Softshells 101

Soft Shell E1550709292100

What is a softshell? Why would you use one?

One of the most common questions we get from new climbers regarding clothing is “what’s a softshell, and why do I need one?”

Softshells are an invaluable piece of any mountaineering clothing system. They consist of a range of fabrics characterized by breathability, stretch, and weather resistance. The easiest way to think of a softshell is as a hybrid of a hardshell waterproof piece and a breathable insulating midlayer. While a softshell sheds wind, snow, and some rain (like hardshells), it is also air-permeable, so allows excess heat to escape while you’re working hard (like midlayers). This combination of characteristics makes softshells perfect for many of the conditions we find in a mountaineering context.

For example: it is blustery and snowing lightly, but you are walking uphill on a rope team – while a hardshell will not provide enough breathability, quickly becoming clammy while you are exercising, a midlayer alone will not provide adequate wind and weather protection to keep you dry. Either option leaves you wet, chilled, and uncomfortable. A softshell, on the other hand, will allow you to ventilate excess heat and moisture produced while excercising, while simultaneously shedding wind and precipitation, keeping you dry and, ultimately, comfortable.

Softshells come in several styles and weights, from paper-thin ultra-breathable pieces designed for moving fast and providing very light levels of weather protection to burly winter-weight models with super durable face fabric and fleece backing for extra warmth that fend off all but the wettest weather. For most people, a midweight softshell with little to no fleece backing allows for the most versatility in layering while providing a good level of weather protection in most conditions.

Shop Men’s Softshells here

Shop Women’s Softshells here

ALPINE ASCENTS BLOG

  • Insulated Pants and Why You (Might) Need Them

    Guide Brooke Warren in prime insulated pant conditions on the summit of Mt. Rainier. Photo by Patrick Chu. Insulated Pants can seem like a burden (will my legs really be that cold??), but they can be a critical piece of clothing in mountaineering, and can make a cold night at camp much more pleasant.  Why […]

  • Selecting Snowshoes for Expeditions

    If you are preparing to embark on a Denali Prep course or a Denali expedition with Alpine Ascents, you are also about to enter into the wonderful world of snowshoe travel. There are several reasons for our unilateral use of snowshoes over skis on these trips. First, the learning curve for snowshoeing is far less […]

  • rack of carabiners

    A guide to Carabiners

    By Mike Hawkins There are a wide variety of carabiners available on the market, and each type has its pros and cons. Some carabiners are built for very specific uses, while others are geared toward general use. For both safety and efficiency, it is worthwhile to understand the subtle differences in order to choose the […]

Partners & Accreditations

Alpine Ascents International is an authorized mountain guide service of Denali National Park and Preserve and Mount Rainier National Park.
© Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved. Alpine Ascents International