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Inside The Outdoors

How to Choose a Softshell Jacket

04.11.2014 | Outdoor Buying Guides

Softshell JacketsWhat is a softshell jacket?

A softshell is a versatile jacket that is suitable for many outdoor activities, but what exactly is a softshell jacket?

A soft shell jacket is a made from a woven material in contrast to the stiffer material of hard shell (or waterproof) jackets. Unlike conventional jackets a softshell jacket does not have a lining but instead is made by bonding two layers of fabric together.

They are designed to bridge the gap between a fleece, which offers less water resistance and protection from the wind, and a waterproof jacket which is less stretchy.

Softshell JacketStretch Woven vs Membrane

There are two types of softshell jacket; stretch-woven or membrane. A stretch-woven soft shell jacket has a water repellent coating whilst in a membrane softshell a waterproof membrane is bonded between the two layers of fabric. Neither softshell jackets are 100% waterproof as they do not have taped seams to stop water entering in at the stitched areas.

Stretch-woven softshell jackets are more breathable than membrane softshells and are popular for active pursuits such as running or cycling. Membrane softshells may be slightly heavier than stretch-woven options and are more suited to outdoor activities where you might need more protection from the elements.

Stretch-Woven

Pros Cons
Better breathability than Membrane Only water resistant not fully waterproof
Lighter weight May not be windproof
High wicking properties to keep you dry when active Not as lightweight as a fleece
Ideal midlayer under a waterproof jacket

Membrane

Pros Cons
More waterproof than a stretch woven jacket Often heavier than a stretch woven jacket
More breathable than a hard shell jacket Not as breathable as a stretch woven jacket
Offers protection against the elements Not as waterproof as a hard shell jacket

Why choose a softshell?

Softshell jackets are the ideal mid layer when conditions are particularly cold and you need something a bit more robust than a fleece. A softshell can also be worn over a base layer or t-shirt as an outer layer due to their showerproof and windproof capabilities.

Here are a few key factors to consider when buying:

–      Weather conditions

–      What you will be wearing the jacket for

–      Style and fit

–      Your budget

Weather Conditions

Stretch-woven softshell jackets are only showerproof, not fully waterproof. They are the ideal outer layer for fair weather activities but are not suited if you expect heavy rain, where a hard membrane softshell or hard shell jacket would be more appropriate.

However, stretch-woven softshells are a great mid layer for cold conditions, and can be worn under a waterproof jacket for added warmth as a windproof layer.

A membrane softshell, with a built in waterproof layer, is suitable for less favourable conditions and can be worn in just about any weather.

Activities Suitable For

The type of softshell you choose will depend on the activity you indeed to use it for. For activities such as climbing, fair weather hiking and cycling where you need a lightweight outer layer, a stretch-woven softshell jacket is ideal.

Some softshell jackets are fleece lined for added warmth. These are ideal if you are not necessarily looking for a jacket to use during strenuous activities, but want something lightweight to wear on a day to day basis.

If you’re looking for a softshell for more active purposes and you don’t need quite as much warmth, then an unlined softshell would be more suitable. Without the fleece lining you still have the option of layering up underneath if you so wish. For cycling or running a thinner, breathable softshell is ideal.

Style and Fit

Softshell jackets are generally short in length and should be worn quite tight fitting. The stretchy material means there is still a good range of movement, but the tighter fit helps to retain heat.

As well as their technical properties, the shorter fit and style makes them a popular choice as a casual every day jacket.

Key Features

Hood – Not all softshell jackets come with a hood. If the sole purpose of your softshell will be to act as a mid-layer underneath a waterproof, a softshell jacket without a hood may be better suited as a hood could get in the way. However if you intend to wear your softshell jacket as an outer layer during light rain showers, a hood is a useful feature.

Internal and external pockets – Most softshell jackets come with plenty of pockets. Pockets are useful for fitting small items such as maps, gloves, money and any other essentials without the need for a big backpack.

Some active style softshell jackets will have pockets on the back of the jacket. These are particularly handy for cycling where full side pockets can get in the way.

Inner fabrics – Many softshell jackets will be fleece lined for warmth. In a softshell jacket the fleece lining cannot be removed.

Stretchy fabric – Softshells are great for active pursuits due to the stretchy fabric which does not restrict movement.