Why do you need a softshell jacket if you have a r...

Why do you need a softshell jacket if you have a rain shell ?  Two jackets in your layering system? Why use a jacket that is not waterproof?  I hear these comments frequently.

Traditional layering; a moisture wicking base layer, fleece or down insulating layers and a waterproof/breathable hardshell. Adjust your insulation layers to regulate your core temp and utilize the shell to block wind and rain.  If you have spent time in the mountains you know this system works

The traditional layering system, as good as it is, has drawbacks for mountain hunting.  Packable rain shells are noisy and there is not a laminate on the market that breaths well enough to keep you dry on the inside during a hard climb.

What if you could block wind, light rain and snow without a laminate? Keeping you out of your rain shell unless it’s dumping?

Enter softshell technology; a fabric designed to blend the insulating qualities of fleece and the wind, abrasion and light weather protection of a hard shell into one garment.  Softshell offers light weather protection by using Durable Water Repellency (DWR) on a tightly woven face fabric. This allows softshells to be very breathable and quiet. It is the ultimate mountain hunting fabric.

Softshells were first developed in the late 1990’s for the outdoor market.  Climbers were having the same breathability and durability issues with their traditional layering systems. Softshells are now a mainstay for climbing and are becoming more popular for hunting as the advantages are becoming recognized and more manufactures are offering softshell.

Softshells come in a variety of configurations:

  • Stretch woven (single layer)
  • Light weight stretch woven bonded to a backer fabric such as fleece (two layer)
  • Wind blocking laminate bonded between a stretch woven and a backer fabric (three layers)

For bonded softshells, backer fabrics dictate the warmth to weight ratio (how warm it will be in relation to the weight of the garment). For back country hunting you want a high warmth to weight ratio, which gives you a lightweight and warm garment. There are three general choices for backer fabrics; Brushed Tricot, Micro Fleece & High Loft Fleece.

Brushed Tricot
– Low Bulk
– Light weight
– Low warmth to weight ratio

Micro Fleece
– Packable
– Lightweight
– Good warmth to weight ratio
– Not as warm as high loft fleece

High loft fleece
– Highest warmth to weight ratio
– Bulky for efficient back country hunting
– Heavy compared to brushed tricot or micro fleece.

For KUIU’s system, a light weight stretch woven bonded to a micro fleece offers the best versatility for mountain hunting.

The goal for KUIU‘s soft shell:

  • Quiet
  • Abrasion resistant
  • Highly wind resistant without a laminate
  • Superior breathablility
  • 4-way stretch
  • No elastomers (lycra).  Finding a fabric that has stretch without elastomers is critically important to reduce weight and decrease dry times.
  • Low Bulk for packability
  • High warmth to weight ratio
  • Micro fleece backer fabric
  • High quality Durable Water Repellant (DWR)

Using softshell adds versatility to your layering system. I use a lighter weight, more packable rain shell because I wear my softshell to stalk in when the weather is bad. I also pack lighter weight, more breathable insulation layers because of the wind resistance and warmth to weight ratio of softshell.  In rough terrain a hard fall will not tear my softshell like a hard shell or fleece jacket.

The enclosed link is to a great climbing gear site that offers more historical information and an in-depth discussion on softshells you may find of interest:

Once you put softshell into your system you will never leave home without it.  Just remember not all softshells are made the same.  Do your home work before you shell out your hard earned money on just any softshell.


This article has 3 comment(s)

  1. Mark

    Hi Jason,
    I agree the softshell is a great innovation, especially in terms of weight to benenifit ration. I have a MHW Alchemy jacket and love it. Where does Gore-Tex’s softshell fall into the mix in terms of tricot vs fleece and brethabilty? I didn’t know they even made a waterproof softshell until I recently came across Sitka’s Coldfront jacket, which I’ve been lusting after ever since. Is KUIU going to use Gore-Tex softshell or something else? If not Gore-Tex, any plans for adding Windstopper? I remember reading somewhere that Gore-Tex is windproof on it’s own due to the membrane, so it would not need the Windstopper backing to add windproofing.

    • Justin

      I don’t have the Sitka you mentioned but I do have an Arcteryx Gore-Tex Softshell. It is essentially a gore-tex shell but as the name suggests, softer and has a micro-fleece backing. It works well as a ski jacket but doesn’t have the qualities many look for in a soft shell, breathability being king.

      • Jason Hairston

        You are spot on with a laminated soft shell. It is defeating the exact purpose of why soft shell was invented…breathability. Thanks for the comment Justin.