If you’ve been out walking when the weather is mild but showery you’ll know that keeping comfortable can be a bit awkward. If you keep your waterproofs on all the time you end up overheating, but then you don’t want to get wet when it rains. This is where softshell jackets come in. During changeable, mild weather, they are ideal for use as a mid-layer or outer shell. Softshells keep you warm without you getting too overheated and are also water resistant so will keep you dry in a light shower.
What is a Softshell Jacket?
The material used to make softshell fabric is usually a mix of 80% polyamide and 20% polyester. It has a feel similar to neoprene. There are several proprietary softshell fabrics including Berghaus AF (Active Fit), Salomon Clima and The North Face Apex ClimateBlock.
Softshells have a snug fit and are flexible with a high degree of movement. They are highly breathable and wick away sweat, making them ideal for active use including walking, nordic walking, running, climbing and mountain biking.
Softshells are windproof, so they are great when you are walking in the fells when a fresh breeze can be present as you gain altitude, or when you are cycling in a cold wind.
Softshells in your Layering System
Softshells can be worn as part of your layering system, in place of a mid-layer or fleece. Softshells can also be used as an outer shell in mild weather. Whilst softshells provide protection from light rain, you will need a hard shell waterproof jacket in heavy rain or wind driven rain. One good option is to wear a soft shell and take a lightweight waterproof, such as a Gore-Tex Active jacket, to keep you covered if the weather gets bad.
Some modern softshells include a waterproof membrane, although the seams of the jacket are not sealed so they cannot be classed as being a waterproof jacket. Softshells are treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish which helps prevent them from becoming saturated with rain water.
Choosing a Softshell
When choosing a softshell jacket it is important to consider what type of activities you will be doing when you are wearing it and what the weather conditions may be like. Different jackets have different thicknesses and some are also lined with fleece material on the inside, which are better suited to colder weather.
Features may include pit zips, front pockets for your hands, Napoleon or media pockets, stretch cuffs and stretch hem. Some softshells also have a hood and if designed for climbers the hood can be big enough to fit over your climbing helmet.
Examples from Our Current Range of Softshells
The Jack Wolfskin Flyweight Jacket which, at only 125 grams, is an ultralight softshell designed for endurance activities and fell running.
The Berghaus Pulse 3/4 Zip Softshell has a four way stretch active fit suibtable for mountain biking and fast paced hiking.
The North Face Durango Hoodie has a high loft fleece inner to provide extra warmth for mountain use.
Advice about Caring for your Softshell
To get the most out of your softshell it should be washed with a non-detergent cleaning product such as Nikwax Tech Wash. The DWR finish can then be re-applied with either TX Direct or Nikwax Softshell Proof.
Softshell Jackets Summary
Softshells are versatile outdoors jackets, ideal for active use in mild, changeable spring/autumn weather. They are highly flexible, windproof and breathable, with water repellency that will keep you dry in light showers. However, they are not suitable as an outer shell in persisent rain. Softshells make a good mid-layer in place of a fleece and can be used as an outer shell in certain conditions.