelephant:

if it has a membrane then its a hardshell! that is the distinguishing factor between the two. a softshell is a 'shell' without a membrane, relying on the tight weave and DWR to repel the weather rather than a single weatherproof barrier layer.

these days you can have stretchy membranes, but if it has a membrane it is still a hardshell, with the exception of a few hybrids (think rab kinetic alpine) which truly blurr the lines. but even then i would still call mine a hardshell, even though it feels nice and soft.

12
 doz 13 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

It's really important to look cool when you're wandering about in a white-out...

 Dave the Rave 13 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

How heavy is it and what is it? I use lots of combinations, one being a hooded Ultrafleece jacket. I would term that a soft shell due to its wind resistant properties. Doesn’t weigh much.

Also use a paramo fuera smock over a base layer if its too warm for the Ultrafleece. I would call that a soft shell too.

buffalo special 6 shirt with hood if it’s Baltic and dry. 
 

I avoid wearing a waterproof at all costs unless it’s tipping down due to breathe ability and not wanting to wear out an expensive coat.

eg walked in the Lakes last week. Too warm in the base layer and Ultrafleece, and unfortunately had forgotten the Fuera. Started to rain for a bit and had to put on my expensive winter shell. The Fuera would have sufficed. 
 

Versatility is the key with kit.

In reply to Webster:

Ever heard of Windstopper? It's a PTFE membrane that is waterproof (though with a lower HH than GTX), and used in many softshells, even fleeces. They don't tape the seams in these products so you wouldn't call them waterproof, but they use a membrane. If your softshell is 'windproof' it probably uses a membrane. 

Unless you think a Windstopper fleece is a hardshell...

 VictorM 14 Nov 2022
In reply to Webster:

> if it has a membrane then its a hardshell! that is the distinguishing factor between the two. a softshell is a 'shell' without a membrane, relying on the tight weave and DWR to repel the weather rather than a single weatherproof barrier layer.

> these days you can have stretchy membranes, but if it has a membrane it is still a hardshell, with the exception of a few hybrids (think rab kinetic alpine) which truly blurr the lines. but even then i would still call mine a hardshell, even though it feels nice and soft.

Not true. The traditional softshell (ie. something like a Gore Windstopper with a fleece lining) definitely has a membrane, it's just not waterproof. 

In days of yore, hardshell jackets were plastic buckets of sweat so you wanted to make sure you would only wear them when absolutely necessary. Hence the thick heavy softshell with a fleece lining that was meant for super cold but otherwise dry days. Modern waterproof membranes are much more breathable and comfortable to wear though. 

These days, softshell is a broad term that spans everything from a 100g windshirt all the way to the aforementioned fleece lined heavyweight (which, by the way, most a-list brands have stopped making or actively pushing).

Modern wind-resistant stretch softshell jackets without a liner or membrane are absolutely brilliant. The classic fleece-lined membrane ones? Satan's arsehole. 

 wbo2 14 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker: They're for cold, windy days when it doesn't rain much, and there are lots of those.  Sunny, windy day on Crib Goch.. there you go.  Climbing routes , dry, windy autumn day, might work for you.  Cross country skiing, or winter mountain biking perfect.

Mine is an oldish Norrona in something that feels like the original Schoeller fabric.  No membrane, no fleece liner, and not super thin Pertex or similar.  A shell, that's soft

 damowilk 14 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

As others have said, I think the varied attitudes to soft shells is because it is such a vague term. 
I didn’t see the point of them initially, as I’d only used the bulkier early membrane ones, and found them too sweaty and not very waterproof.

I now have a light weight non membrane one (Rab borealis) that is more a wind proof layer and it is my most used jacket for lots of activities, from walking to MTBing, ski touring etc. Its so useful that I’ve bought a second similar one for the times the other is in the wash. 

OP elliot.baker 14 Nov 2022
In reply to Dave the Rave:

It's a Rab Votive which there is relatively little info about online. Websites say it weighs about 550g. It does feel and look nice and is stretchy and not crinkley like a waterproof.

Weight-wise I suppose I am coming from having spent a lot of the last year buying loads of really light weight stuff to run the Welsh 3k so everything seems relatively heavy in comparison! Also I've put more than 550g on this weekend from eating chocolate coated nuts and such-like, so not sure how concerned I should be 😂

In reply to VictorM:

> The traditional softshell (ie. something like a Gore Windstopper with a fleece lining) 

That isn't a 'traditional softshell'. It's just Gore jumping on the phrase.

