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Confusion on what exactly constitutes a softshell
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spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Confusion on what exactly constitutes a softshell on 10/11/2011 07:00:33 MDT Print View

If I DWR my Columbia 100% nylon pants, does that make them softshell pants? If I do the same to my supplex windbreaker, is it then a softshell? Do windpants from Goodwill count as a softshell? Or is there something specific to $80 pants and $150 jackets that I'm missing?

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Fuzzy? on 10/11/2011 07:14:46 MDT Print View

Are they lined or not? If they're just a shell, they can't be a softshell. But if they're fuzzy lined.......then sure.

Check out Andy Kirkpatrick's(?) explanation on for the best explanation I can still find online. had a great essay back in the day, but I can't find it anymore.


spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Fuzzy? on 10/11/2011 07:23:13 MDT Print View

The site is offline momentarily, but if I understand correctly:

One layer of wind/water repellent noninsulating fabric is a windshell or rainshell
Two layers, on of wind/water repellent noninsulating fabric and one some sort of insulation is a softshell
Then three layers, one of wind/water repellent noninsulating fabric, one of insulation, and one of a WPB membrane is a hardshell? Or does the texture of the outside material also have something to do with being a hardshell.

I have a (heavy) goretex rainjacket...I had thought it was a hardshell, I wear it over my fleece jacket for around town winter wear. But it's uninsulated, so is it a softshell?

Things were so much simpler when I only had one parka and one pair of snow pants.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Re: Fuzzy? on 10/11/2011 07:43:45 MDT Print View

A hardshell is waterproof. Period. Whether or not it's breathable as well is irrelevant in this case.

A softshell is generally not quite waterproof while being extremely breathable. They're also very wind-resistant. There tend to be two types: stretch woven like Patagonia's Guide line or a combination of an insulating layer (think microfleece) and a windshirt-type layer in one garment like Marmot's DriClime.

Some "softshells" also have a windproof laminate, but that significantly reduces breathability whih makes them best for casual wear.

Edited by simplespirit on 10/11/2011 07:45:08 MDT.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
waterproof/not quite on 10/11/2011 07:48:09 MDT Print View

That clears it up very nicely. Thanks.

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Confusion on what exactly constitutes a softshell on 10/11/2011 09:31:16 MDT Print View

I have to adit that scratch my head and wonder when I look at softshells. Here is my general take on the genre.

Softshells are not really waterproof, not really breathable, not really warm, and they weigh a lot.

Well, I guess that would get me kicked out of the softshell fan club.

I do wear a softshell (Polartec Powershield) when out for a day of cross-country skiing when it's too cold to rain.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
read this on 10/11/2011 10:14:40 MDT Print View

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: read this on 10/11/2011 11:07:18 MDT Print View

Im no kirkpatrick or verber or RJ...

but I think of softshells as using the tight weave and dwr treatments to be waterresistant while keeping breathability in the forefront. As somebody said further up the thread, softies with membranes tip more towards waterproof at the cost of breathability. Stretch woven are the opposite- lesser weave for more breathability but as I have found out many times- NOT for more that intermittent drizzle. even constant drizzle will beat it.

Hardshells use membrane or coating to be waterproof. They rely on vents for breathability. Membranes breath some, but as we all know, not that much.

Eric Chan told me that the ol skool softshells (I suppose before technical weaves got to where they are now) is Pertex over a pile lining. I happen to have the OR Frostline which is exactly that and it works very well. I have been wet and cold, put on the Frostline and under moderate hiking (downhill) I dried out my clothes under it. While it was raining no less. Im definitely gonna play with this jacket, which I suspect may be an awesome jacket for the PNW. (wish it had a hood though)

In a cross thread with the 'Unmanageable Wetness' thread I think I'll be able to use the pile layer as my "dewpoint trap." We'll see

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
trip to the gear store on 10/12/2011 17:24:23 MDT Print View

And this is what they had:

Sierra Designs
*Hurricane jacket
*Vapor jacket
*Microlight Accel jacket and pants

