Soft Shell Buying Guide

Soft shell clothing is more windproof than fleece clothing and more breathable than waterproof clothing. Its windproofness, stretch and durability makes soft shell ideal for use in the mountains but ‘soft shell’ is a broad term, covering everything from featherweight fabrics to burly and butch ones so it can be a bit confusing. Here’s some things to look out for.

 

 

Types of soft shell

Our soft shell garments fall into two categories: those that have a membrane, i.e. GORE-TEX Infinium™, and non-membrane /double weave softshells which rely on the properties of the fabric itself to provide protection, i.e. Exolite or Arrow fabrics.

GORE-TEX Infinium™ fabrics with Windstopper® softshell technology use an ePTFE membrane to block wind and provide very high levels of water resistance. Compared to non-membrane / double weave softshell fabrics they are typically less breathable but are extremely weather resistant and outstandingly durable. This makes them ideal for use in foul or cold conditions.

Non-membrane / double weave softshell use fabrics which comprise of two weave types, the weave on the front and back of the fabric being different. They tend to be wind resistant rather than completely windproof, and this results in greater breathability. The weaves themselves largely determine how windproof the fabric will be. Exolite fabrics’ names refers to the weights of the fabrics, with a bigger number indicating a heavier – and generally more durable and weather resistant – fabric. Exolite fabrics are stretchy, wind resistant, and shed light rain thanks to their repellent treatment.

 

Do I need a waterproof and a soft shell?

If there’s any chance of sustained rain or bad weather then you need waterproof clothing. Soft shells are water resistant but they aren’t waterproof. In windy and dry conditions soft shells are much more comfortable to wear than a waterproof.

 

Where soft shells work best

Soft shell garments are best used as outer layers to keep the wind off in dry weather, or where only light showers are expected. In heavier rain they are no substitute for waterproof clothing, but their greater comfort and stretchiness makes them superior to waterproofs if working hard or making dynamic movements (e.g. climbing) in many situations. They provide a little warmth, but they aren’t as warm as fleeces or insulated clothing. While soft shell jackets might sound niche, almost everyone who owns one ends up wearing them a lot, whether climbing at a blustery crag, mountaineering or hiking in breezy and squally conditions, or as something to throw on for your ski descent.

 

Is a soft shell just a windshirt?

A traditional ‘windshirt’ is a single weave fabric that usually offers no stretch and very limited abrasion resistance. They’re great for keeping the wind out and saving weight and pack size but will wear out pretty quickly if you climb or scramble while wearing one. They also offer fairly limited breathability and very little water resistance, clinging to you if wet through. If you want a soft shell jacket to act as a simple windproof layer then a lightweight softshell like our Echo or Squall products can do exactly that. However, our Aerofoil Jacket is designed for exactly this purpose: it’s made from the lightest double weave softshell fabric we’ve ever found, and is far more comfortable, tougher, and more weather resistant than a windshell. It also offers a little stretch and, if it gets wet, the double weave helps keep water off your skin.

 

The protectiveness/ comfort tradeoff

Generally speaking, as weather protection increases, breathability and subsequent comfort decrease. This was discussed a little in our air permeability blog. Some of our different softshell products can be seen on the scale here.

 

Choosing the right soft shell

Squall or Echo?

Our Squall and Echo are both hooded jackets making use of Exolite 125, and their fit is relatively similar. However, they’re quite different beasts. The Echo is a great all round soft shell jacket for most mountain uses, boasting three pockets and a Mountain Hood which fits comfortable over a hat and will work if used occasionally with a helmet. The Squall, meanwhile is a climbing-focused jacket with one pocket and a hood designed to offer unhindered visibility when used with a helmet. Unlike the Echo, a Squall will also fit into its pocket to enable it to be easily carried on a harness. Put simply, if your best days out are spent without a helmet on then an Echo is best while a Squall is best if you plan to wear a helmet.

 

Echo, Frontier, Mission, or Vulcan?

The Echo, Frontier, Mission and Vulcan Jackets are all softshell jackets with three pockets, but they’re quite different products. The Echo is a lightweight softshell perfect for aerobic activity or warmer environments, but its thin fabric provides little warmth. The Frontier jacket uses the same fabric as our bestselling Ibex and Chamois pants and provides a middle-ground of durability, weather resistance, and a useful amount of insulation. The Mission Jacket is thicker, heavier and warmer again, so better suited to colder conditions. It has pit zips which enable you to vent the jacket when you get too hot. The Vulcan is the warmest and most weatherproof of all of our softshell jackets. Despite its pit zips, in mild conditions it might be overkill, but for cold and windy weather it is perfect, and its durability means it should last many years.

 

Austra or Sonica women’s Tights?

The Sonica and Austra Women’s Tights are both made from Exolite 280, but they are quite different products. Sonica tights have two discreet pockets and a flat waistband while the Austra Tights have four zipped pockets and a belt at the waistband. The Sonica Tights are perhaps best thought of as softshell tights, while Austra Tights are more featured softshell trousers in a tight silhouette. If you’re a man wanting softshell tights, then we only make the Austra for you (sorry).

 

I own Ibex or Chamois pants. Which pants should I buy next?

Our best-selling legwear are best-selling for a reason, and if you really like your Chamois or Ibex pants then you could always get another pair. However, there are plenty of other options available:

 


The Fine Line

Finely crafted soft shell that treads the perfect line for Rock Climbing and Alpinism.

Air Permeability & Windproofness