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Hard-shell, soft-shell or insulated jacket?

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Hard-shell, soft-shell or insulated jacket?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hey guys, first topic I've posted so far Little Angel
~~~~~


I'm desperately needing a new jacket. I don't want anything ridiculously baggy and have been thinking that a hard, outer shell would be best for me.


I've pretty much over-looked soft shell jackets in the past as I didn't know whether to trust their waterproofing and wind resistance.
Is it common to ski in soft-shell jackets? Or would you recommend something more sturdy?

My heart is set on the HH Elevate in red but I'm having a nightmare trying to find somewhere stocking this in my colour and size.

I also have my eye on the HH Verglas in green.

I like the fit of these two jackets, but they don't have any insulation, is that wise?


Alternately, could you suggest a similar or better jacket to those above??


Cheers for your patience.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
I only ever ski in a shell, have done for years. I'm by no means a warm person as I very much feel the cold. But with the right layers, a shell does me just fine! Presently I have a North Face Universal Infusion jacket which is two years old and wearing well. I have just recently bought a very light Salomon primaloft jacket to wear on very cold days under my shell. Most of the time though I wear light fleeces, thermal tops, heavier fleeces, maybe a cotton top - a mix of these depending on the weather.

I'm afraid I have no experience of a soft shell though.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
I use Hard shell (Arcteryx), with a softshell (mountain hardwear - or cloudveil) underneath on cold days, and instead of the hard shell on hot days.
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Fergus, first of the issue of using a shell vs. a dedicated ski jacket is something I've found to be an almost religious question. I got quite a beating in another forum posting my view rolling eyes. I'm no viking although quite a warm person so I don't need that much clothing. When I ski I tend to take my breaks in the lift going up, rather than several small breaks on the piste going down. This means that I produce a fair amount of sweat as I ski.

Like snowaddict I always use a shell for skiing. I find it much more versatile as I can use the shell for other purposes besides skiing (cycling, hiking).
For me the key element of using a shell is to follow the principle of 3 - layers.

Closest to my body I need some underwear which can transport the sweat away from my body very fast so my skin remains dry. I use brands like Helly Hansen and Craft.

The 2nd layer needs to be able to absorb the sweat from the 1st layer. Ususally the shell can "breathe", but not a the same rate as I produce sweat so the 2nd layer tends to act as a buffer between my 1st and 3rd layer. The 2nd layer can be everything from a t-shirt on warm days to a combination of a t-shirt, over a ski pullie to a fleece on very cold days. I tend to always have a t-shirt to absorb the sweat.

The 3rd layer is then your hard/soft shell. I actually use this softshell.
Although it is a softshell, it has keept me dry in all the conditions I've meet. I've also taken it for a long hike, 5+ hours, in heavy rain without getting wet.

I have skied in Norway (cold to the bones), Austria and Italy using a combination like this with no problems. The key to me though is still the interaction between the 1st and 2nd layer, getting the sweat away from the skin.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Let's stir some more: there is simply no reason for a hardshell anymore, nor for an insulated jacket. Go for a good softshell with well-adjustable hood. Unless it is pouring cats and dogs (I wonder why would you even think of skiing those days) or it is colder than -20 it will cope as well as an insulated jacket or hardshell.

All you need in normal days is thermal underwear and the softshell which has a thin fleece lining (this will do until about -5 centigrades). Colder days, add a fleece (variable weights) inside a the softshell. You will not get as hot nor do you have to open all the vents all the time and then freeze and close everything. A good hood will improve the performance in louzy conditions.

I have tested mine in almost torrential rain (no real leakage even from seams), in warm days (perfect), in freezing cold and wind with snow (hood up and close it all, it feels light, but I was warm). I will not go back.

[edit: I did not check Purplefisher's link, but having done it a disclaimer: I ski in Haglofs Sharkfin Hood, and I do not have a relationship with the company.]
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I've been looking at buying a new ski jacket but I do feel the cold. I usually wear a base layer, a lightweight fleece and a ski jacket. On cold days (say less than -10c) I'll but on base layer long-johns and an extra base layer on top. My jacket is a ski jacket with insulation, but I have seen heavy weight jackets. I have been looking at the Schoeffel 'cozy' jacket which has primaloft insulation. What exactly is primaloft?
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
If you're after a HH jacket, take a look here

http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/Categories.aspx?CategoryID=669

They might not have the exact jacket you're looking for, but the prices are too good not to have a look.

They have the Elevate jacket though.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Softshell (Arcteryx, Mountain Hardware) most of the time with varying layers of thermals underneath, hard shell pants. Use a hard shell on top of the softshell on cold days or if its dumping down with snow when the hood comes in useful as well. Definitely not in favour of insulated jackets or pants.
