If you’re thinking about purchasing some new activewear, or just want to know more about the properties and uses of this fantastic clothing, I’ve put together some information on softshell which I hope you’ll find useful, along with example products from our store to help illustrate what’s being discussed. We’ve been selling softshell gilets and softshell jackets without logos online for years, so we know our recycled polyester from our removable hoods. And yes, if you're looking for specific features like removable hoods, extreme waterproofing or eco-friendly options, I’ll talk about them below, but primarily I want to ease you gently into the wonderful world of unbranded softshell. I hope the information below is useful to you. If you want any further information about specific products that we sell we’re always happy to hear from you, please just get in touch.
What are softshell jackets and softshell gilets made of?
So first up, the obvious question: what is softshell? The quick answer is that it’s a fabric made by knitting synthetic fibre: for clothing the base material is primarily polyester but sometimes it can be nylon. This gives softshell garments some great properties which I’ll discuss below but the big softshell weapon is flexibility. In many cases, some ultra-stretchy fibre called elastane is added to create elasticity in the garment. Elastane can also be known by other names such as Lycra or Spandex however it’s essentially the same thing. In all cases, regardless of the level of elastane, the flexibility of softshell – because it’s knitted rather than woven – gives it a major advantage over hardshell outdoor clothing because it means that the softshell clothing will move with you, making it a great choice as activewear.
Why buy a softshell jacket or softshell gilet?
Being flexible is great, and it’s just one of many reasons why softshell jackets and softshell gilets should be top of your must-buy list. The synthetic materials from which softshell is constructed give it other intrinsic properties too: softshell is strong and lightweight. The way in which softshell clothing is made gives it another property too - the tight knit which characterises softshell jackets and softshell gilets creates a base level of water resistance and wind resistance which can be increased by adding additional chemical coatings to give it higher levels of waterproofing. Yet another key reason that people buy softshell clothing is durability - the hardwearing nature of synthetic fibres means that they can be washed at higher temperatures time and time again, which means softshell is spot on for many outdoor activities – for example it’s ideal as camping clothing, fishing clothing, hiking clothing and walking clothing. If it’s less than 10°C outside I wear a padded softshell jacket with a removable hood as it offers great warmth and waterproof function without being bulky at all - here’s a gratuitous picture of me in the woods, wearing a softshell jacket that’s now 6 years old and still in perfect condition after many muddy washes!
So, if you are exercising or working outside then softshell is a great choice – you can repetitively wash all the dirt and sweat out, and the durable nature of the clothing means it will continue to perform well for a much longer period of time than the equivalent natural fibres. In summary then, softshell is flexible, water resistant, wind resistant, durable, washable mid- and outer-layer clothing – and that’s why softshell jackets, coats and gilets are a stand-out activewear choice.
How do softshell jackets and softshell gilets compare to other types of outdoor clothing?
Softshell vs hardshell
One of the key differentiators here is the obvious one – yes, the clue is in the name. Hardshell clothing is generally woven (two yarns are interlaced), whereas softshell clothing is generally knitted (a single yarn is used) and this is what makes the finished product more rigid (hardshell) or more flexible (softshell). A hardshell jacket is intended to be worn solely as an outer layer – so while you should expect some flexibility for the garment to move as you move, it’s never going to be as flexible, foldable or as, well, soft as a softshell jacket. There are other differences too, though – hardshell jackets are generally much less breathable, whereas softshell jackets and softshell gilets can be worn as a middle layer; hardshell jackets will often provide more extreme weather protection, whereas softshell jackets are more suited to working as an outer layer in less extreme conditions. That said, I’ve been more than comfortable wearing a softshell jacket in mid-January in the Alps for skiing – here’s the evidence!