*Watertight jacket
*Cougar Peaks 2 jacket
*Thunderstorm 2 pants

*Minimalist jacket
*Precip jacket
*Driclime jacket

Sherpa Designs
*Vapor jacket

Red Ledge
*Free Rein jacket

The Minimalist, Microlight Accel, and Watertight actually called themselves raingear, but with nylon DWR shells and bare membranes without liners, they were indistinguishable from most of the rest, which were described as softshells on the tags. Only the Driclime had a woven outer layer as opposed to nylon. Some had pit zips and some did not, but all claimed to be waterproof and breathable. Again with the exception of the Driclime, which looks a bit like an old school track jacket, they all look like rainjackets to me. Having read Andy's essay and seen and tried on several supposed softshells, I'm still not sure how--excepting the Driclime--they'd function any differently from clothing with membranes marketed as raingear.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
layers and weight on 10/13/2011 13:16:34 MDT Print View

ack messed up an edit.

Original post was--are the jackets here accurately called softshells.

Edited by spelt on 10/13/2011 13:51:02 MDT.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: better examples on 10/13/2011 13:32:15 MDT Print View

Powerstretch is not a softshell. Powershield is.

SD Hurricane - hardshell - taped seams, wp/b fabric
SD Vapor - softshell - seams not taped, woven fabric not quite waterproof and very breathable
SD Microlight accel - softshell, sounds like the driclime with a windshirt/liner combo

Columbia Watertight - hardshell - taped seams, wp/b fabric
Columbia Cougar Peaks II - softshell - seams not taped, similar to SD Microlight accel
Columbia Thunderstorm II pant - hardshell - taped seams, wp/b fabric

Marmot Minimalist - hardshell - taped seams, wp/b fabric
Marmot Precip - hardshell - taped seams, wp/b fabric
Marmot Driclime - softshell - windshirt/wicking liner combo

In short, if it has taped seams it's almost always a hardshell. It it's made from a wp/b fabric, it's almost always a hardshell.

Edited by simplespirit on 10/13/2011 13:56:57 MDT.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Re: better examples on 10/13/2011 13:39:08 MDT Print View

Sorry. The linked jackets are powershield.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
so... on 10/13/2011 14:00:18 MDT Print View

...if my current hardshell claims 10,000mm/10,000g/m2, it's equally or more bombproof than any of those. Or the label is wildly optimistic. My question then would be if switching to an insulated softshell that weighs as much or less than my current jacket would provide enough warmth to potentially eliminate an inner layer without sacrificing too much waterproofness. Breathability/ventilation I see as a wash, as my current jacket has almost comically large pit zips.

Thank you so much for the categorization, Chris. I'm going to go back to the store this weekend and look at the features of each to educate myself.

Edited by spelt on 10/13/2011 14:03:58 MDT.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: so... on 10/13/2011 14:11:14 MDT Print View

The Marmot Minimalist is GoreTex Paclite which claims 30000 mm/17000 g/m2. Otherwise, your current shell is probably at least as good as the rest.

To answer your question, if it's sub-freezing and you only expect snow, I'd say yes. If you expect 35 and rain, I'd stick to the hardshell + insulating layer.

Edited by simplespirit on 10/13/2011 14:11:57 MDT.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
enlightening on 10/13/2011 15:20:29 MDT Print View

Knowing the area, then, there will definitely be days around and above freezing, which points towards the hardshell. Thanks, this has been very instructive.


Locale: South West US
Re: enlightening on 10/13/2011 20:00:36 MDT Print View

Soft shell is a concept so lets start there ... The idea is a single garment will keep you comfortable across a wide range of weather conditions and types of activities.

This concept is why its hard to define what a soft shell is. There are many different weather conditions, types of activities and combinations there of. This means they can be just about anything but typically cover a middle ground of performance and features. Breathable, stretchy, moderate warmth, wind-resistant, water-resistant are common terms are used for describing a soft shell garment but there's no strict definition.