If it rains I'm indoors!
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IMHO -
Have a look at what the pros wear.

Instructors tend to wear insulated jackets, coz they spend a lot of time standing around getting cold teaching us oiks.

Guides tend to use layers, (either hard shells or soft shells ) coz they are always on the move. With layers, it is easier to control the amount of insulation/ventilation you have depending on what you are doing at the time ( belting down hill; trudging up hill; monging in a cozy bubble car; freezing on a chair ).

Work out which category you are more like, and go for what they wear.

Soft shell or hard shell? Depends how geeky/techno you want to be and how much cash you want to spend.
The new soft shell fabrics are very good - combining weather protection and basic insulation in a single fabric. Trust them, they work.
I lurv my soft shell coz it replaces two layers in one lightweight, quiet jacket. It's half the weight of my previous shell !

Main things I noted about soft shells;
(a) get one with a hood ( otherwise you will need another item of clothing if it rains.... so nullifying the point of a soft shell )
(b) pit zips.... highly recommended
(c) water resistant is good enough. Does *not* have to be completely waterproof. Coz we don't ski in rain much, do we?
(d) expect to have slightly less roomy pockers. Coz it's all about saving weight, and having functional equipment.
(e) you can have the fit slightly snugger than other jackets, coz you will not be wearing as many layers.

For what its worth, I got a North Face "Sedition 2 stretch jacket".
Very impressed with it. Expect similar from other manufacturers is equally good.
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stoatsbrother, same here...
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Soft shell for me every time. In really bad snow will sometimes put a thin outer layer over the top. But only ever done this once or twice
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
I mostly wear a softshell now, but have a hardshell about my person in case it gets nippy.
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Still struggling to understand the benefits of a softshell vs a hard shell.

"Replaces two layers" is not a benefit for me, it's a drawback - what if, on a warm spring day, I only need the base layer and a thin shell? Also the softshell will be bulkier.

"We don't ski in the rain much" - when I did in St Anton last year, the skiing was very good. The lower part of the resort - pelting with rain, the upper part - thick flakes of snow. We were soaked (but not inside).

Is it only about the soft shell being better at getting sweat away from the body? Important property, I know, but on really warm days you can open the pit zips of your hard shell, and your front zip as well...

Don't get me wrong, many skiers who are far better than me and ski more often prefer soft shells, so they must have something. I just don't get the reasons - to me it seems that the hard shell does better or as well in the vast majority of conditions.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
horizon, I just use it as a thermal layer if it's very cold, or the top layer if it isn't.

They breath a lot better than a hardshell.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Interesting that two snowheads use softshells, but still carry a hardshell, and put an outer layer on in heavy snow once or twice, which kinda negates the point to me!

I have thin hardshell, it's waterproof even in v heavy snow, underneath I will wear anything from a single wicking T shirt, to a wicking T shirt, one or 2 wicking long sleeve tops + a gillet or soft fleece....(fleece is prob a fore runner of softshell as it is slightly waterproof and windproof - wore it all day in light snow and my body stayed dry)
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
horizon,

A softshell is more comfortable to wear, in comparison a hard shell often feels like wearing a crisp packet.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
horizon, I think exactly the opposite. The good softshell is not bulkier than a good coretex shell, at least those that I have come across and are directly comparable in quality. Most of the times the softshell is a lot more streamlined as it reduces the need to layer. Softshells do have a thin lining though, so yes, it is not as cold as the mere hardshell would be. You might want to just have a t-shirt underneath then... And every good softshell as vents anyway.

As for rain - unless it is really heavy, you will manage ok. It will never be as good in rain as a goretex hardshell, but for most of the days, in most of the conditions, a softshell will do the same job. It will make less noise, it will be more comfortable to wear and they also, in my humble opinion, almost always look also better than the the hardshells.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Excuse the ignoramus questions, but what is a hardshell and what is a softshell?
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This is quickly turning into an argument between two schools of ski clothing.

http://www.alpineer.com/html/info_softshell.html

http://www.backcountry.com/store/newsletter/s20/a127/What-THE-HECK-is-Soft-Shell.html

Obviously these are not objective commentaries, but they do give some light to the fundamental differences. Whether soft or hardshell, in layering we trust. That principle does not disappear.
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Please ignore. My question was answered as I posted.
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horizon,
I had the same concerns as you, but now I'm a convert.
Unfortunately, it does take a bit of leap of faith to buy one, but they really do work.
Let me answer your questions
Quote:

Still struggling to understand the benefits of a softshell vs a hard shell.

