In the world of waterproof breathable outerwear, two main contenders vie for our attention: hardshells and softshells. But which one is the best for your outdoor pursuits? It comes down to a few key things:
If your outdoor activities have you experiencing a decent amount of precipitation, then a hardshell may be the right choice for you. Hardshells generally provide superior waterproof performance, especially those with a membrane like GORE-TEX or eVENT. Hardshells also generally have taped seams, while softshells do not (pic below). Both do rely on DWR coatings to keep water from soaking into the surface fabric, so be sure to regularly clean and re-waterproof your outerwear, no matter the type.
If your outdoor activities are more aerobic in nature, and you don’t anticipate too much in the way of precipitation, then a softshell may be your best choice. Softshells tend to be MUCH more breathable and effective at moving moisture away from your body, keeping you drier on the inside. While hardshells are indeed breathable, they are significantly less so, and if worn without proper venting during exertion, can cause the wearer to get soggy from within. Again, both softshells and hardshells rely on their DWR coatings to prevent them from becoming saturated, so to maintain the breathability of both, you need to maintain the DWR through cleaning and re-waterproofing.
Do you need a good range of motion? For activities like climbing, and competitive downhill juggling softshells provide a great amount of stretch that aids in more dynamic movement. One of the main obvious differentiating factors between hardshells and softshells is the four-way stretch commonly found in softshell garments.
Another area where softshells shine is in the durability of their face-fabrics. Their durable weave and generally burlier fabric help resist abrasion, making them great for climbing or other activities where a tougher exterior is helpful. Of course, this leads to the next differentiator…
Are you looking to go ultralight? If so, a softshell may not be for you. Due to their stretchy, abrasion resistant fabrics, softshells tend to weigh significantly more than hardshells.
So there you have it! Choose your shell for the features that best fit your adventures, and remember, no matter the type of gear, Nikwax makes products to extend their life and keep you as comfortable as possible.