/ Best all round soft shell jacket?

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ire - on 28 Dec 2012
I am looking to buy my first softshell jacket. I have always used a fleece and hardshell layering system but I'm getting fed up stopping to take my hardshell off after a light shower and the fleece is useless when only slightly wet.

Any advice on the best all round softshell jacket on the market? Will be used for Scottish mountaineering, alps, but mainly walks around the lakes and Wales.
KellyKettle - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to ire: Hands down the Buffalo Mountain Shirt (and variants).
neuromancer - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to ire:

I find the rab vapour rise stuff to be a lot better cut and put together than my buffalo. I'm probably the only one to though.

If you're looking at classic softshells e.g. windstopper, they only really make sense in cold and dry conditions imo. If it's pissing down with rain, they'll wet out and you'll get cold. If it's not, they'll not wick well enough or breathe well enough for you not to want to take them off about when you took off your goretex.

At least that was my experience.
jonnie3430 - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to KellyKettle:
> (In reply to ire) Hands down the Buffalo Mountain Shirt (and variants).

Nah, the Montane featherlite smock, it allows you to get the layers right underneath, Buffalo's are too hot going up hill.
GridNorth - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to ire: I own an Arcteryx Gamma Hoody, a Buffalo Windshirt and the Rab VR top. The Arcteryx is by far the best as it seems to offer the best combination of wind proofing and water resistance as well as the flexibility to alter layers, it also the best fitting for ice climbing.
jonnie3430 - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to ire:

And the Paramo Quito is also great, it feels softshell, but is a hardshell. It is taking over from my featherlite...
GridNorth - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to jonnie3430: I've often considered Paramo but the weight of it always put me off.
colina - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to ire: I personally think soft shells are pretty dire ,spent over a 100 recently on a quality brand .if they get wet they take ages to dry...and I mean AGES.. look at something else imo
jonnie3430 - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to GridNorth:

Look at the Quito, I bought one last year because the Aspira was too warm for summer, the Quito has taken over in winter as well now. I really like and only have a few niggles.
jonnie3430 - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to colina:
> (In reply to ire) they take ages to dry...and I mean AGES..

Pertex takes ages to dry?
KellyKettle - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to jonnie3430:
> (In reply to KellyKettle)
> [...]
>
> Nah, the Montane featherlite smock, it allows you to get the layers right underneath, Buffalo's are too hot going up hill.

Personally the convenience of never having to alter layers outweighs getting a bit hot now and then... Horses for courses?
GridNorth - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to colina: I think that you are expecting too much from it but then mine has never been that wet. It's meant to keep snow out, which it does very effectively, not rain. I use mine in the alps and only carry a lightweight hardshell which I have never used. Admittedly they may not be the best solution for Scotland where even the snow can be very wet.

To the OP: I don't think there is a "best". They all strike a balance to various degrees of water resistance, wind proofness and breathability. What you gain in one area you lose in another. My Gamma Hoody strikes the best balance for European ice/cascade climbing. My VR is not as water resistant/wind proof but is probably more breathable for example.
KellyKettle - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to jonnie3430:
> (In reply to colina)
> [...]
>
> Pertex takes ages to dry?

My assumption is that he refers to the membrane bonded "softshell" that's caught the public imagination; not the pertex and pile/microfleece/synthetic fill [delete as appropriate] that makes for a 'true' softshell garment
Shearwater - on 28 Dec 2012
I have a slightly modified Cioch Glamaig; its a lovely bit of kit, but it generally gets used for skiing, when wind, snow and sleet might all be expected but rain is more unusual. I don't expect it to seem nearly so nice in heavy rain, but at least it'll dry quickly if I can stay warm.

