Expert advice on the kit that makes a difference
The hardest garment to define yet one that’s destined to be a firm favourite – your go-to do-it-all layer.
OVER THE YEARS, we’ve deployed considerable column inches trying to translate the weird jargon of the ‘soft shell’ into something that makes sense to a human being. We’ve defined it literally: a soft shell is not a hard shell (i.e, not a fully waterproof, laminate jacket with membrane). Technically: it’s a hybrid of polyamide and elastane that gives you warmth, stretchiness, breathability and a certain degree of rain protection, in a wide range of conditions. Practically: it’s the jacket you can wear comfortably in January and July, to the pub, to work, and to a Lake District summit. Flippantly: it’s “that nice jacket” you keep ready by the door, ready for anything. All these are accurate, but they still don’t quite sum up the cleverness and joy of a hard-working soft shell. They are just astonishingly adaptable, and that makes them hard to sum up neatly. More adaptable than fleece, more packable than an insulator, less sweaty than a waterproof, they are the jacket that defines the ‘everything in between’ of the outdoor wardrobe. So perhaps the best we can say is, assuming that at least one of the above definitions has worked for you, then read on. Because there’s one in here that’s waiting to make a huge difference to what you wear when you go walking. About our reviews We’ve chosen ten jackets which should be available in stores and online as this issue goes on sale. Nick and Rachel tested five each, most of which are available in men’s and women’s versions (denoted by these dots ). We rate each jacket on comfort (how it fits and feels), versatility (how adaptable it is), features and value for money. We don’t pick an overall winner as no single option will suit every walker, but Nick and Rachel have chosen their personal favourites and picked one jacket that offers the best value for money.