For many campers and outdoor enthusiasts, one of the most important pieces of gear to have with you is a jacket. It will keep you dry and warm in both wet and cold weather and will help you make the most of your time outdoors.
A question that often arises when choosing the best jacket for you is what is the difference between a softshell vs hardshell jacket?
Before we can even get into the difference between these two it’s important to note that the term shell, is used interchangeably with a jacket.
This type of jacket is stiffer and heavier than the softshell jacket thus its name. It will provide a camper or hiker with the best weather protection.
Think of hardshell jackets as being both windproof as well as rainproof and feature a hood to keep the elements out of your head. These types of jackets are made from material such as PVC or GORE-TEX which is a popular type of fabric due to its breathability. GORE-TEX is essentially a layer of plastic with holes that will not let water penetrate but allows water vapor from body sweat to escape.
Hardshell jackets are known for their strength as well as their ability to offer protection from the rain. However, how effective they are will depend on the temperature, humidity and the clothes you are wearing underneath.
If you are camping in cold snowy weather but don’t have enough insulation underneath the jacket, then its outer layers can get very cold and once the jacket comes into contact with your skin, it may transfer the cold to your body.
On the other hand, if the temperatures are high and there is a lot of humidity in the air, you might end up getting wet from all the sweat especially if you have a lot of warm clothes underneath.
Hardshell jackets are still able to offer sufficient protection throughout the winter season especially if you wear them the right way and with the right clothing underneath.
Even with mild weather, a hardshell jacket is essential and every camper needs to have one packed and ready in case the weather changes.
Features of hardshell jackets
When buying your hardshell jacket there are a few extra features that you need to consider to ensure you pick the right jacket for you.
Hardshell jackets can either be 2-layer, 2.5-layer or 3-layer jackets. The higher the number of layers the more weather and water-resistant it is and the heavier it feels when you wear the jacket.
If you are going out camping in the high mountains where the weather can get a lot colder, then a 3-layer jacket is ideal. On the other hand, if you expect rain but also want to be able to hike greater distances, then a 2-layer or a 2.5-layer hardshell jacket is the one for you.
A 2-layer jacket has the outer waterproof material and an inner membrane. A 3-layer jacket has a middle membrane between the outer and the inner layers.
When it comes to comparing the weight between a softshell vs hardshell jacket, the softshell is far lighter. It is made from fabric such as nylon or polyester and will provide good protection against the elements although not to the degree that the hard shell can.
One thing with softshell jackets is that they can be worn under hardshell jackets to provide warmth in extremely harsh weather.
Softshell jackets are not waterproof which makes them less ideal during wet weather. But they are windproof making them better suited for mild to cold as well as windy weather. These types of jackets are stretchy which means you can wear them when climbing or performing rigorous activities.
They are light and breathable which helps to keep you dry. In case you sweat, the moisture-wicking properties of the softshell jacket allow it to absorb sweat through the inner layer and bring it to the outer layer.
When selecting your softshell jacket, however, note that they are not all similar and are made from different materials. Some jackets can keep out water but these are heavier and are often not breathable.
Types of softshell jackets
There are two main types of softshell jackets. These are stretch-woven jackets and membrane jackets. The stretch variety is made from materials such as nylon, or polyester while the membrane softshell jackers feature GORE-TEX, wind stopper or ventia among others.
Stretch woven jackets have a tight weave and it is this feature that allows the jacket to keep you relatively dry in moderate rain. The membrane softshell jackets are both waterproof and breathable but have a looser weave. This loose weaving allows for more breathability.
Features of softshell jackets
When choosing the right softshell jacket for you, there are a few factors that you need to look for.
The hood may or may not be present in a softshell jacket. If you are getting the jacket to use underneath a hardshell jacket for more warmth then since the hard shell will always have a hood, you will not need to get softshell with a hood.
However, if you plan to use your softshell jacket in mild weather on its own, then a hood will shield you from the rain.
Softshell jackets come with plenty of pockets. These come in handy when you want to carry small items such as a pocket knife, fire starter, compass or a map. Some features both internal and external pockets while others have pockets on the back. Choose one that best suits your outdoor activities.
The fleece lining in a softshell jacket cannot be removed. It is meant to keep you warm when the temperatures drop.
A tight-fitting softshell jacket will keep heat close to your body preventing it from escaping. This keeps you warm. Choose a jacket that is not loose and is relatively close to your body. The tight fit also makes it easier to wear the softshell jacket underneath a hard shell in cases of extremely cold weather.
A good wrist closure will help to prevent heat from escaping and is much more comfortable to wear than a loose wrist jacket. It also allows you to pull the arms of your jacket up in case you want to use your hands without the jacket getting in the way.
The first thing that you will need to consider when choosing a softshell or hardshell jacket is what type of weather you will be operating in as well as any clothing that you plan to wear underneath.
When it comes to winter, some campers and hikers will wear an inner fleece to remain warm as well as an outer shell worn above the jacket to boost insulation when they are not moving. In this case, the weight of the jacket is an important consideration.
Pros of getting a hardshell jacket
Hardshell jackets offer the best weather protection especially against heavy rains and snowy conditions. Some people will use hardshell jackets as a shelter.
The fabrics that make the hardshell jackets are woven tightly which makes them durable. They can withstand wear and tear far better than their soft shell counterparts. Hardshell jackets are made for extreme sports which explains their tough construction.
These types of jackets are breathable thanks to the GORE-TEX material that is used to make the outer layer. For hikers, mountaineers and cold-weather campers, the hardshell jacket is a must-have.
Pros of getting a softshell jacket
Since the materials used in making the softshell jackets are often stretchable, they allow for easy movement.
These types of jackets are much more comfortable thanks to the inner fleece lining.
Softshell jackets are also simple to fold and pack into a backpack when hiking or trekking. The minimalist can fold the jacket up and turn it into a pillow. Other activities that are best suited for softshell jackets include rock climbing, running, mountaineering and any other that requires you to be generally on the move.
Even while not being completely waterproof, a softshell jacket can keep you dry during moderate or light rain showers.
Globo Surf Overview
Every camper, hiker and outdoors enthusiast needs a good jacket that not only fits well but offers the right protection against the weather elements. There are plenty of differences between softshell vs hardshell jackets and the one you choose will depend largely on the weather conditions in your chosen location.
For a much freer movement and protection against mild weather and moderate rain, a softshell jacket is a good choice. It is, however, always a good idea to have a hardshell jacket packed just in case you experience a sharp drop in temperature or the nights get cold when you are out in the backcountry.