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 Dangerous Dave 14 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

https://www.mountain-equipment.co.uk/collections/mens-soft-shell/products/squall-hooded-jacket#

This is hands down the best jacket I own by a country mile. It is very thin & light so easy to transport, it stuffs into its pocket so can be clipped to a harness. It is wind and damp resistant. I find it works brilliantly for mountain rock climbing, ski touring, running and walking. 

To me this style of jacket epitomises  what a good softshell jacket should be, I have had it for 6 years and despite being used loads it is still in good condition. 

So in summery a good well designed softshell jack is the business.

Post edited at 11:12
In reply to elliot.baker:

Apparently there are places outside the UK where many days of the summer it doesn't always rain/sleet and end up soaking everything. They have things like down tank tops (but call them gillets  presumably they can't spell Millets? but pronounced in some foreign way like "zjee-lays"). Foreigners also frequently wear jackets that are a bit like mildly insulated waterproof jackets that aren't correctly waterproof. There's no accounting for the rum carryings on of foreigners and their filthy habits, but there's no need to sink to their standards. Buy yourself a properly waterproof cagoule/cagjack and return that monstrosity to whomever sold it to you on the grounds the waterproofing is defective. Serves them right for selling such things anyway, if they try that sort of thing again, write them a very stern letter

 BuzyG 14 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

I'm another who doesn't understand the term despite reading numerous threads here and elsewhere.

I don't think I own one, unless my Gilets count.  I certainly do own many fleeces and a couple of hard shell jackets and find combining them works well for me.

 HeMa 14 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

As others have pointed out... the traditional softshell is the right jacket for 90% of the time... Sometimes even a higher percentage.

And obviously you might need rain gear (hardshell) jackets from time to time. But they aren't that nice to wear when it isn't really pissing down cats and dogs.

I actually use my softhshell jacket a lot (well I have many), in fact I think I use it like 95% of my time... and the remaining 5% it's either 'cause I won a fancy Mammut GoreTex skiing jacket and it is rather nice jacket for lift served skiing... or if it is really pissing down in the fall/summer (when I need to also go out).

Softhells came in many flavours though... the classic defintion was somewhat warm, wind proof (mostly, not 100%) and rain repellent... think of the Arc'Teryx Gamma MX. Now a days, a simple windbreaker is also a softshell... and pretty much everything sitten between those two... also some of the insulated action layers (like the ones using Polartech Alpha or similar) are considered softshells...

But as said, all of these are a lot better than a hardshell, when it isn't pissing down. 

 gethin_allen 14 Nov 2022
In reply to HeMa:

As pointed out above "softshell" covers a range of things, but anyhow.

I find they are good for climbing windy grit as they are usually stretchier grippier and more robust than a waterproof. They are also normally cheaper so you're less bothered about damaging them thrutching up a chimney.

In reply to purplemonkeyelephant:

> Ever heard of Windstopper? It's a PTFE membrane that is waterproof (though with a lower HH than GTX), and used in many softshells, even fleeces. They don't tape the seams in these products so you wouldn't call them waterproof, but they use a membrane. 

Windstopper, or Infinium Windstopper as GORE now confusingly call it does come with taped seams and from personal experience does seem to be effectively waterproof now. https://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/clothing/waterproofs/66north_skaftafell_jacket-14293 Gore doesn't release figures for breathability or waterproofness for any of their fabric, which is really unhelpful in knowing how to really classify these fabrics.

Otherwise I totally agree with your earlier point that softshell is a really broad spectrum - so broad it's not a particularly useful term.

In my head I tend to think of softshell as being very breathable (so membrane softshells are NOT 'real' softshells to my mind), smooth on outside so as not to have snow stick (so fleece even with a 'hardface' or a membrane isn't softshell), and relatively tough - you should be able to put your ice tool over your shoulder without worrying about it snagging! - so maybe basic light Pertex and similar aren't softshell. But that's my personal idea, based on those assumptions, I know some things that are softshell by my standards (stretchy trousers for climbing in) are great, and I know other things I'll avoid.

In reply to TobyA:

I read an interesting article about 20 years ago that argued that 'modern' soft shell had its origins in ice climbing, and discussed how the various flavours have developed. Was called 'rennies_softshell.pdf', and found on the MEC website. I referred to it in the distant UKC past:

https://www.ukhillwalking.com/forums/starting_out/softshell_sizefit-262510?v=1#x3871483

I've got a copy of it somewhere.

