Hardshell and softshell jackets - how do they differ?

2021-04-17
Hardshell and softshell jackets - how do they differ?

Instead of traversing a hillside, I decided to climb the mountain using the azimuth method. It was extremely steep and the weather conditions did not make the task easier. The wind brought low clouds, and the fog and drizzle forced me to put on a membrane jacket. It was a mistake. Heavy physical exertion combined with the hardshell caused intense sweating. An hour later, during the stop, I got chills as my body started to cool down due to the sweat-soaked T-shirt. This situation would not have happened if I had chosen the clothes according to the prevailing conditions. The rain was not falling heavily, so a hardshell jacket was not necessary and limited breathability.

Softshell. What does it mean?

In my situation, a breathable softshell that protects against drizzle would be enough. But what does this word mean? In the past, they were called this way simply in opposition to hardshell, i.e. single-layer clothing that provides both thermal comfort and protection against wind. Over time, both terms evolved and the differences between them began to blur.

Today we call softshell a jacket that is light, soft and flexible, which does not restrict movement and, above all, allows the skin to breathe. At the same time, it guarantees medium wind protection and minimal rain protection. Softshell is often insulated with an integrated layer of thin fleece. Sometimes softshell jackets even have a membrane that provides breathability at a level acceptable during exercise, but weaker than in the case of a classic rain jacket. When putting on a softshell, we must take into account that we will get wet in the rain.

Hardshell - membrane jacket for heavy rain

For heavy rain, hardshell is the best - a jacket with a waterproof membrane, under which you can put additional layers of clothing, such as thermal underwear and a warm fleece jacket. Yes, hardshell is part of the layering system. The downside of using a membrane jacket is its low breathability, which can make you sweat a lot during intense exercise.

Hardshell vs softshell, the weather will decide the duel score!

When going out into the field, we should choose the top layer to the expected weather conditions. When there is no risk of rainfall, but you expect gusts of wind, fog or light drizzle, it will be much wiser to choose a comfortable and breathable softshell. In times of changing weather, it will work just as well as spring military jackets, such as nylon types with camouflage patterns.

I am aware that my definitions of the words hardshell or softshell differ from the original meanings, but they are the closest to reality and correspond to the market descriptions of products. Speaking humanly: what softshell is today, no one can grasp and put within any framework.

Author: Kajetan Wilczyński

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