I'm curious as to what you mean by "the fleece is useless when only slightly wet". Fleece has always dried quickly and stayed warm when wet in my experience... what sort are you using? I've used fleecey layers under a wetsuit before and definitely felt the warmth they provided despite the fact they were saturated ;-)

In reply to neuromancer:
> If you're looking at classic softshells e.g. windstopper

I think you meant "Schoeller" there ;-) Windstopper never seemed much good as any sort of shell.
Robert Durran - on 28 Dec 2012
In reply to ire:

"Soft shell" seems to cover so many different things (probably because the term became so trendy that everyone wanted to jump on the soft-shell/hard-sell marketing band-wagon; the term has become virtually meaningless. So there is probably something out there to suit most people and most purposes! (apart from heavy rain........)
CurlyStevo - on 29 Dec 2012
In reply to neuromancer:
> (In reply to ire)
>
> I find the rab vapour rise stuff to be a lot better cut and put together than my buffalo. I'm probably the only one to though.
>
> If you're looking at classic softshells e.g. windstopper, they only really make sense in cold and dry conditions imo. If it's pissing down with rain, they'll wet out and you'll get cold. If it's not, they'll not wick well enough or breathe well enough for you not to want to take them off about when you took off your goretex.
>
> At least that was my experience.

windstopper basically has an untaped goretex membrane in it. hence why it doesnt breathe well or dry out fast, although it is somewhat more shower proof.

I much prefer the stretchy soft shells with no membrane to pertex. They are much more comfortable to wear and no sweat forms on the inside (unlike pertex). They are wind proof enough and dry pretty quick, keep snow from sticking and perform reasonable well in light rain. They are also much more abrasion resistent than pertex.
CurlyStevo - on 29 Dec 2012
id agree that pertex is slightly more wind proof and shower proof and certainly lighter (although much less insulative) as such it makes better belay jacket outer matetial imo, as youre not climbing wearing it the lower comfort, durability and breathability are not as important.

jonnie3430 - on 29 Dec 2012
In reply to KellyKettle:
> (In reply to jonnie3430)
> [...]
>
> Personally the convenience of never having to alter layers outweighs getting a bit hot now and then... Horses for courses?

Maybe, I run warm though, so wouldn't be able to wear a buffalo for a walk in without mega dehydration. I also wouldn't be able to stuff my buffalo in the back pocket of my jeans and take it up a climb.
KellyKettle - on 29 Dec 2012
In reply to jonnie3430: Pack size is a definite issue with buffalo, that as much as the way it works forces you to commit to it as a system, though for what I do, I almost always carry a pack of some description so it doesn't inconvenience me personally as much as it seems it would you.

I tend to run relatively hot (one persons running hot can be very different to another mind) and haven't found overheating or dehydration to be an issue during the cold months, but if I'm honest my current fitness levels probably prevent me from sustaining high enough activity levels to get *really* hot.
CurlyStevo - on 30 Dec 2012
In reply to KellyKettle:
> (In reply to jonnie3430)
> [...]
>
> Personally the convenience of never having to alter layers outweighs getting a bit hot now and then... Horses for courses?
i personally find sweat build up on pitches leads to miserable cold belays. I much prefer to climb wearing less and then chuck on a lovely warm belay jacket!
MonkeyPuzzle - on 30 Dec 2012
In reply to ire:

Montane Hyena, or Sabretooth if you're after a hood. Beautiful cut (unless you want it long), warms up quickly when wet, and looks pretty snazzy down the pub. Wear it in 90% of conditions and keep a light waterproof in case it starts to gop it down.
KellyKettle - on 30 Dec 2012
> (In reply to KellyKettle)
> [...]
> i personally find sweat build up on pitches leads to miserable cold belays. I much prefer to climb wearing less and then chuck on a lovely warm belay jacket!

