What Exactly is a Softshell?

Softshell climbingSoftshells may be the most versatile articles of clothing in outdoor apparel. They offer the perfect balance of durability, comfort, and protection. Softshell jackets and pants aren’t going to be the most rugged, and they’re not going to be the most comfortable, but what makes softshells so great is the fact that they are suited for a wide variety of applications. So what exactly is a softshell, and what makes softshells so great?

Softshell refers to a special type of material used in jackets, pants, or other technical garments that provide good weather resistance, abrasion resistance, breathability, and comfort. Most softshells can’t offer the same level of protection from the elements as a traditional rain jacket or hardshell, but they are much more breathable and much more comfortable. The materials used to make softshells may vary, but they’re almost always synthetic. One of the easiest ways to identify a softshell is by the slight stretch or give in the material.

Since softshell materials can vary so greatly, the function of a softshell can differ from garment to garment. There are summer weight softshells designed to be super light and breathable, but there are also winter weight softshells that are designed to provide more insulation than lighter garments. Some softshells incorporate Windstopper, or some other type of windproof material, and some very high end softshells boast complete waterproofness. But in general, softshells excel in versatility.

So why would you even want a softshell jacket, or a pair of softshell pants? If they don’t protect you from wind and water as well as hardshells, what’s the real advantage?

You won’t truly appreciate softshell materials until you wear them on active pursuits outdoors. Sitting around base camp in a softshell jacket isn’t really going to convince you of its value. However, if you’ve ever hiked in a rain jacket, you know that hardshells do not breathe well, and while they might keep you from getting covered in rain water, they will also drench you in sweat. Softshells are perfect for hiking, climbing, cycling, or any other aerobic activity performed in inclement weather. If you’re dealing with rain, snow, or howling winds, you want to have garments that are made out of a softshell material.

The versatility of softshells makes them perfect for layering, and great for a range of temperatures and types of weather. If you plan on getting active outdoors, you should add a softshell to your gear closet!

One Comment

  1. […] a shell if necessary. If it’s drizzling or windy, you will definitely want an outer shell. Softshell jackets are perfect for active pursuits in questionable […]

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