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Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

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Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby mambwe » Tue Dec 21, 2010 2:17 am

I'm looking into getting a nice shell - either soft or hard.

I'm just a little confused.

Background:

I live in NY so I mostly hike in the catskills. This winter I will be making a few winter hikes in the White Mountains as training for a spring 2012 trip to Rainier. So, any shell I buy I want to be good enough for Rainier and beyond.

I just have a few questions-

If it is not windy or precipitating do you hike with a hard shell? As far as I can tell they are mainly to stop wind and rain/snow. Am I correct on this? So, does it make sense to spend money on a really nice hard shell that you might not use that much? Do you overheat more wearing a hardshell vs softshell? If it is 20 degrees without wind or rain would you be hiking in a Hard Shell?

Or

Is it better to get a nice soft shell? One that has good breathing qualities but might be wind/water resistant, but not wind/waterproof. On top of this I can use my Marmot precip jacket that does not breath at all and feels like I am walking around wearing a garbage bag.

What would you guys recommend? I want to buy the right item first. Will both jackets keep me warm?

I have two jackets in minds. I already purchased both of them with the intention of returning one. I got them on sale with free shipping so I figured it made sense. I bought an Outdoor Research Mentor Jacket and an Outdoor Research Alibi Jacket. Which do you think is better? Are these jackets too much for what I am doing?

Any help would be appreciated.
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby hatidua » Tue Dec 21, 2010 5:05 am

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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby runnerdanny » Tue Dec 21, 2010 10:20 am

To add my $0.02 to the mix: I climbed Rainer in mostly a softshell, turning to a hardshell above Muir when the wind and snow really picked up. A well designed softshell (Gamma MX, Patty Guide...etc.) is an outstanding asset assuming it breathes well.
While I cannot speak to the OR gear you have, but seeing as how OR has a pretty good return policy, I would give the jackets a good workout and see how they do.
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby CBakwin » Tue Dec 21, 2010 1:36 pm

My thoughts in general: If you don't need a shell (like in your example : 20 degrees without wind or rain) then it doesn't matter which one you take, but when conditions deteriorate, and you really need a shell I would only have a hard shell then. savvy?
So minimum; buy a good lightweight hardshell, and keep it in your pack until you need it, wear a fleece for warmth until the wind kicks up (which it almost always will on serious mountains). I also carry a down sweater or jacket depending on just how cold it has the potential to get. All of this gear is lightweight, which will become very important to you if you stick to mountaineering.
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby ExcitableBoy » Tue Dec 21, 2010 1:41 pm

My $.0.02: I use both hard shells and softshells in the mountains. For pants I have three pairs of stretch woven softshell pants, light, medium, and heavy. I wear them for different activities and different seasoons and mountain ranges.

I also have a stretch woven softshell jacket. I wear it to work while riding the bus and for lift serviced skiing. It is a very handsome garment but I never wear it in the back country. Too heavy and bulky. A light weight hardshell is more water and wind resistant and is lighter and more compactable. My current shell weighs 10 oz. It is fully featured. I wear my hardshell only if it is really windy or precipitating. Otherwise it stays in the pack.

More likely to be worn is a insulated windshirt, like the Marmot DriClime. The original softshell, the windshirt is warmer, more breathable, and lighter than a stretch woven garment. The smooth nylon face also layers better under other layers. I bring it on nearly every climbing/skiing trip. Usually on sale somewhere like sierratradingpost.com. The windshirt over a midweight zip tee is warm enough for approaches in winter in the Cascades and cuts the wind nicely.
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby Autoxfil » Tue Dec 21, 2010 4:59 pm

In the Northeast winters I use a softshell. I'm hugely more comfortable since I switched, and I spend a lot less time swapping layers since the better breathability lets me self-regulate better.

When it's cold up here, it's cold and stays that way. I don't have to worry about getting rained on and soaking through.

Out west I usually use a hardshell for alpine ascents - it's often 70 degrees at the bottom of the mountain and 10 degress on top, with all sorts of wind, rain, snow, and sweat inbetween. Then I just bring a hardshell and only use it when I have to. Using light but warm softshell as a mid-layer in these cases can provide more flexibility at the cost of a little weight. I usually do this on my legs, but just do fleece and shell on top.
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby asmrz » Tue Dec 21, 2010 5:37 pm

If the weather is good, it matters not what you are wearing, any inexpensive pile (non cotton) material will do. But when you find yourself in a stormy, windy, wet conditions and you just cannot go home, hardshell is the only way to go. Buy a light (about 16 oz max) hardshell, make sure it's breathable, if you are a climber as well as a hiker, make sure the hood fits over a helmet and make sure the shell is simple with not a lot of bells and whistles.You will not regret your choice.
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby Joe White » Tue Dec 21, 2010 5:48 pm

ExcitibleBoy wrote:I wear my hardshell only if it is really windy or precipitating. Otherwise it stays in the pack.


Yep, this is what I do also
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby hatidua » Tue Dec 21, 2010 7:08 pm

mambwe wrote: If it is 20 degrees without wind or rain would you be hiking in a Hard Shell?


At 20* with no wind or rain, I'll have a thin long-sleeve base layer on at most - no shell of any type.

When either wind or precipitation kicks into gear, I've recently gone to wearing a very lightweight (7oz) hard shell down from my somewhat heavier 14oz hard shell.

Different people achieve comfort in different ways and while I grasp the soft shell concept, and have owned three or four of the better ones on the market, I'm decidedly happier with a base layer or two and a thin hard shell. YMMV
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby bird » Tue Dec 21, 2010 7:19 pm

If you can only have one, go with the hardshell. Softshell pants for sure, and a hardshell top.
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby bearbreeder » Tue Dec 21, 2010 9:01 pm

there are several hybrid hard/soft shells ... the alibi being one

personally id use a hardshell and a windshirt or a weave softshell
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Re: Can someone help me with Hard Shells vs. Soft shells?

Postby DanTheMan » Wed Dec 22, 2010 6:03 pm

I'm considering something similar. The zipper on my Mentor jacket just broke (great jacket by the way), and the returns depot is out of my size, so I have $400 credit with OR now. I can get a different Goretex shell for $300 and throw in gaiters or something, or I could get the Alibi softshell and the Helium lightweight hardshell both for $400. I want to go up some fairly high altitude mountains with high winds, and I'm not so sure how useful the Alibi will be.
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