What are Softshell jackets?

When it comes to outdoor clothing you’re spoiled for choice, especially for a layering system, which includes softshell jackets. But what are they?

You may have seen them while looking for a new jacket or warm layer ahead of the new season. You may have seen a fellow outdoor lover wearing them and asked what it was. Well, you aren’t alone. These jackets are incredibly versatile and ideal for outdoor activities.

To help you out, Winfields is here to explain everything about softshell jackets. We’ll guide you through not only what they are, but why you should choose one, its warming and waterproof abilities and how it compares to other outdoor jackets.

Read on to find more about softshell jackets in our complete guide…

What is a softshell jacket?

Softshell clothing is an all-rounder when it comes to outdoor clothing. It’s a new take on hardshell outerwear – your waterproof, for example. The material offers more flexibility that makes it ideal for outdoor activities, such as hiking, climbing, activewear or as an everyday layer.

Softshell jackets are the ideal choice when looking for a versatile layer that can either be worn instead of a heavy waterproof or as an extra layer underneath your outer layer in colder, more extreme conditions.

A softshell jacket is designed to bridge the gap between a fleece, which offers little waterproofing ability and wind protection, and a waterproof jacket which is less stretchy.

What is softshell fabric?

Softshell fabric is a woven fabric, which makes it a comfortable warm layer that doesn’t have restrictions on movement or limitations like other materials.

Unlike standard outdoor jackets, a softshell jacket does not have a lining but is instead made by bonding two layers of fabric together for warmth and flexibility.

Are softshell jackets waterproof?

Softshells are ideal for dry and fair weather. In other words, a softshell will keep you comfortable in light rain but is not for heavy rainfall and storms.

They are water-resistant rather than waterproof. Softshells offer more protection than a fleece but not as much as a hardshell jacket and don’t feature taped seams.

Are softshell jackets warm?

As a softshell is made from woven fabric, it provides considerable cosiness and breathability, preventing you from overheating when being active.

The best softshell jackets have the advantage of being windproof, which also helps to keep the chill out and maintain warmth.

What is a softshell jacket used for?

Softshell jackets are known for being versatile, stretchy, warm, and breathable during active outdoor adventures. They are a favourite of anyone who requires an extra range of movement and moisture control inside their clothing.

Softshells can be used as an insulating mid-layer when you’re layering for cold, snowy weather. They can also be a great choice for everyday wear in cooler weather. Softshell jackets are versatile but often aren’t as lightweight, packable or waterproof as hardshell jackets.

Tip: The clue is in the name. A softshell jacket is flexible and can help to protect you from the elements, but not as much as a hardshell jacket.

What’s the difference between a softshell and hardshell jacket?

Now that we’ve discussed what a softshell jacket is, it’s important to know how it is different from a hardshell jacket.

What is a hardshell jacket?

A hardshell jacket is much more rigid and waterproof than a softshell – it’s your traditional coat or top layer. This makes them favourable for bad weather in the outdoors.

A typical example will be your waterproof jacket with a hood. Sometimes, a hardshell jacket will be insulated, but they are designed to provide lightweight, durable, and waterproof protection.

Note: It is called a hardshell because the fabric isn’t stretchy and has a crinkly feel and sound while being extremely durable.

When you compare a hardshell to a softshell, you can instantly tell the difference by feeling the fabric. The same goes for when you listen to the movement of both jackets and listening for a crinkling sound. A hardshell jacket makes more noise than a softshell due to the material.

What is a hardshell jacket used for?

Hardshell jackets are used for protection from rain or snow – extreme weather. They are a must-have for any activity in wet weather, such as hiking, camping, backpacking, and skiing. The best hardshell jackets – those without insulation – are often lighter than softshell jackets and can be packed away. They are the best option when weight and space are an issue.

You can see from this diagram how the two jackets are different.

When should I wear a softshell jacket?

Softshell Jackets can be used in good or cool weather on the hills and trails or for use when you need more breathability than a hardshell waterproof coat. This would include if you’re running or climbing. You can use these points as a guide on when to wear them:

  • Daily wear for moderate and good weather with little chance of rain
  • For climbing, cycling or activities calling for lots of movement. You could wear them over a base layer instead of a fleece
  • In severe weather as a mid-layer underneath a hardshell jacket

You should wear a softshell jacket if you’re going hiking, climbing, biking, trail running, or even lounging around in cool, dry weather. Essentially, when it’s cool or warm with little rain around. A softshell could also be worn for skiing on a dry day.

Just remember that while softshells aren’t waterproof, they provide reliable water resistance. So, if it rains while you’re outdoors, you should stay mostly dry.

Why should I choose a softshell jacket?

Softshell jackets are an ideal mid-layer when conditions are cold and you need something more robust than a fleece in a layering system. A softshell can be worn over a base layer or t-shirt as an outer layer on mild-cool days due to their water-resistant and windproof capabilities.

What should I consider when buying a softshell jacket?

As with all outdoor clothing and equipment, you should always be aware of some considerations when buying. We’ve highlighted some important points for softshell jackets:

  • Weather conditions when outdoors
  • What you will be wearing the jacket for – outer layer, part of a layering system etc.
  • Style and fit of your jacket
  • Your budget

Weather

Many softshell jackets are showerproof- not fully waterproof – so are ideal as an outer layer for fair weather. They are not ideal if you expect heavy rain, where a hard “membrane” softshell or hardshell jacket would be the better choice.

However, softshells are a great mid-layer for colder conditions to wear under a waterproof jacket for added warmth and as a windproof layer. You can find softshells with a built-in waterproof layer for unfavourable conditions that can be worn in for most weather.

Activities

The type of softshell jacket you choose will depend on what you want to use it for. For activities such as climbing, fair-weather hiking and even cycling, a lightweight and flexible outer layer – a softshell jacket – is ideal.

Some softshell jackets are fleece-lined for extra warmth which makes them a go-to during easier activities and lightweight for day-to-day wear. For more active use, where you don’t need quite as much warmth, then an unlined softshell will be best.

Style & Fit

Softshell jackets are often short in length and should be tight fitting. The stretchier construction of softshells means there is a good range of movement, unlike many fleeces. Plus, the tighter fit helps to retain heat.

Aside from their technical properties, the shorter fit and style makes softshell jackets a popular choice as a casual everyday outer layer.

Softshell jackets are an ideal alternative to the classic fleece, either as an outer layer in spring and autumn or mid-layer in winter. Versatile and stylish, you can’t go wrong with them.

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