What is a SOFTSHELL?
Softshell jackets are made from a soft-faced, stretchy fabric with elastane. Softshell jackets are known for their flexibility, body-hugging fit and stylish appearance. Softshells were first introduced a decade ago and quickly became a popular choice for traditional hardshell jackets (principally GORETEX jackets at that time) and fleece garments such as Polartec Classic jackets.
There are many softshells available today to suit different purposes and conditions. We’ll be discussing the various uses of softshell jackets in this article.
It is somewhere between a jacket and a shirt. The lightest softshell weighs in at around 3.5 ounces. It could be worn on the beach with a stiff breeze blowing in as the sun sets. It is difficult to capture the feel of this piece in photos, so we recommend visiting our store to try it on if possible.
These lightweight softshells can be used to stay active in the cool months when summer is over. You could wear a lightweight softshell for fast-moving Green Mountains day hikes. This system is great for temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees. You might consider adding a down jacket to reach the trees’ top.
Softshells are lightweight and can be easily packed in a pack.
As you can see from their name, midweight softshells are versatile and all-around performers. These are winter layers you can wear throughout the day and not just take with you. Midweight softshell jackets are great for hiking, cross-country skiing, or wearing around town. These jackets have characteristics such as a WINDSTOPPER (r) fabric and snow/sleet resistance.
SOFTSHELLS OF HEAVYWEIGHT
These softshells can hold everything, from powder skirts to high-loft fleece lines, and are large and bulky. These softshells are made to provide as much warmth as possible, with furry fleece inside and heavyweight wind-stopping fabric on the outside.
For higher-altitude mountaineering endeavours (i.e. Heavyweight softshell jackets from Ecuador’s Cotopaxi can form the foundation of a great Layering System. You can start with a base layer of merino wool, add a medium-weight fleece pullover, and a heavyweight softshell shell jacket. This will allow you to climb and mountaineer for an entire day. You can keep your backpack warm by carrying a down jacket.
WIND AND WATER RESISTANCE, BREATHABILITY
Many softshell garment manufacturers will tout their garments’ breathability, wind resistance, and water resistance. All of these properties are interrelated. These properties are arranged on a metaphorical “seesaw”, with wind and water resistance at one end and breathability at another. The one ends tend to move up, and the other usually goes down.
As you probably know, fleece garments are not water- or wind-resistant. These garments provide low-profile insulation, which makes you feel dry and warm (not clammy), but they are susceptible to wind and water damage. Rain jackets, on the other side, are completely waterproof and windproof. Still, they can make you feel hot and sweaty because the jacket’s waterproof membrane cannot quickly diffuse heat and water vapour generated by your exertion. Softshells are somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Many construction techniques and technologies can be found there.
BREATHABLE SOFTSHELL TECHNOLOGIES
Breathable fabrics at the top of the spectrum include tight weaves of their fibres to resist wind and allow air to penetrate the garment to facilitate moisture transfer. Polartec(r) and Wind Pro(r) best illustrate this softshell technology. Polartec claims it blocks 4x more wind than traditional fleece, but they don’t claim it is 100% windproof. This depends on what you do and how the weather conditions. Polartec says that Wind Pro, which is not a laminate, is highly breathable and maintains 85% of traditional fleece’s breathability to prevent you from overheating.
Schoeller Dry skin is another notable fabric. Dry skin, one of the first softshell fabrics to hit the market in 2002, was acquired by Cloudveil. Old-timers still refer to softshells as “Schoeller” pants or jackets. It is the ultimate softshell: it is water-repellent and extremely stretchy. Schoeller has added technologies to some Dry skin jackets, such as Nano Sphere (a silicon-based technology that prevents grime and dirt from sticking to the garments) and Coldblack (a UV absorber that stops dark-coloured clothing from absorbing heat from the sun).