I've posted about the four basic flavours of soft shell a number of times on UKC. Will try to dig one out.

 Brass Nipples 14 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

I like Andy’s take on it.

https://www.andy-kirkpatrick.com/articles/view/the_best_softshell_in_the_world

For me soft shell is about trading waterproofness for improved comfort over a wider range of temperatures and conditions, often replacing two or more layers.  An outer fabric that is strongly wind resistant with a fast wicking liner, allowing liquid sweat and vapour to move out from the inner layers, whilst preventing rain reaching the inner layers and skin. Leaving you drier than if you’d worn a waterproof in anything other than a prolonged deluge.

I’ve been a big fan of Rab’s Vapourise jackets since my first one in 2003, plus offerings from Marmot, Montane, Mardale (ceased reading a while back), and now ME with the Kinesis jacket.

W

Post edited at 16:15
 Brass Nipples 14 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

As to weight my lightest soft shell in the woven windproof combined with wicking liner category is 215g and the heaviest is 360g.  Hardly heavyweight offerings.

 LastBoyScout 14 Nov 2022
In reply to Webster:

> if it has a membrane then its a hardshell! that is the distinguishing factor between the two. a softshell is a 'shell' without a membrane, relying on the tight weave and DWR to repel the weather rather than a single weatherproof barrier layer.

> these days you can have stretchy membranes, but if it has a membrane it is still a hardshell, with the exception of a few hybrids (think rab kinetic alpine) which truly blurr the lines. but even then i would still call mine a hardshell, even though it feels nice and soft.

I disagree - if it has taped seams*, it's a hardshell, if not, it's a softshell.

* Yes, there's a couple that are dancing on the edge of that!

In reply to LastBoyScout:

> I disagree - if it has taped seams*, it's a hardshell, if not, it's a softshell.

A 'softshell' made from a membraned fabric is essentially a hardshell, from a breathability PoV, taped seams or not. That won't stop the manufacturer calling it a softshell...

 Mark Haward 14 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

Obviously different people may do different activities, run at different temperatures, go out in different conditions and may be used to using, or only have experience of, particular kit. I tend to ignore what the marketing blurb says and think about the features I need in a jacket for the activities I choose to do and the conditions I choose to do them in and use that as a guide to what to buy.

  In an ideal world I want an outer layer that I can keep wearing in as broad a range of likely conditions as possible - something versatile. As others have said softshell can cover a broad range of clothing, is often not a useful term and I would suggest is more a concept than a particular thing. I think the ideal softshell for me is something that is lightweight, hard wearing ( think rock abrasion ), low bulk, wind resistant to an extent, shrugs off a shower or drizzle, dries fast, is far more breathable than a hardshell and can cover a wider range of temperatures more comfortably than an insulated jacket or heavier fleece. So for me it has to have sleeves that can roll up and stay put, full length zip, helmet compatible hood, above harness pockets for snacks / phone / route info as appropriate and be able to be cinched in close for colder temperatures. For example I can rock climb in it with sleeves rolled up, zip open but then cinch it down and have the hood up while relatively static and belaying

   I use a lightweight softshell jacket for walking, scrambling rock climbing throughout the UK almost every time I go out. Really versatile. I use the same jacket for most summer alpine routes - no need to take it on and off. In UK winter and for skiing or colder / higher alpine routes I use a heavier weight, provides more insulation and more windproofing, softshell jacket.

    Obviously the jackets can't cope with all scenarios so if absolutely necessary I may have a hardshell, more insulation or a windproof top depending on conditions / activity. However, it is amazing how versatile they can be - especially for alpine climbing.

In reply to captain paranoia:

> I read an interesting article about 20 years ago that argued that 'modern' soft shell had its origins in ice climbing,

Aha!

https://images.mec.ca/media/Images/pdf/rennies_softshell_v1_m56577569830511308.pdf

In reply to captain paranoia:

And going back some years, I counted 8 different flavours:

https://www.ukhillwalking.com/forums/gear/softshell_suggestions-596279?v=1#x7862556

Oddly enough, the Decathlon thing I wasn't sure about at the time (2014) is still going strong, and the one I wear most. The odd hexagonal flocking things are, to my surprise, still there...

 wbo2 15 Nov 2022
In reply to Captain Paranoia: Winter will be here soon so I guess according to your classification I'll be getting out my Norrona falketind that I think is in category 3.  I don't know so much that ice climbers invented softshell but they would be early adopters of jackets used for cross country or just general skiing and outdoor stuff.