Out of interest, have you used any of the Pile/Pertex systems?
CurlyStevo - on 30 Dec 2012
In reply to KellyKettle: yes montane exreme smock hated it. Too hot climbing - sweat build up, too cold belaying. Too hot to walkin wearing, very heavy and bulky for the warmth factor. Also own a single layer montane pertex jacket. Out of interest have you used stretchy soft shells over baselayers and a micro fleece with primaloft jacket for belays. The first time i tried this it was quite an eye opener.
KellyKettle - on 30 Dec 2012
In reply to CurlyStevo: Not that exact combination, I've tended towards a single thin baselayer and either a helly pile midlayer (circa early 80's) or a thin woolen sweater knitted specifically as a midlayer (depending on conditions) I've used that with various hardshell, a pertex-4 windshirt (home made) and my mate's ME 'stretchy' softshell...

Other than with the hardshells it's ok system but I did find myself having to carry spares and change baselayers, just not every time I was out... I'm yet to find a baselayer that dries as quickly as I want it too.

I've never managed to get my buffalo sodden with sweat (or rain come to it) to the point of feeling damp, though have found myself with the side vents open from the bottom to cool off quickly during really strenious exercise. I use either a tiny Patagonia alpine hardshell, or a buffalo jacket as a belay jacket depending on how much extra warmth I need.
CurlyStevo - on 30 Dec 2012

In reply to KellyKettle: imo youve either used stretchy soft shells with a primaloft soft shell outer jacket for belays or you havent. its by far the best system ive tried and ive tried a few. you still need to carry a hard shell if you think it may rain heavily.
hola - on 30 Dec 2012
In reply to ire:
I see you will mainly use it for walks around the lake and wales my favorite setup for that is my Vapour Rise jacket with thin base layer
and a light shell on top i keep a primaloft warmer layer in sack.
i have used the same setup with decent hard shell and thicker warm layer in scottish winter
I have walked through the cairngorms in sleety rain in the hardshell
generating a lot of heat but kept dry inside due to the VR's breathbility
Ihave tried softshells with membranes and found them ok if you dont move to fast ie standing at the bar
The Ex-Engineer - on 30 Dec 2012
In reply to ire: As others have said, the definition of softshell is rather vague and there probably cannot really be a 'best'.

First, there is a massive range of climates and activities that come within the wide remit of 'mountaineering and climbing' and secondly individuals have very different metabolisms and preferences.

As others have said that means that what is 'best' for the Alps, will not necessarily be the 'best' for either Scottish Winter Mountaineering nor general UK hillwalking.

Also, it is worth being aware that 90% of what is on the market is not specifically designed for UK use. The vast majority of jackets are designed for use in North America, Continental Europe or Scandinavia, all of which are considerably drier than the UK. Aslo, probably half of them are designed with as much of an eye to fashion, style and colour as to performance.

The reality then is more comprehensible:

There are loads and loads of softshells that function predominantly as windproof fleeces which are superb for walking to the pub. Some of them are also pretty damn good for general Alpine (and other cold, dry & windy weather) use varying from the bargain Decathlon Bionnassay to the top notch Arc'teryx Gamma.

There are Parmo softshells which are great for steady hillwalking in all weathers.

There are then various shelled Pertex softshells. These include the classic Buffalo & Montane 'pile & pertex' tops which serve well in very cold and damp conditions. However, they also include shelled micro-pile tops such as the Rab Vapour Rise and Marmot Driclime which are felt by many to provide the 'best' option for those want to completely discard hardshells. See http://andy-kirkpatrick.com/articles/view/the_best_softshell_in_the_world for an excellent justification.

