If you regularly spend time in the outdoors doing activities such as camping, hiking, or outdoor sports, you already know this frustrating truth: the weather doesn’t always cooperate with your plans.
And when it’s raining or snowing but you still want to get outside, it can be difficult to figure out what to wear.
Softshell and hardshell jackets both protect you from the elements, but the two are meant to be used for different activities in different types of weather. Unfamiliar with the differences? Here’s a breakdown of softshell and hardshell jackets and which is best for different outdoor scenarios.
Softshell jackets are meant for outdoor use, but not by themselves — they’re intended to be layered with other clothing items. Think of a softshell as a fleece jacket, but one that has a little extra protection, keeping you safe no matter the elements.
Most softshell jackets are weatherproof and include a DWR (durable water repellent) element. However, they aren’t meant for extreme outdoor conditions — that’s where hardshell jackets come into play. You wouldn’t want to wear a softshell by itself unless weather conditions are relatively mild.
Softshell jackets first became common about ten years ago. Manufacturers began creating jackets from a stretchy material that wasn’t completely weather-resistant, but that did fend off wind and rain to some extent. The term “softshell” helped identify these jackets as a separate type of clothing than truly weather-resistant hardshell jackets.
Softshell jackets are versatile: they can be worn in a variety of situations. Their breathability makes them perfect for daily wear, and by pairing them with another warm layer, you can use them for aerobic activities such as running, rock climbing, or cycling.