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Q. soft shell vs fleece
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Charles Maguire
(hikelite) - F

Locale: Virginia
Q. soft shell vs fleece on 12/09/2009 21:08:51 MST Print View

I use a 200 weight fleece zip up for mid-layer. I love fleece and its fairly light (13.75 oz). However it's real bulky.

I do not have any shoft shell experience so my question is:

Can I replace my fleece with a soft shell pullover or jacket that:
1. will save weight over fleece
2. pack smaller than fleece
3. while being as warm as 200 weight fleece?

If yes any recommendations?


Edited by hikelite on 12/09/2009 21:09:34 MST.

James Naphas
(naphas13) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
4 answers to three questions on 12/09/2009 21:42:16 MST Print View

1. Not really
2. Sort of
3. Yes

Real answer is that you don't want to use a softshell as a mid-layer; it's a replacement for an outer layer when you're doing active stuff. As a mid-layer it doesn't breathe well enough when combined with a shell, and isn't rainproof enough to completely replace a shell for backpacking purposes.

To replace a mid-layer fleece with a lighter, smaller packing, equally warm or warmer alternative you're talking a light puffy layer. A montbell thermawrap will provide a little more warmth for less weight and pack smaller, a montbell UL down inner liner will be even lighter, warmer and smaller packing.

Bradford Rogers
(Mocs123) - MLife

Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Re:Q. soft shell vs fleece on 12/09/2009 21:55:06 MST Print View

Soft Shells are at least in my opinion over hyped and not very good for backpacking. I can see however that they might be useful in ski trips or other winter sports. Most soft shells try and combine the mid layer and outer layer and really don't do either job real well. They are heavy, don't dry quickly, and are not very versatile. If you want a midlayer that compresses better than fleece check out either a down or synthetic puffy insulation layer for non active use (camp), for hiking I think fleece is still king, but it never gets cold enough here for me to hike in more than a baselayer and windshirt.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
define the terms on 12/09/2009 22:23:17 MST Print View

"Soft shell" has come to means enough things that the term itself doesn't mean much.

If you're talking about a hard face, windstopper laminate with a fleece liner then the utility of the thing is limited to lift skiing and coffee runs.

Unlined schoeller (sp?) pants? Brilliant for everything but summer.

A lighter, stretch woven shirt like a Patagonia Traverse? Almost as windproof as a windshirt, almost as light, tougher, warmer and breaths better.

A heavier stretch woven full featured parka is the ne plus ultra of winter activities, where WPB have no place.

As depends on what you mean. All of the above are soft shells.

As to the original question, I quite like fleece. Beware the Thermawrap. It's lighter in no small part because it's not very warm! Fleece is a bit heavier, and way bulkier, but is the best insulation to have when it gets wet, dries the fastest, breaths the best, and is the most durable of all options. I'll keep my pile hoody, you keep the Primaloft.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Q. soft shell vs fleece on 12/10/2009 01:50:53 MST Print View

if all you are looking for a mid insulation then a synthetic or down high loft vest or jacket will be better than a 200wt fleece from weight and compactness perspective. I have written up additional notes about mid layer insulation elsewhere.

As to the previous comment about the thermawrap. If you are looking for something warmer than a 200wt fleece look at something else. the thermwrap (from a pure insulation) perspective is less warm than 200wt. It breaks the wind better, so it's warmer than a fleece if you aren't wearing a shell over the fleece.

good soft shells are useful when you need modest protection while engaged in high aerobic activities which would overwhelm a more traditional shell. More thought on my recommeneded soft shells


Edited by verber on 12/10/2009 01:54:34 MST.

Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Re: define the terms on 12/10/2009 06:41:39 MST Print View

"Soft shell" has come to means enough things that the term itself doesn't mean much.

I bought into the soft shell marketing hype (Totally breathable!!!! Keeps you dry in a downpour!!! What was I thinking??)a few years ago when I was getting back into hiking and backpacking.

I've spent the last year shedding my accumulated purchases.

Dave is right. Soft-shells are winter-specific gear. I have a Patagonia Ready Mix as an XC-skiing and snowshoeing shell and it's great for that, and an Arcteryx Gamma MX Jacket for colder conditions, but if I had it to do over, I wouldn't buy it again. (Lucky I picked it up on geartrade for a huge discount.)

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Verber's encyclopedia! Re: Q. soft shell vs fleece on 12/10/2009 06:52:36 MST Print View

I've had your site bookmarked for a couple years but I keep forgetting it. Awesome information and I'm glad you keep it current.

As a Californian, I've never faced conditions that make me want to use puffy upper body insulation while active. Although I agree that the portions of a puffy jacket that get squashed against the pack aren't really needed for insulation (the pack insulates), I just hate the clammy feeling that I get.

For me, a thin base to medium base, 100 weight fleece zip-turtle, and 200 weight fleece vest is perfect for active skiing/hiking/snowshoeing down to near 0F, and we seldom see that low during daytime in the Sierra. For inactive times I agree that a good "belay parka" is needed- some day I might have a good one!

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Soft shell on 12/10/2009 06:54:32 MST Print View

I'm surprised that the UK company BUFFALO SYSTEMS hasn't tried to get into the US market. Their Pertex and Pile gear is perfect ime for cold conditions, and the few folk i know who have imported a top into the US have fallen in love with the gear. I wear mine next to the skin, and only carry an insulating layer for throwing over at rest. They have plenty of venting options, so you don't overheat when working hard.
I particularly like their 'anti-fashion' stance. :)

Charles Maguire
(hikelite) - F

Locale: Virginia
Thanks on 12/10/2009 07:57:01 MST Print View

Thanks for reply's. I have a Montaigne wind shirt that I use a lot and does a good job of wind protection. The full zip fleece is nice as I can hike in it and unzip if overheat then zip when stop without taking off pack. I use a WM Flight Jacket for insulation layer but wouldn't think of hiking in it - too hot.

