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Softshell – Protection in the rain?


Protection in the rain
Protection in the rain?

The current generation of soft shells is looking pretty good: they’re as soft as fleece, yet they still have enough in them to withstand winds and bad weather.

Since it just continues to bucket down out there day after day, let’s have a closer look at rainwear. More specifically, let’s have a look at softshells and what they are capable of. Are softshells capable of withstanding sudden changes in weather? Are there any differences between the different materials and technologies used for softshells? Well, continue to read and we’ll tell you!

Softshells, hardshells and fleece

There’s not just one softshell fabric. Softshell fabrics actually come in several different varieties. That’s why it’s so difficult to make any general statements as to their characteristics, but we’re going to be brave and give it our best shot!

Characteristics: Softshells vs. hardshells

The biggest advantage a softshell has over a hardshell is its superior ability to regulate body heat during high-output activities. It effectively blocks wind and cold air whilst simultaneously transporting moisture from the inside to the outside. So, you won’t have to keep taking off and putting back on different layers of clothing as your body temperature changes. Another advantage is the high elasticity of the fabric used for softshells, which allows the jacket to be more form fitting. So, not only does a softshell look great, but it is also perfect for activities that require a lot of movement, such as climbing.

Characteristics: Softshell vs. Fleece

Water beading up on a ARC'TERYX jacket
Water beading up on a ARC’TERYX jacket

This battle isn’t even worth fighting: A softshell is far superior to your conventional fleece! Not only does the latter tend to soak up even the faintest of drizzle like a sponge, it isn’t really capable of protecting you from the wind, either! Who needs that? Plus, you won’t ever see those ugly little balls of lint on a softshell, either, since manufacturers use abrasion-resistant fabric.

A softshell in the rain

Let’s cut to the chase: How well can a softshell hold off rain? Well, manufacturers like to take two different approaches when it comes to fending off rain with a softshell: coated jackets and membranes.

Coated jackets – for moderate conditions

For light rain or snow, a softshell with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating is a viable option. The DWR coating causes rain to bead up and roll off the face fabric but doesn’t inhibit the breathability. However, the water-repellent coating wears off pretty quickly in areas exposed to a lot of wear (e.g., the shoulders). To rectify this, many manufacturers recommend (carefully!) using an iron to reactivate the DWR treatment. Another option is to use special waterproofing products.

Membrane jackets

The testing of a GORE-TEX® softshell membrane - jacket (Source: GORE-TEX)
The testing of a GORE-TEX® softshell membrane – jacket (Source: GORE-TEX)

When it’s raining cats and dogs, the only thing that can help is a membrane. Manufacturers use special softshell membranes, which are, like the jacket’s outer and lining, elastic so as not to impede your range of motion. However, there is a huge downside to adding a membrane to a softshell: it inhibits its breathability, causing it to lose its decisive advantage over the hardshell! But, if you still want a softshell that’ll work for all weather conditions, you should make sure that all the seams are sealed and that the softshell is equipped with the appropriate zips. If the softshell of your choice has got all these things, there’s no reason not to wear it in the most adverse of conditions. You can find a comparison of different membranes at Base Camp.

Buy softshell jackets here >>

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