Softshell vs fleece
Softshell and fleece share a lot of common properties – both are wind-resistant, durable synthetics. Softshell jackets and softshell gilets tend to prioritise additional weather-resistance such as waterproofing, whereas fleeces will tend to be focussed more on keeping you warm and cosy. Many of the items in our softshell range have a microfleece lining to ensure a good balance of both weatherproofing and warmth. At this point it would be a dereliction of duty if I didn’t mention the Lockwood hybrid softshell/fleece jacket from James Harvest. This model has doubleface fabric (a piqué-knit softshell plated with fleece) which gives a soft, brushed feel to the garment, but it’s waterproof to 3000mm and breathable too, and available in both men’s and ladies fits. The fleece is on the inside of the body, collar and sleeve top and on the outside at the sides and lower arms:
Softshell vs windbreaker
Again, windbreakers (or windjackets) are made with synthetic materials, so they also share properties of wind resistance and durability with their softshell cousins. Windbreakers, however, tend to be more lightweight in nature which means that although they are great for blocking out wind, they don't provide the levels of warmth that a softshell will give. So if you’re looking for something to take the edge off the wind on a hill walk in milder weather, a windbreaker would be a great choice. If you’re looking for something that will keep you warm at the same time, then a softshell is a better choice.
What additional features do softshell jackets and softshell gilets have?
We’ve already seen that softshell jackets and gilets have some great intrinsic properties: stretch, water resistance, wind resistance, warmth and durability. A softshell jacket or softshell gilet is versatile enough to be worn every day for a variety of leisure and work activities in a wide range of weather conditions, however additional features & functionalities are often added to particular products to make them even more suited to your needs. So what else should you look for when choosing a softshell jacket or softshell gilet?
Are softshell jackets and softshell gilets waterproof?
The manufacturing process for softshell clothing involves knitting a synthetic fibre tightly to create the garment. This density of knit creates a level of water resistance simply because it acts as a barrier to water – so as a minimum our softshell range is water resistant to 800mm, which is fine for being outside in a brief shower. Additional (invisible) coatings can be added to improve the waterproofing levels of jackets, and this is the case with most of our jackets. For example, this padded softshell gilet from Clique, available in both men’s and ladies fits, is a great example of a softshell gilet which has a higher waterproofing level:
Clique also make a corresponding waterproof softshell jacket which – whilst matching beautifully with the softshell gilet above – also gives you the additional warmth that you’d expect from a hooded, long-sleeved, padded jacket:
There are also softshell options with more extreme levels of waterproofing – for example Clique manufacture the Grayland softshell jacket, available in both men’s and ladies fits, which is waterproof to 10,000mm. That’s plenty for pretty much any outdoor activity! The Grayland is a comfortable, modern, breathable jacket with a removable adjustable hood, pre-curved sleeves and lots of zipped pockets. Check out the Clique Grayland here:
Are softshell jackets and softshell gilets good for winter?
There are definitely options here that allow you to get all the core benefits of softshell (think flexibility, durability, water/wind resistance) with additional warmth. The first option to add warmth is to add a layer of padding between the inner and outer softshell layers of the garment. Clique manufacture an excellent heavy winter softshell coat – the Dumas, in both men’s and ladies fits – which has great waterproofing and breathability but crucially is also heavily padded to keep you toasty warm in cold winter weather:
The second option to add warmth to softshell jackets is to bond the softshell with an additional layer, to give you a warmer garment which will keep you cosy. Warmth without weight is highly desirable - perhaps because it’s so difficult to achieve – however James Harvest have manufactured a softshell jacket that manages to achieve this: the Winchester, available in both men’s and ladies fits, is a softshell outer layer bonded to fleece material on the inside. The Winchester has great waterproofing and breathability, is hooded, and has a lovely, brushed fabric inside the front pockets to help keep your hands warm. It’s an environmentally friendlier option too, as the softshell fabric is made with 50% recycled material. This jacket is an excellent choice if warmth without weight is what you’re looking for:
Are softshell jackets and softshell gilets windproof?
Softshell jackets and softshell gilets provide a good level of wind resistance as a direct result of their tightly knitted fabric. This means you can focus on the additional features you want from your softshell – are you looking for padding or bonded layers to give you additional warmth? Do you need a hood? What level of waterproofing do you require? Are you thinking about the softshell as a mid-layer or as an outer layer? This windproof, water repellent (to 3000mm) jacket from James Harvest, available in both men’s and ladies fits, is a great all-rounder if you’re looking for a fully windproof jacket – it has good breathability and also features a detachable, adjustable hood:
Are softshell jackets and softshell gilets breathable?