"Replaces two layers" is not a benefit for me, it's a drawback - what if, on a warm spring day, I only need the base layer and a thin shell? Also the softshell will be bulkier. -
The soft shell is a thin shell. It is less than- or the same bulk as a hardshell. Go to a shop like Ellis Brigham and compare them all. I was dubious before I did this, now I'm a convert. My softshell is half the weight of my previous hardshell. If its hot, you open the pit vents a bit. I use it on hot and cold days.

"We don't ski in the rain much" - when I did in St Anton last year, the skiing was very good. The lower part of the resort - pelting with rain, the upper part - thick flakes of snow. We were soaked (but not inside). Like other responders, I have used my soft shell in pelting rain and it holds up very well.

Is it only about the soft shell being better at getting sweat away from the body? Important property, I know, but on really warm days you can open the pit zips of your hard shell, and your front zip as well... Softshells are about using modern performance fabrics to minimise bulk and weight.

Don't get me wrong, many skiers who are far better than me and ski more often prefer soft shells, so they must have something. I just don't get the reasons - to me it seems that the hard shell does better or as well in the vast majority of conditions.
Softshells are just an evolution of hard shells. They do the same thing, but using advances in fabrics to reduce the number of garments you need to do the same job.


A VERY GOOD ARTICLE talking about the evolution of soft shells is here; http://www.planetfear.com/article_detail.asp?a_id=451
Bear in mind that it was written in 2004, and there has been even more advances since then (e.g. stretchable goretex with fleece bonded directly to it ).
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do soft shells have things like snow skirts? I like the idea of a soft shell for skiing on piste but the ones I've seen don't look like something that I'd want to wear while taking a tumble in powder.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Most of them don't have - but I have not had any problem with snow getting inside at least.
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I've been into softshell and now gone off it for pretty much the reasons horizon puts forward but also, softshell is heavier than hardshell which makes a difference with touring. Although it's more breathable than a hardshell, it is windproof which is actually a disadvantage if you're using it as an insulating layer IMO - when I take my hardshell off, I'm usually that warm that I want any wind to penetrate my clothes. basically, i like my shell layer to add waterproofness and windproofness (is that a word?) but minimal insulation. yes, you can get some very thin soft shell layers but these all seem to be heavier than lightweight hardshell.
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Pay your money, take your choice - there are benefits and drawbacks for any solution - set your budget, try a few different ones on, then choose the one which matches your ski boots.....you know that's what you're going to do anyway, so why the emotional debate?
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Tony Lane wrote:
do soft shells have things like snow skirts? I like the idea of a soft shell for skiing on piste but the ones I've seen don't look like something that I'd want to wear while taking a tumble in powder.


Some have like the Spyder Jackson Soft Shell Jacket. Personally I do my (intentional Embarassed) skiing on the piste and do not miss that feature. But for off piste I guess it is a valid point.

As for the hard vs soft shell debate, I just find the soft shell to be more cosy. Stretchable and more silent. Unless you're skiing beneath a waterfall (irony applied) the soft shells of today will provide the necessary water resistance.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
I think Arno has a point insofar as you consider the softshell as an insulating layer. For me it is both insulator and the outer shell both in one. If it is really hot, opening vents on sides and zipper in front will do the trick. The trouble is that since I would usually only wear baselayer and the softshell, there is little to take off if it gets too warm.

I checked the weight issue - the most technical Haglofs softshell was lighter than their most technical hardshell. The light hardshells were around 470-550g.

With a pure hardshell I would have the fleece inbetween the shell and baselayer (or used to have). I have decided against wearing fleece inside the softshell as it is totally unnecessary during most of the days. The jacket does regulate the temps well enough for me. As for the trousers, I am considering skiing this winter without longjohns, with mere boxers and the softshell trousers [*hopes this is not too much information*].
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Softshell covers a huge variety of specifications from a lightweight windproof vest to a multi layered totally waterproof jacket. I use a mid weight cloudvail on all but wet days, its great. One essential in my experience is a hood, might stop you wearing it in Bluewater though.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
demos wrote:
I checked the weight issue - the most technical Haglofs softshell was lighter than their most technical hardshell. The light hardshells were around 470-550g.


not sure this is the right comparison - what about the lightest hardshell versus the lightest softshell with similar spec?
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
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Personally I think Softshell is a bit of a marketing thing...... comfortable to wear but the new Gore Tex Pro shell is PD good as well IMV, and I wouldn't want to be wearing Softshell bottoms in bad weather so I extend that logic to my jacket. I wear Paklite XCR up top and Pro shell pants. I consider Soft shell to be spring ski clothing ... I get most wear out of my soft shell jacket on the golf course and very good it is there too, but if the weather is pants there I can just walk in if I want..not always that easy to do on the hill...