Which option you may want go with will depends on personal preference, what other clothing you have and the balance of activities.
bouldery bits - on 30 Dec 2012
In reply to KellyKettle:

Buffalo is amazing. Worth reading Andy KP's views on the subject on his site. Article called 'best soft shell in the world' and another called 'cut the crap'
CurlyStevo - on 31 Dec 2012
In reply to The Ex-Engineer:
> (In reply to ire) As others have said, the definition of softshell is rather vague and there probably cannot really be a 'best'.
>
> First, there is a massive range of climates and activities that come within the wide remit of 'mountaineering and climbing' and secondly individuals have very different metabolisms and preferences.
>
> As others have said that means that what is 'best' for the Alps, will not necessarily be the 'best' for either Scottish Winter Mountaineering nor general UK hillwalking.
>
> Also, it is worth being aware that 90% of what is on the market is not specifically designed for UK use. The vast majority of jackets are designed for use in North America, Continental Europe or Scandinavia, all of which are considerably drier than the UK. Aslo, probably half of them are designed with as much of an eye to fashion, style and colour as to performance.
>
> The reality then is more comprehensible:
>
> There are loads and loads of softshells that function predominantly as windproof fleeces which are superb for walking to the pub. Some of them are also pretty damn good for general Alpine (and other cold, dry & windy weather) use varying from the bargain Decathlon Bionnassay to the top notch Arc'teryx Gamma.
>
> There are Parmo softshells which are great for steady hillwalking in all weathers.
>
> There are then various shelled Pertex softshells. These include the classic Buffalo & Montane 'pile & pertex' tops which serve well in very cold and damp conditions. However, they also include shelled micro-pile tops such as the Rab Vapour Rise and Marmot Driclime which are felt by many to provide the 'best' option for those want to completely discard hardshells. See http://andy-kirkpatrick.com/articles/view/the_best_softshell_in_the_world for an excellent justification.
>
> Which option you may want go with will depends on personal preference, what other clothing you have and the balance of activities.

interesting article however personally weight for weight i dont find pile and pertex any more effective than fleece and pertex at keeping me warm. Infact probably less so if i use a light base layer too. Also thick pile i found doesnt age well and matts together quite fast significantly reducing effectiveness whilst a cheap fleece can easily be replaced.

I much prefer the versatility of layers using soft shells and my experience of the extreme smock was venting wasnt very effective id definately prefer a zipped jacket but even then i think it would be both too hot and too cold much of the time. Also as mentioned i find pertex a bit sweaty for me and prefer the extra breathability of stretchy soft shells (all be it with a little less wind and rain resistense but increased comfort and abrasion resistence). Im quite interested to try the rab vr jacket as its thinner and zipped, which i think could be great especially when its wetter and windier, however it doesnt fit me that well and i much prefer stretchy fabrics for.climbing in). Id certainly still need a belay jacket for scottish winter use.

One thing i found with pile and pertex is that it being damp didnt seem to matter until I stopped on belay (which can be long waits in winter) and then id freeze. I think the argument of pile and pertex being warm and comfortable when damp doesnt hold as well if you are stationary and its cold humid and windy.
stevez - on 31 Dec 2012
In reply to ire:
Got a Montane Sabretooth for Xmas and I have to say this is a great jacket. Love the low cut, has 4 pockets away from belts/harnesses, hood, and even in pretty heavy rain keeps you dry.

Also, can wear down the high street and not look like a member of the Ramblers Association!
ads.ukclimbing.com
softlad - on 31 Dec 2012
In reply to ire: Where's the OP gone?

Ire, given what other posters have said about how vast the soft shell category is, the most helpful thing I can think of chucking in is to prompt you to think a bit about what you want and value.

From your post it seems like you want some shower-proofing.

How much of a value do you put on weight/pack size? If your answer is "a lot" I'd suggest that points you towards pertex-style windshirts and the like: e.g. Rab Cirrus, Montane Featherlite, Patagonia Houdini

How much of a value do you place on freedom of movement? If your answer is "not much" there's no need to worry about expensive stretch membranes.

Woven stretch garments without membranes (e.g. Gamma MX, Haglofs Lizard) tend to gain their stretch at the cost of some wind and shower-resistance, compared to pertex and the like.

Do you run hot or cold? If hot then Buffalo and the like will be winter-only attire for you. If you like a little insulation in a windshell then both Marmot Dri-clime and Rab's Vapour Rise range are worthy of consideration.

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