Softshells – GearGuide


A soft shell combines layers 2 and 3 of the three-layer system. Soft shells are very popular among outdoor and action sports athletes. And rightly so.

Picture: Houdini Motion Stride Softshell Jacket

A soft shell has a very high breathability, is water repellent, windproof, quick to dry, light and gives a lot of comfort and freedom of movement.


  • Technology
  • Types
  • Choices
  • Care & Maintenance


There are two types of softshells on the market today. On the one hand, the types that have the traditional softshell characteristics (light, comfortable, windproof, breathable). On the other hand, there is a new generation of soft shells that have more features and or oftentimes waterproof. That means that in some cases a soft shell can completely replace the traditional jacket and in some cases even the hardshell. As a result, in addition to the three-layer systems, two-layer systems are now new to the outdoor market.

The advent of waterproof softshell materials seems to be contrary to the basic idea that this category of functional clothing doesn’t need to be waterproof. However, if you don’t need to take a third waterproof layer along with you, no matter how light or compact it is, why take it. In addition to waterproofness, the new generation of softshell materials hardly affects the breathability compared to non-waterproof soft shell fabrics.


The main difference between the bais soft shell basic and the ‘hybrid’ soft shell types, is that when using the latter, which is the waterproof option, you won’t need a hardshell. Third and second layers are fully integrated. Above all, the hybrid soft shell is a more complete product than the soft shell basic. It has all the functional details of the third layer, such as a hood, a variety of pockets and various adjustment options. Compared to the old functional jacket, the new generation softshells have much more stretch and breathability is much better.

So unquestionably a big improvement in terms of functionality and comfort. It’s nice that you now have the choice of combination soft shell plus hard shell on the one hand and waterproof soft shell on the other hand.

Below you will find the differences between the basic and hybrid soft shell:

Basic softshell:

  • Three layer use
  • Strong water repellent
  • High or 100% windproofness
  • Seams often taped
  • Highly breathable
  • Fully or partially stretch material
  • Sometimes provided with reinforced parts
  • Design with little detail
  • Hardshell sometimes needed

Hybrid softshell:

  • Two layer use
  • Waterproof
  • Windproof
  • Taped seams
  • Highly breathable
  • Fully or partially stretch material
  • Sometimes provided with reinforced parts
  • Finished design and many functional details
  • No Hardshell required

Things to consider when making your choice


If you are going to be using the soft shell predominantly in autumn and in winter, buy a model with a thicker lining that is 100% percent windproof. Materials that do not completely block the wind (eg Polartec Powershield Light and Scholler Dryskin) provide more breathability during high-intensity activities. Other aspects that are important in choosing a soft shell are:


The softshell should have at least two pockets, which should be accessible even if the hip strap of your backpack is fastened. The collar should feel soft and should preferably be adjustable with a drawstring. Ventilation apertures or pockets with netting provide the necessary ventilation, just like adjustable cuffs.


Ideally, the soft shell is like a second skin: the less you feel it, the better. When you try one on you can test the fit with the following simple tests. Stretch your arm upwards with the zipper closed. When you do that, the hip strap of your backpack should not slide upwards. When you bend your elbows, the fabric should not get too tight. Finally, stretch your arms in front of you and make sure the sleeves are long enough.


A hood keeps your head dry and also warm in low temperatures. The disadvantage is that a softshell with a hood will weigh more and the collar will feel a little less soft. If you do take a hardshell along you wouldn’t need a hooded soft shell.

Care & Maintenance

When it comes to maintenance of soft shells, we make a distinction between the soft shell shirts on the one hand and the all-around / all season softshell jackets. Both are designed so that you do not suffer from the influence of wind while perspiration moisture is transported away from your body, but there are also differences.

nikwax-grangers-softshell-productenA soft shell shirt or jacket will be used for high-aerobic sports such as running or mountain biking where dirt and sweat can accumulate quickly. This use requires that they are washed after sports. This not only feels fresh but is especially effective because a clean shirt just breathes better.

Afbeelding: Granger’s Performance Proofer & Nikwax SoftShell Proof

Because you would wash the garment quite often, washing with a separate detergent is perhaps a lot to ask, but it is better. If you do wash these softshell shirts with other clothes, it is advisable to choose a mild detergent without additives (odor, bleach, fabric softener, etc.)

The all-round / all season softshell is of a heavier quality than the shirts and often have a fleece lining. These jackets also have a water-repellent DWR (durable water repellency) treatment so you can wear them in light rain. Our advice is to follow the maintenance/cleaning/impregnation instructions as described in hardshells. Only tumble dryer if that is specifically indicated on the on the label of the garment. If this is the case, 10-15 minutes should suffice for a low or middle program (no warmer than an iron-dry program).

Many softshells may not be waterproof, but due to their water repellency to can provide adequate protection and withstand light rain. You can restore this water repellency by impregnating when you notice that raindrops are no longer rolling off the fabric. Our advice is to do this with the special NikWax soft shell Proof which has specially developed for this.