I think soft shell is v good and has its uses but if you only have one all season jacket, I wouldn't want it to be soft shell.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Arno wrote:
I've been into softshell and now gone off it for pretty much the reasons horizon puts forward but also, softshell is heavier than hardshell which makes a difference with touring. Although it's more breathable than a hardshell, it is windproof which is actually a disadvantage if you're using it as an insulating layer IMO - when I take my hardshell off, I'm usually that warm that I want any wind to penetrate my clothes. basically, i like my shell layer to add waterproofness and windproofness (is that a word?) but minimal insulation. yes, you can get some very thin soft shell layers but these all seem to be heavier than lightweight hardshell.


I'm using a hardshell most of the time at the moment but only because I misplaced my softshell.

The softshell gives the following advantages when touring ...

1. One less piece of clothing to faff around with.
2. lighter (softshell lighter than hardshell & fleece it replaces).
3. Less bulky overall (while wearing and in the backpack).
4. Better breathability.
5. More comfortable to wear.

When in a ski resort using lifts and not booting up somewhere the hardshell/fleece/baselayer is a better combo in colder weather whereas the softshell is better in warmer weather.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
How do softshell bottoms fare if you sit down on the snow or on a wet chairlift?
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Arno, there does not seem to be a "light" version of a technical softshell in Haglofs catalogue (adjustable hood, vents, pockets etc.). Sharkfin hood (in L) weighs 725 g and only the Couloir 3-layer goretex which is their rollsroyce model is heavier. Couloir (875 g a big part of which is actually softshell!) has recco, snow skirt etc. which Sharkfin doesn't. Spitz which is an award winning full hardshell of theirs is 500g

The hoodless softshells are under 600g which is the usual weight category for their hardshells (which all have a hood, of course).
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Guvnor, I warned you in my first post. This is not just a matter of garment, this is religion wink

demos Arno, with me weighing in at 95 kg, I don't mind adding the 200g or so for the soft shell. The softer, not so stiff, material is worth the extra g's.

Should also be noted that I have only skied in the weeks 3-10, so don't know if there are additional requirements for the early season.
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nessy wrote:
How do softshell bottoms fare if you sit down on the snow or on a wet chairlift?


I have a pair I use at Cas a lot. Got them cheap in the sales. Very comfortable, and great on hot days.

I wouldn't want to sit down in them though.
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purplefisher, given that my skis and bindings are together 5kg, I think the obvious way of cutting weight would be taking something lighter under the feet. I am quite happy with my gear. It has managed well in Finland, Greece and France from weeks 4 to 10. Given that this year it has been colder in Northern Greece than in Eastern Finland, I think my softshell fares well.

I don't believe in this being really about religion - rather evolution... wink
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Forgot to say that my hardshell is an Eider made of their own material - Defender 3LS. It's not as crispy as Gore-tex XCR - it actually has some stretch. They claim equal waterproofing and breathability to XCR.

Interesting discussion anyway.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
indeed - sometimes it's easy to forget that there are hardshells other than Goretex
i have a patagonia stretch element hardshell which is their top end shell. it's 3 layer, made from patagonia's proprietary version of goretex (which of course they claim outperforms goretex in every respect Madeye-Smiley ) is soft, strectchy and weighs less than 500g
i have some softshell ski trousers (again patagonia) which i used for everything last season. however, on my hut to hut tour i couldn't help but feel i would have been more comfortable with a lightweight pair of trecking trousers and a pair of paclite overtrousers for the very rare occasions when the trecking pants weren't enough. that said, this really is making little tweaks to get a bit more performance out of kit - it's not life or death
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wow, I wasn't expecting such alot of replies this quickly! Cheers guys.


So far, I still think I'm swaying toward the hard shell with layers underneath. Ideally I'd want something that I can use for other purposes than just skiing, so good waterproofing is helpful.


shoogly - ChainReactionsCycles have the HH 'elevate' although it says that the size-small won't be in stock until Feb 1st and I don't know how trust worth that date is.


You've all given me food-for-thought and I'm now definitely more open-minded towards soft-shell.

I think I can put insulated jackets out the window, now.

A powder-skirt is preferable but I could maybe do without

Thanks again Little Angel
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I don't know much about this lark, but I think I use soft shells - a waterproof outer layer, a breathable inner fabric and filled with some sort of lightweight insulation in the middle. I like them. What I like even more is one of these with a zip in fleece to give a '4 season' jacket - I've actually had the odd el cheapo version of these for regular use, but somehow didn't get hold of one for skiing - the Maxx didn't have anything similar when I looked and I ended up with one without a zip in fleece. I didn't think this a problem though as I've got lots of fleeces and most of my jackets have room to put on one underneath if it gets cold. I also where a D2B soft shell (if this is what my sort of jacket is called) TX Maxx purchase for regular everyday use - its brilliant for standing in the playground on top of the hill on a day like this with the hood up - warm and dry I am - unlike some other mums Laughing
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