Hardshell vs. Softshell: know your jackets


Apr 03, 2023

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Hardshell vs. Softshell: know your jackets

If you’re in the market for a new outdoor jacket, knowing where to start and what features to look for can be a challenge. There are hundreds of options to choose from, some which are better suited for certain seasons and weather conditions than others. But no matter what jacket you choose, it is likely to fall within one of two categories: hardshell or softshell. Once you understand whether you need a hardshell or softshell jacket, you can then narrow down your selection based on further features and details, depending on what you’ll be using the jacket for.

Today, we’re diving into the difference between hard and softshell jackets, what conditions and circumstances they’re best suited for, and how to care for your jacket once you’ve made your selection.

What is a softshell jacket?

A softshell jacket is a jacket that is made from a lightweight, gently elasticated material, and is ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, climbing and running. Softshell jackets have a woven construction that allows for fresh air to pass through the material to help you maintain a good body temperature. Though they can of course keep you warm, softshell jackets are less of a thermal layer (compared to say a fleece jacket), and instead are designed to help you maximise performance and mobility when outdoors while offering basic weather protection.

They are better suited to mild to moderate weather conditions in terms of temperature and precipitation. A softshell jacket will struggle to stand up to harsh wind or heavy rain, however, you can layer one under a waterproof jacket when heavy rain strikes.

As they are super lightweight and comfortable, they are also great as an everyday coat that you can wear while out and about or around the house.

What is a hardshell jacket?

In contrast to a softshell jacket, a hardshell jacket will have a more rigid outer layer that is designed to resist harsh weather while still providing excellent breathability. Hardshell jackets will typically have a multi-layering system in order to achieve this. These layers work a bit like this:

  • Outer shell - treated for maximum wind and rain resistance
  • Inner layer A - breathable, moisture resistant membrane
  • Inner layer B - thermal inner lining

    Of course, there will be variations in construction and quality between brands, however, a good hardshell jacket should offer a good weather resistant system to ensure you can stay dry and warm. Unlike softshells, hardshell jackets can be restrictive in terms of movement and are therefore better suited to outdoor activities and sports that are lower body focused such as hiking, walking, and snowboarding or skiing.

    With their excellent weather resistance, hardshell jackets are a great choice for harsher, colder conditions where wind and heavy precipitation is expected. You’ll also find varying weights of a hardshell jacket, some of which offer incredible warmth and 3-in-1 systems for added versatility and protection.

    What is the difference between a softshell and hardshell jacket?

    There are several key differences between a hardshell and softshell jacket (detailed above). In summary, the main differences between these two popular types of outdoor coat are:

    Hardshell Jacket

    • Rigid outer shell with a DWR coating
    • Multi-layer system
    • Focused on wind protection, rain resistance and breathability
    • Great in rough weather conditions
    • Ideal for hiking, walking, winter sports
    • Can range from lightweight options to heavier parkas
    • Designed for outdoors

    Softshell Jacket

    • Soft, single layer jacket
    • Made with elasticated fabric with a woven design
    • Focused on stretch, breathability and enabling performance
    • Slightly weather resistant - not an ideal thermal layer
    • Ideal for climbing, running, court sports, etc
    • Typically lightweight
    • Designed for indoors and outdoors

      With the above in mind, chances are you could do with both a softshell and hardshell jacket for whatever comes your way as the seasons change. Both have great features and cater to completely different activities and conditions.

      What is the best softshell jacket?

      Finding the best softshell jacket for you depends on what you are looking for and your expectations when investing in a softshell. To help you narrow down your search, we’ve compiled a list of things to look out for when deciding on the best softshell jacket for your outdoor adventures and day-to-day activities:

      1. Choose a trusted brand that specialises in outerwear - this ensures you’re getting a jacket that has been designed and built by those who really understand outdoor clothing.
      2. Check the product description and features - this is a great way to understand what your potential jacket offers in terms of performance, fit and design features. A good softshell will give you protection against wind and rain while offering breathability and some rain resistance.
      3. Read reviews - reviews can be a great way to get honest feedback and tips about a particular product such as a softshell jacket. You’ll want to pay attention to comments around quality, performance and general fit.

      Care tips for hardshell and softshell jackets

      Because of their construction differences, softshell and hardshell jackets have very different care requirements. Below, are some key care tips for washing each type of jacket, ensuring your garments last as long as possible.

      Use the right detergent

      There are specific detergents for both softshell and hardshell jackets. Traditional detergents and fabric softeners can damage outerwear and reduce its performance, so always do your research before washing your softshell or hardshell.

      Fasten the buttons, pockets and straps

      Jackets tend to have a lot of fastenings, zips, toggles and pockets. When washing, you want to minimise the risk of snagging and tearing, so always ensure everything is zipped and fastened before washing.

      Re-waterproof when necessary

      If over time your hardshell jacket stops performing as it should (i.e. letting water in), chances are its outer DWR coating has deteriorated over time. As mentioned above, there are specific detergents for hardshell jackets, including those that are designed to restore their waterproof and windproof capabilities. When using these detergents, always pay attention to the specific steps to ensure you properly activate the product and can restore your jacket.

      At TOG24, we have an extensive range of softshell and hardshell jackets to choose from - whether you’re ready to choose your ideal jacket now or are simply looking for inspiration, we’ve got you covered.

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