Soft shell jackets have become very poplar in recent years thanks to the huge improvement in fabrics and technologies used in these jackets. Soft shells, as compared to hard shells, are lot easier to wear because they are lot more flexible and they stretch more, they are not as loud as hard shell jackets can be and they provide additional thermal insulation. Where soft shell jackets fall behind is the level of water protection, as these fabrics are not fully waterproof (or at least in price ranges that are not exotic) and it is rather hard and expensive to tape the seams on these soft shell jackets. Huge improvements have been made though in recent history and these jackets are becoming a valuable pieces of outdoor gear in many outdoor enthusiasts' closets.
There are generally three types of soft shell jackets out there: light and breathable, mid-range universal and winter grade soft shell jackets. They as the names suggest vary in the amount of thermal insulation they provide and also by the amount of breathability they allow.
Light and breathable soft shell jackets are great for all aerobic activities such as trail running, hiking or climbing. They will provide the largest amount of stretch and are also the most breathable. Great jackets for summer and shoulder season conditions, they are thin and pack small. Mid-range soft shell jackets add little bulk to the equation and are more substantial. They will provide significantly higher level of water protection and are little less breathable. These soft shell jackets are great for spring and fall conditions where additional warmth is desired. Winter soft shell jackets are the heaviest of the three and the least breathable, which actually adds warmth to the garment as we tend to sweat less in colder climates. They can be worn as an outerwear during skiing or snowshoeing and quite often have additional features seen on heavier jackets.
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