 Billhook 15 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

They look cool in the pub and you can show you are wearing a trendy brand 😃

Post edited at 14:20
 galpinos 15 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

Softshells are for wearing and are probably the most versatile of jackets, often covering a wind range of temperatures. They range from the most basic, a simple windshirt, to a buffalo-esque furnace.

However, beware the marketing hype as there are a fair few products that are classed as "softshell" but are actually only really ideal for a trip to the pub. I fell into the trap of a membrane softshell 20 years ago (Mammut Ultimate Jacket) but haven't again

I have two softshells I wear the most, n Arc'teryx Squamish windshirt that is for when I don't know whether I shall need a softshell or not, and a Mountain Equipment Squall when I intend to wear it all day (heavier, my og version doesn't pack into it's pocket).

The Squall gets the most use. I wear it walking, climbing, skiing, pretty much whenever I want to cut wind and there is a risk of showers.

I do miss my old Patagonia Mixmaster for winter, I've yet to find something that is quite as nice as that was, the Winetr Guide that replaced it wasn't a patch, though the ME offerings look good (and ME fits me well).

In reply to galpinos:

> I do miss my old Patagonia Mixmaster for winter

I loved mine for skiing. Sadly, the 'engineered membrane' (aka layer of glue) between shell and fleece has entirely decayed, and it is now much breezier. And a bit saggy. My Core Skin of the same era has done the same, but other PowerShield items are still fine.

Gutted.

 Jon Greengrass 15 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

a softshell is much more breathable than hardshell but still very wind resistant.

Softshell is generally much more durable than a windproof shell made of lightweight Pertex.

I had a Sprayway Schoeller dryskin jacket that I used to find ideal for trad-climbing at Swanage when it was windy enough to chill through a jumper and I'd worry a windshell might get torn on the sharp limestone. It was also great on bike rides worn with just a thin base layer t when just above freezing and damp but not raining all day. 

I've never worn it while running but suspect it would be too warm.  For walking in the hills when it wasn't going to rain heavily for a long time, it would dry out between showers.

 nathan79 15 Nov 2022
In reply to Jon Greengrass:

I think a few in the thread are throwing windproofs/windshirts in with softshells which I don't think is correct. If it doesn't have the wicking layer it's not a softshell in my eyes.

I've got a variety. In the warmer months a Montage Dyno stretch (light, stretchy, breathable and fairly breezy) is my go to. Mammut Ultimate Hoody with I think Gore windstopper membrane is my go-to Scottish winter jacket (it's done some Alpine summer 4000m and Icelandic winter/spring too). Until the outer becomes saturated it'll take a fair amount of rain/sleet (which puts it in the "is it really a softshell" camp).

For me softshell is the perfect blend of protection, breathablity and comfort. But which softshell is dependant on the conditions and season! It's a minefield really.

In reply to nathan79:

> I think a few in the thread are throwing windproofs/windshirts in with softshells which I don't think is correct. If it doesn't have the wicking layer it's not a softshell in my eyes.

That seems a bit odd to me. My first softshell item of clothing was a pair of Patagonia Guide pants - made of some Schoeller material. At the time I got them, 2002 I think, it may well have been THE Schoeller material, but anyway, it's a stretch woven material, essentially the same on the inside as on the outside - nothing specifically to make the inside wick.

But anyway, like I said earlier - it has become an almost meaningless term.

Thinking about this made me look up some of my old reviews of supposed softshells - I was a bit tickled to find that I wrote "...Ultimately, this is a comment on the increasingly useless term 'softshell'" in a review of a Marmot Jacket in 2010! https://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/clothing/softshell/marmot_genesis_jacket_hardshell_or_softshell-2487 My opinion has changed that much!

In reply to TobyA:

> Ultimately, this is a comment on the increasingly useless term 'softshell'" in a review of a Marmot Jacket in 2010!

I was searching old threads last night. Mt first pose on OM was in 2003, about soft shells. I said the same thing; it's a widely-abused term that no-one really understands. Hence my trying to identify the various flavours...

 Cheese Monkey 15 Nov 2022
In reply to elliot.baker:

I agree. Bought a posh Rab softshell and barely used it so sold it on. It was a bit warmer/more breathable than a hardshell but considering I'd always carry a waterproof anyway there seemed little point in it


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