Softshell jackets and softshell gilets are breathable to a greater or lesser extent. Breathability is measured by a system called MVP, which stands for Moisture Vapour Permeability. Essentially, MVP measures how quickly moisture can escape through the fabric. A higher number represents a more breathable fabric. For example, this padded softshell jacket from Clique (available in both men’s and ladies fits) has an MVP rating of 5000, which is an excellent rating. These jackets are also waterproof to 5000mm, which shows that activewear jackets can have good waterproofing levels and still be very breathable. These jackets also have some other great features such as a removable hood, removable snow lock and pre-curved sleeves:
Do softshell jackets and softshell gilets have hoods?
Softshell gilets are manufactured primarily without hoods. They are often worn over another top, such as a hoody, which will already have a hood, or as a mid-layer under a jacket which will also often have a hood – so it makes sense for them to be hoodless. If you’re looking for a hoodless softshell gilet, then the lightweight Expedition model from James Harvest – a hybrid gilet with yoke and side panels in softshell and a quilted body – makes an excellent choice. It’s available in both men’s and ladies fits:
Softshell jackets on the other hand are manufactured both with and without hoods - we have a variety of both for sale, as you’d expect. If you’re thinking about buying a softshell jacket without a hood, then it might be worth taking a look at this classic unisex jacket from Clique, the Newport, which is fleece-padded for warmth and comfort. I wrote above about warmth without bulk – this is another jacket that achieves this feat, whilst also having good waterproof (3000mm) and breathability (3000 MVP) ratings:
The majority of our softshell jackets do have hoods however, and this reflects their usage as an outer layer in spring, summer or autumn and as a mid-layer in winter. A jacket that exemplifies this is the Myers from James Harvest, available in both men’s and ladies fits. This hybrid jacket consists of wind and water repellent softshell on the sleeves, shoulders and hood, and a torso of heat-quilted interlock with microfleece inside. It’s a durable, breathable example of a modern, functional, stylish softshell jacket:
Some of our softshell jackets come with detachable hoods to give you even more flexibility. A removable hood can be useful if you are wearing the jacket as part of a layering system where one or more of your other layers also have a hood. You can then remove the hood from the softshell layer and use the hood from your other layer instead, should you wish. If you’re looking for a stylish softshell jacket with a detachable hood (and some padding, and good waterproofing levels, and pre-curved sleeves!) then the James Harvest Skeleton products, available in both men's and ladies fits, are an excellent choice:
Are there eco-friendly options for softshell jackets?
Softshell jackets are made from synthetic fibres which need to be manufactured and processed. The manufacturing process also releases carbon dioxide and water emissions. To address this, Clique have released a range of premium activewear, developed with the environment and sustainability in mind. The garments are made using only certified reprocessed polyester, and the manufacturing process uses lower carbon dioxide and water emissions. The packaging has also been thought about: hangtags are made from FSC certified paper, and the immediate packaging is a bio-based compostable polybag. As an example, the manufacturing reuse, emissions and water usage statistics for a Men’s medium size softshell jacket in this range are as follows:
- 55 PET bottles reprocessed for each garment.
- Equivalent of 5.62kg of CO2e emissions; this represents approximately 17% less than average emissions data for comparable products.
- Equivalent of 0.1m3 of water; this represents approximately 18% less than average emissions data for comparable products.
Why buy softshell jackets and softshell gilets from Logo Free Clothing?
Branding inflates the price of any garment. We buy clothing without logos direct from the manufacturer and don’t add any branding, so you pay only for the garment and not for the name. The brands we sell are very well established and offer great value and quality. We feature over 50 softshell jackets, gilets and bonded fleeces on Logo Free Clothing, so we have a wide range of styles of softshell jacket and sleeveless jacket for every outdoor activity and weather condition. Visit our softshell collection to discover the wide array of options. To help find your ideal softshell jacket or softshell gilet, please contact us and we will endeavour to help you find the right softshell jacket for you – we’re always happy to answer any questions you may have. We’ve been selling clothing from our manufacturers for years so we can also help get you the right size for your body shape.