Softshell or Hardshell?

11 March 2013

First of all let’s get this obvious question out of the way – what is a softshell? I’m going to manage your expectation here and tell you you’re going to be disappointed with the answer. Here it is: a softshell is similar to a hardshell only softer. Told you. Let me try and put it another way a softshell doesn’t crinkle as much as a hardshell. That’s not much better is it? The reason it doesn’t crinkle is because it doesn’t have a membrane like Gore-Tex or eVent. Ah, ah, now we’re getting somewhere.
Pigs I know what you’re thinking, apart from ‘what a meaningless webpage’, you’re thinking ‘if softshells aren’t waterproof, what’s the point?’ That is a reasonable thing to think. Softshells are completely useless for 90% of the population in the UK. Fishermen, dog walkers and pigs are probably not going to be interested in softshells, because softshells are for people (or animals) who sweat. Although animals that do sweat don’t wear them much either…
Nevertheless… if you’ve ever put on your hardshell (previously known as your Gore-Tex/eVent jacket) and started walking swiftly (ish) up a reasonably steep hill you already know exactly what I mean. Gore-Tex and eVent are massively breathable but they still have a point when your sweaty pits and clammy back overload the system. Then you get wet whether it’s raining or not. At this point you think to yourself, I wish I had a slightly different type of jacket that doesn’t get as sweaty inside but still keeps a little bit of rain off. Oh, and I hate this crinkling noise so get rid of that as well.
KHAPOW – the softshell.

Softshells are miles more breathable than hardshells but not as windproof or waterproof. This is how they’re supposed to work: the inside to the softshell is insulation and the outer layer is water resistant. The outer layer only needs to be waterproof enough to keep the insulation layer from getting flooded, your body heat does the rest. Heat from your body pushes back the wetness and dries the insulation. Because the inside is a micro pile surface it wicks the sweat away quickly and feels dry even when it’s slightly damp. So you remain dry even when you’re exercising hard.
How would you wear such an amazing garment?

The softshell is designed to be worn on its own (not quite, please wear your undies and trousers as well) or with a baselayer. This is the most efficient way of wicking the sweat away from your body. It can withstand a lot of weather conditions and will still keep you feeling dry and comfy in most of them, but if it starts absolutely hammering it down then you’re still going to need your hardshell.

I have to admit I don’t like wearing hardshells so I leave mine in my rucksack as much as possible. A softshell feels lovely on (did that sound a bit Gok Wanish?) and you very rarely get that clammy feeling you get with a hardshell. Unfortunately, if you can’t guarantee the weather, you’ll still need to take a waterproof just in case, so this page should have been called ‘Softshell and Hardshell’ rather than ‘Softshell or Hardshell.’

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young

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