The term ‘soft shell’ is increasingly used to describe garments that combine partial water resistance with partial wind breaking ability. Soft shell fabrics come in numerous varieties with many garments offering a combination, such as, a wicking layer. In many cases insulation is combined in an attempt to replace several layers with a single highly flexible one. Performance levels of soft shells do vary and there for you need to decide when and where you are mostly likely to use your garment. Pricing does vary depending whether your choosing a thinner windproof soft shell to an almost full on insulated, water resistant shell
The outermost clothes are called the Hard Shell layer or Outer Shell, but only if they block wind or water, or have good mechanical strength. Ideally the shell layer lets moisture through to the outside (that is, is breathable), while not letting wind and water pass through from the outside to the inside. While this is enabled to some degree by modern materials, even the best and most expensive materials involve a trade-off between breathability and water- and wind resistance. Gore-Tex technology is most commonly used but other manufactures do offer equal quality technology. Every jacket will have different features in its design for its ideal use, so it is important to once again decide when and where you are most likely to use your jacket and select the most appropriate style.
Base and mid layers are always very important as they are usually the layer next to the skin. They must keep you warm (or cool) but most importantly dry. They are the corner stone of comfort and can quickly make expensive shell layers obsolete if the base layer is not doing its job of keeping you warm and wicking sweat and moisture away from the skin. They should be light, flexible and quick drying. The biggest winner in all these departments is Merino wool. A natural technology from New Zealand sheep where the wool is so fine that it performs better than any other wool or synthetic thread. The fine fibres wicks, breathes and traps air in it’s layers better than any other.
Important – After a while you may notice your synthetic or wool base layer isn’t wicking as well or is beginning to smell slightly this is basically because the garment can’t breathe. This will generally be because traditional washing powders have blocked the fibres with detergent, so generally you should use a dedicated gentle base wash liquid like Nikwax /Grangers base wash