You might have come across soft shell jackets in your search for a new men's soft shell jacket or soft shell jacket for women to keep you warm during cold seasons. Perhaps you noticed a fellow outdoor enthusiast sporting one and couldn't help but inquire about it. If so, you're not alone. Soft shell jackets offer remarkable versatility and are perfect for various outdoor activities. So let's get to know them some more through this comprehensive guide about what's a soft shell jacket and why you need one in your winter wardrobe.
What are soft shell jackets?
Soft shell jackets are crafted to be lightweight, highly breathable, and to allow greater freedom of movement compared to their waterproof hard shell counterparts. Typically woven from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester, often blended with elastane, these jackets stretch and flex with the wearer during dynamic activities. While they provide decent protection against wind and rain, it's important to note that they don't offer the same level of waterproofing as high-quality hard shells. Some soft shells feature a thermal insulating layer to capture and retain body heat.
These jackets are commonly worn as an outer layer in dry climates or on days with minimal rain forecast. Alternatively, they can be used as a mid-layer directly beneath a hard shell for added protection. Thanks to their lightweight and packable nature, softshell jackets can easily be placed in a daypack or hydration pack.
There are two main types of soft shell jackets. Stretch-woven jackets, the lightest and most breathable variety, are favored by trail runners, cross-country skiers, and speed hikers. On the other hand, membrane soft shells provide a higher level of protection against the elements, resembling hard shells to some extent.
What's a hard shell jacket vs. a soft shell jacket?
A hard shell is the go-to choice for backpacking trips during the monsoon season due to its complete waterproofing. It features an impermeable layer—a kind of plastic with a membrane that allows your body to breathe. This design enables vapor water from sweat to escape while preventing liquid water from entering. Similar to essentials like your tent or sleeping bag, a hard shell is a crucial piece of gear for backpackers everywhere, and it's advisable not to venture without it, even if you have a soft shell.
However, this doesn't mean you'll want to wear it on the trail when the weather is clear. Despite being designed with some breathability, hard shells can become quite clammy during strenuous activities.
Here's where soft shells excel. While they won't keep you dry in a monsoon, they do offer some water resistance and effectively vent your sweat. Without the impermeable layer that prevents water from getting in, soft shells allow for better perspiration escape. Additionally, they come with light insulation and stretch capabilities, making them an ideal choice for high-fitness activities like your morning run with the dog.
When it comes to skiing or snowboarding, the suitability of a soft shell depends on the context. For backcountry skiing or snowboarding, where you're exerting a lot of effort to ascend a hill, a soft shell is preferred as it helps prevent excessive sweating. However, in a resort setting, especially during wet, heavy snowfall rather than light, dry powder, opting for a hard shell is a quick and practical decision. There's a particular discomfort in being wet and freezing on a chairlift that stops and swings midair.
If there's a high likelihood of prolonged exposure to wet conditions, it's advisable to choose a hard shell for its superior protection. On the other hand, if it's a matter of short-term comfort, especially in activities of shorter duration, a soft shell is the preferred choice every time.
Why do you need a soft shell jacket in your winter wardrobe?
Soft shell clothing stands out as a versatile option in the realm of outdoor attire. Serving as a contemporary alternative to hard shell outerwear, like your typical waterproof gear, softshell material provides enhanced flexibility. This characteristic makes it well-suited for a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking, climbing, activewear, or even as a daily layer for everyday use.
More Freedom of Movement
Soft shell jackets, with their elastic fabrics, provide superior freedom of movement compared to hard shells, making them ideal for dynamic activities. Running jackets often feature four-way stretch, suitable for activities like scrambling. While ultimate freedom means not wearing a soft shell, practical conditions often require it for added warmth and protection.
Runners frequently carry a soft shell in their hydration pack as a precaution for unexpected rain or wind along the ridges. These jackets typically compress into a compact size, with many having the convenient feature of stuffing into their own pocket to create a neat, portable unit.
Soft shells, aside from being compact, are significantly lighter than standard waterproof jackets. Typically weighing between 150g to 400g, soft shells outshine hard shells, which usually fall in the range of 300g to 650g. The lightest among soft shells, the stretch-woven varieties, are perfect for activities like winter running or skiing, emphasizing efficient heat dispersion.
Meanwhile, heavier membrane soft shells or those with added insulation provide superior warmth and protection, making them more suitable for moderate activities like hiking or wildlife watching.
In the hard shell versus softshell debate, breathability emerges as the latter's standout feature. Regardless of how sophisticated the fabrics in a hard shell may be, a high-quality softshell always boasts superior breathability.
When engaging in activities that induce sweating, such as prolonged ascents, sustained scrambling, or running, opting for a softshell becomes essential. It enables more effective temperature regulation compared to a waterproof jacket.
More Usable for Everyday Wear
For everyday wear, a soft shell jacket tends to be the go-to option over the typical waterproof jacket. It offers greater comfort, is lighter, and more convenient to grab on the go. You'll likely find yourself reaching for it for various activities, both adventurous and mundane—whether it's running errands or embarking on more exciting endeavors. Besides, in most cases, the weather isn't consistently dreary enough to necessitate a full-fledged waterproof jacket.
Elevate Your Adventure With a Soft Shell Jacket
Softshell jackets make for a perfect substitute for the traditional fleece, serving well as an outer layer in spring and autumn or as a mid-layer in winter. With their versatility and stylish design, you can't go wrong with them.
Explore the great outdoors in style with Baleaf's Jerseys & Jackets collection, featuring the perfect men's and women's soft shell jackets for an unforgettable adventure!