If you're in the market, I'd suggest deciding what your gonna be using it for and pick one designed for that purpose. Just keep in mind they're usually a compromise of performance and features to keep you comfortable "most of the time." Beware of manufacturer's claims too.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Confusion on what exactly constitutes a softshell on 10/13/2011 21:07:38 MDT Print View

To me, softshell is a knit fabric that is breathable and highly water repellent and provides a bit of insulation and wind blocking. Schoeller has been a leader in soft shell fabrics (see There are a lot of fabrics and weights out there and your point about adding more DWR to nylon pants might describe one end of the spectrum, although I would expect to see more knit-like fabrics with stretch. O course, there is no hard-and-fast, "official" soft shell fabric. I would say harder than fleece, and softer than Gore-Tex or other non-stretch breathable membrane water proof fabrics.

I like the lighter soft shell pants, but the tops don't fit in my UL layering scheme-- too heavy for the insulation provided and a windshirt can provide as much DWR and even better wind blocking while still being breathable. A wind shirt can be used in conjunction with something like R1 or Power Stretch layers with more versatility than a soft shell.

I see the niche for soft shell jackets in single day use, like skiing, travel or commuting. They do look good, don't wrinkle and give good protection in moderate conditions.

The pants I like are the lighter ones and can be used with a light base layer (long johns) or under rain pants in more extreme conditions. The stretch is very nice and they give just a bit more insulation than basic nylon hiking pants, along with decent water resistance. I have a pair of Outdoor Research Pursuit pants that are great for cooler wet days. The Mont Bell Light Stretch pants walk the fence between nylon hiking pants and heavier soft shells and are good for warmer weather and come in lighter colors where darker soft shells would get too hot too fast in direct sunlight. Heavier nylon hiking pants like the Mountain Hardwear Pack pants are on that fence too. These last two are good examples of adding DWR to nylon hiking pants to get a "soft shell."

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
basics on 10/13/2011 21:32:56 MDT Print View

other than the andy link i posted earlier ...

the best explanation for a softshell is that it takes over from your other layers ... in other words if you are using a softshell as part of a layering system ... it aint really a softshell

besically it relates IMO back to the concept of an 'action suit" ... that is a basic layer or series of layers that you put on and dont take off till the end of a climb .... when active, you are wearing the action suit, when stopped a puffy over

in short a softshell should be a garment that is worn over yr base, and basically it replaces yr mid/shell layers ...

if you look at something like the driclime, that is what it is supposed to do ... same with weave softshells, now you may wear a R1 under it on really cold days, but then you dont take off the softshell and take off the R1 ....

the real benefit IMO is to reduce "faff" ... that is messing around with all yr layers .. you basically have only 2 in most circumstances effectively ... your softshell and yr belay jacket ... i think the original idea was to not have to dig around yr pack on climbs and mess around taking things on and off all the time ...

in order for it to work it needs to be highly breathable (or youll sweat to death), decently wind and water resistant (or youll get soaked/cold), wicking (or youll get soaked from yr own sweat), and provide a bit of warmth (or youll just wear a windshirt instead) ... also abrasion resistance is also a characteristic ....

note that if yr just hiking you can just use a windshirt and light fleece as a softshell analog ....

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
layers and such on 10/13/2011 21:48:34 MDT Print View

>>note that if yr just hiking you can just use a windshirt and light fleece as a softshell analog ....

That's pretty much the conclusion I came to, looking at the weights, insulation, and prices of the various combinations. I think I'll be using the hardshell I have now for this winter, and maybe look at softshells again towards spring.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: layers and such on 10/13/2011 22:04:59 MDT Print View


IMO softshells jackets are only really useful for people who cant easily take off layers ... ie climbers, skiers, etc ... because they have no pack or taking on/off the pack is just plain faff

or for people who need the durability of certain softshells ... ie bushwhackers, outdoor workers, climbers, skiers ...

or yuppies looking to look outdoorsy ...

otherwise a windshirt/fleece works better and is more flexible ...

softshell pants though IMO are great for many uses, they are basically the outdoor jeans ...