Waterproof Shell VS Soft Shell
Which is best?


In recent years there has been a big improvement in Softshell technology and there has been a shift for many climbers towards it from a more traditional waterproof shell. There are several pros and cons to both shell types, this blog looks at them and hopefully will help you make the decision about which is right for you!


First off, traditional waterproof shellswaterproof jackets are great because they do exactly what they say on the tin; offer a 100% waterproof barrier between you and the elements. They are also lightweight, flexible and with current technology more breathable and durable than ever.  On top of this they pack down to a very small size so when not in use take up little space.


Jackets such as the Patagonia Super Pluma and Arc’Teryx Beta AR use Gore Tex Pro Shell fabric for ultimate durability and breathability. Gore-Tex performance shell is slightly cheaper but is not as breathable and is found in jackets such as the Marmot Spire. eVent is far less durable but more breathable than Gore-Tex. It also requires washing more often to maintain breathability. Jackets such as the Women's Latok Alpine use eVent.


Soft shells are the alternative for winter climbing. Although not 100% waterproof high quality Softshell material is more than capable of keeping out the majority of wet from snow and ice.
The main advantages to softshell's are durability and breathability. For Alpine climbing in places like Mont Blanc Massif where you may be hanging axes over your shoulders or dragging yourself up walls softshell's are great. The breathability factor is also very important when climbing. As it is high intensity you sweat a lot, but then after the pitch and you are on belay you quickly become sedate. If your layering system is not breathable and does not transfer moisture from your body to the air you become cold very quickly. Softshell allows this vapour to quickly pass through your layering system and escape, keeping you warm when stationary but cool when working hard.

More and more now we are finding that people are also choosing softshell jackets over fleece as they offer similar levels of warmth and breathability, but are windproof. Some people choose to wear a lightweight softshell as a mid layer under a waterproof shell for winter climbing instead of a fleece as in less wet conditions the waterproof can be removed and they can still climb in the softshell. With a traditional fleece mid layer this wouldn't be the case as it would not be windproof and you would get too cold.


For tough winter work such as Scottish Climbiing in the Cairngorms the Patagonia Northwall Jacket offers incredible warmth whereas for slightly warmer weather Alpine climbing the Arc'Teryx Gamma MX is a good choice.


The final option is a hybrid between the two. This year PolarTec have released a new fabric called NeoShell. This offers most of the breathability of soft shell whilst being completely waterproof (although not rated to the same waterproof-ness levels as GoreTex or Event fabrics – it is more than enough for most applications). The Marmot Zion Jacket and Rab Neo Stretch both use this fabric. The Neostretch being a lighter weight less insulated and less durable garment, the Zion a slightly heavier warmer softshell.

So basically it comes down to waterproof-ness vs. breathability. For most winter climbing softshells offer all the water resistance you need whilst keeping you warmer and drier than a waterproof can.
However if you are getting one jacket for multiple activities such as hill walking, mountaineering and climbing a waterproof may be a better option as you know it is 100% waterproof, no matter what!
The NeoShell jackets are a good middle ground offering the pros of each material although not doing anything quite as well.

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