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Waterproof, Softshell, or Lost?

Op-Ed: what is the utility of a garment that offers the disadvantages of both hard and soft shells?


by Ryan Jordan | 2005-01-30 03:00:00-07

There is a new generation of fabrics emerging in outdoor apparel: the so-called “waterproof-softshell” class. With stretchy woven outer face fabrics (akin to traditional softshells), and tricot linings sandwiching a waterproof-breathable membrane, these fabrics offer the “best of both worlds”: stretch comfort of a soft shell and waterproofness of a hardshell.

These fabrics are miracle fabrics!

But wait – there’s more!

They offer all the bulk of a softshell!

They offer all the weight of a softshell!

They offer all the limited breathability of a hardshell!

And unlike your run of the mill hardshell garment, the waterproof softshell soaks up way more water, takes eons longer to dry, and offers more overheating core warmth for those light and fast activities!

All this for twice the price.

Ask a manufacturer’s sales rep what it’s good for, and you’ll get one of the following responses:

  • “Everything!”
  • “Light and fast activities where you don’t need to change layers!”
  • “Conditions where a hardshell is too sweaty!”
  • “I have absolutely no idea. They told me I had to push it.”

I kid you not, these are real responses.

This of course motivated me to go a little higher up the food chain and talk to the fabric developers directly. Their consensus is simple: use these fabrics in very wet, windy conditions, where a softshell simply does not provide enough insulation, water, or wind-resistance.

So, what garments in our clothing systems will waterproof softshells replace?

3 oz windshirts, 6 oz base layers, 10 oz rain jackets, 6 oz insulating vests?

Sure, why not – let’s give up key attributes like breathability, drying time, light weight, water absorption, packability, and (gasp) comfort in lieu of the “hottest new technology to hit the outdoor industry”.

It’s a revolution.


"Waterproof, Softshell, or Lost?," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2005-01-30 03:00:00-07.