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What Is a Soft Shell Softshell Jacket vs. Gore Tex or Hard Shell Hardshell?

Updated on October 4, 2011

What are the benefits of a soft shell jacket?

Soft shell jackets and soft shell pants have been all the rage among outdoor sports enthusiasts — and the clothiers like Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear and Marmot who want to make money off of them — since about 2005.

Being popular doesn't make them good, so what are the performance features that people want when they buy soft shell instead of a hard shell?

Soft shell jackets are made of a tightly-woven high performance, stretchy material. The number one benefit of a soft shell jacket or soft shell pant is that they are flexible. The pant or the jacket moves with you as you climb that mountain, descend that ski slope, head deep into the backcountry.

Soft shells simply tend to be more comfortable. They make less noise, and they bend. They also breathe better than a hard shell, so if you are performing some rigorous activity, a soft shell will let you sweat escape and thus keep you dry. A hard shell is somewhat breathable, but it can trap sweat, which ultimately could make you cold.

If it's waterproof or wind-blocking features that are most important to you, then you want a hard shell. Hard shells, and Gore Tex in particular, are unbeatable when it comes to keeping out the elements on a stormy day.

Do I Need To Spend Big Bucks for a Soft Shell Jacket?

No, a good soft shell jacket or soft shell pant does not need to be expensive and break the bank.

Any piece of technical gear will command a premium, but these are performance features you need and value, so it is fair that you pay more than you will for any old fleece jacket or insulated pant.

Cloudveil pioneered soft shells in the outdoor gear and skiwear marketplace. Cloudveil makes a very good product that is less expensive, and also not as technologically advanced, as backcountry gear made by the likes of Acr'teryx and Patagonia.

The important things to look for and consider is the degree to which you need a waterproof garment and a windproof garment. Soft shell pants and jackets are less waterproof and less wind resistant than hard shells. In the most inclement winter weather and serious rain, a hard shell will serve you better than a soft shell, hands down.

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