What is A Softshell and Why Would I want One?

The term “softshell” in regards to apparel could be confusing for some. Will it keep me dry? Will it keep me warm? What do I use it for? All of these are common questions from those who are unfamiliar with this category. We are going to break it down for you and explain best uses and why you should have these versatile pieces in your closet. 

The Jacket (or pant) for Almost Anything

Versatility is king in many people’s decision making process, especially at certain price points. Softshells, whether pants or jackets, offer the most versatility in an outerlayer piece. As with any jacket or pant, there are going to be different styles, materials, and water resistance levels. But let’s break down the basics of what a softshell is. 

What to Use a Softshell For

Softshells come in many styles and options and are made of fabrics that are stretchy, breathable, and provide some weather resistance. They are made for high output activity where all of these components above would be necessary for comfort and all around use. High output activities could be climbing, hiking, biking, backcountry skiing or snowboarding, cross country skiing, and so much more. The stretchy material allows you to move more freely than some restrictive materials used in full-on hardshells, plus these pieces are usually lighter weight. That means if you need to shed a layer, you will most likely be able to pack it down more easily. However, that’s where the breathability component comes in. Because these pieces are made to let air in and out, they help to regulate body temperature better than a traditional hardshell. This may mean you don’t even have to worry about shedding a layer at all!

So, Will it Keep Me Dry?

Softshells have some amount of water resistance to them, and you will even find those that are fully waterproof. The fully waterproof ones are referred to as hybrid pieces. Where and what you plan to use a softshell for will determine whether a water resistant or hybrid piece will work best for you. If you are a fair weather cross country or backcountry skier, a piece coated with DWR (durable water repellent) should offer the protection you need. If you are looking for one piece to handle nearly any condition, a hybrid softshell would be up your alley. These hybrid pieces maintain the breathability and mobility of a true softshell, yet provide protection against rain and snow. The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Hybrid Pants and jacket (also available in women’s) is a perfect example. Learn more about this specific kit from TMS ambassador Ben, in his full review.


How About Warmth?

Being that softshells offer some sort of weather resistance, the could keep you warmer by keeping moisture and wind away. But this will be dependent on the entire construction of the piece. Some will be warmer than others and as with any piece of gear, it depends on what you are doing and how your body temperature naturally runs. Layering properly for the weather and given activity is something that varies person to person. Figuring out what you personally need to stay comfortable through different conditions and activities can take some time and experimenting. 

Finding What You Need

Hopefully, this has answered some questions you have about softshells and why you would want one. Again, there are many options depending on what activity or weather you will be using your softshell for. But, whatever your main reason may be for buying a softshell, the odds are that you will have find many more uses for it throughout all of the seasons. To narrow down your options, start by asking yourself these two main questions: What will be my main use? How much weather resistance do I want? 

If you need help finding the perfect option for you, stop into Tahoe Mountain Sports any time to see what's on hand and to learn more. You'll find softshells in a number of brands like, Dynafit, Black Diamond, Outdoor Research, Kuhl, Crazy Fast & Light, Ortovox, and more. 


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