I guess I'll keep what I have because it works as a nice layering system.


Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Re: Soft shell on 12/10/2009 13:04:57 MST Print View


I've been eyeing the Buffalo DP mitts you recommended on a thread I had about winter handwear; I like the look (and weight)of the Buffalo Hood as well, as a down alternative. Sadly the same UK website (Jackson Sports)that will only charge me $5 to ship the mitts will charge me $18 to ship the hood on the same order. That makes the hood as much as a JRB down hood.

I'll still get the mitts though, as $36 for a pair of 75 gram insulating mitts is a great deal on either side of the pond.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Q. soft shell vs fleece on 12/10/2009 20:57:15 MST Print View

> As a Californian, I've never faced conditions that make me want to use puffy upper body insulation while active.

I don't use heavy puffy on my upper body... I typically use a light vest (wm flash, mb thermawrap) which is similar to your 200 weight fleece. My system has historically be a lighter base than your 100wt, my puffy vest, and some sort of soft shell or wind shirt. Doing the puffy has the advantage of less insulation under the pack (which I want) lighter and more compressible. I manage activity / venting so I don't typically get clammy feeling. I found light puffys feel less encumbering and I feel like I have more freedom of motion.


Edited by verber on 12/10/2009 21:41:55 MST.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : Buffalo on 12/10/2009 21:22:15 MST Print View

The Mitts are great.
The only bit of Buffalo gear i don't rate, is their hoods. It's as if Buffalo built the hood as an afterthought. I actually use a Pertex and Pile Montane Extreme Hood with my Buffalo shirts. The velcro makes it easy to swap them around.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
fleece and wind shirt on 12/11/2009 05:30:27 MST Print View

You already have a fleece and a UL windshirt, which together are lighter, warmer, more breathable, and more versatile than most any soft shell jacket.

That said, a lot depends on your personal thermostat. In winter I tend to hike in a light wind shirt over my base layer. My lovely wife hikes in her Marmot softshell over a base layer, sometimes putting a microfleece zip-tee in between. Same weather conditions, different responses.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: Re: Q. soft shell vs fleece on 12/11/2009 10:00:57 MST Print View

Mark said:
"Doing the puffy"
That sounds funny...

"has the advantage of less insulation under the pack
(which I want) lighter and more compressible"

I'll have to try it out. My thought has been that I'm more comfortable with fleece between me and the pack to help move moisture far away from my body. I've always liked the way fleece doesn't compress while I'm wearing it or using it as a pillow.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Re: Q. soft shell vs fleece on 12/11/2009 12:34:57 MST Print View

> liked the way fleece doesn't compress while I'm wearing it or using it as a pillow.

There are places I like fleece due to compression... but that is mostly on the palm of my gloves or mitts when using ice tools.

I like down for my pillow... typically when my dri ducks to give some high and my down vest/jacket to give some softness... unless I am cold in which case we use the shoes for hieght, the rain jacket for softness?! and keep warm.


Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
What James said... on 12/11/2009 12:43:58 MST Print View

Your 1st response was on the money.

I have a GTX ski patrol mountain parka with a zip-in softshell, "Windstopper" jacket. At 15 F. while ski patrolling last Tuesday the softshell was NOT warm enough. I vowed to use my 300 weight Polartec pile jacket as an insulating layer next time.

I HAVE used the softshell alone when skiing in Colorado around Thanksgioving vacation but the temps were only around the low 30s F.

Softshells are a breathable, water resistant jacket but their insulation is very little.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Fleece resisting compression on 12/11/2009 13:01:07 MST Print View

"There are places I like fleece due to compression"

I guess I have to fess up that since getting married 18 years ago most of my winter recreation has been lift-served skiing. When you sit on a chair lift at -35 degrees it's very nice to have a couple layers of fleece between you and the cold chair. Same thing when you crash on icy snow.

For backcountry travel the issue is much less critical- and compression in the pack is more desirable.

Alan Little
(AlanL) - F

Locale: Bavarian & Austrian Alps
Winter windshirt on 12/12/2009 04:09:54 MST Print View

"Soft-shells are winter-specific gear."

Indeed. I wear/regard my Patagonia Ascensionist as a kind of heavy-duty winter windshirt. WIth a base layer or two under it, I find I'm fine for pretty much anything as long as I'm moving (experience down to about -20 C in the Alps). I'm certainly not counting on it for any kind of insulation when I'm not moving.

"Soft shell" covers such a wide range of different materials these days as to have become an almost meaningless term. The Ascensionist is a membrane-less fabric that relies on a dense weave for wind resistance; I find it both more windproof and more breathable than a couple of membraned fleeces that I have tried and not liked.

I also have a couple of old pile-and-pertex pieces - an original Buffalo shirt and a bigger jacket to go over it. They're heavy, not very packable, too hot for almost anything except cold/wet UK winter conditions, and not particularly comfortable. They're also what I would take without a moment's hesitation if for some reason I was told I had to survive with only one or two pieces of (upper body) clothing.

Nick Comtois
(ObscuredCelery) - F
Good Looking on 12/12/2009 10:59:05 MST Print View

I have an REI brand soft shell that turned out to be perfect for around town, and inadequate on the trail. It looks good and offers enough rain protection to walk from a parking lot to whatever building.

As far as trail use there isn't enough wind or rain protection and as other posters have pointed out you lose a lot of flexibility over layers. I use a lightweight fleece 1/4 zip and a rain shell.