One of the biggest complaints I hear about softshell is that it weighs too much. I’ve decided to gather some examples to determine whether or not that is true.
Patagonia Speed Ascent versus R2 and a Patagonia hardshell
The Patagonia Speed Ascent jacket is their high end softshell for cold conditions. It has R2 fabric as the liner, and a polyester shell that is wind and water resistant. It also has a hood.
Speed Ascent jacket is quoted as being 28 ounces.
To get the corresponding system in hardshell means an R2 jacket plus a hardshell.
R2 jacket is 14.1 ounces and has no hood.
The Stretch Element hardshell jacket is 19.6 ounces.
The Rain Shadow hardshell jacket is lighter at 13 ounces.
At best, softshell is over a quarter pound lighter (28 ounces versus 33.7 ounces), at worst, it is equivalent (28 ounces versus 27.1 ounces plus a fleece hat to make up for the lack of hood).
Marmot Driclime Windshirt versus the Ion Windshirt plus a baselayer shirt
On the other end of the spectrum from the Speed Ascent jacket is Marmot’s Driclime softshell. This is a very light polyester shelled jacket with 2.7 oz/yard lining.
Driclime windshirt is quoted as being 11 ounces.
To get an equivalent product, we need a light baselayer and a light shell.
The Ion windshirt is 5 ounces, and it has an attached hood.
A Marmot lightweight crewneck base layer shirt is 6 ounces.
In this case, the edge goes to the Ion windshirt plus baselayer as the Ion has a hood that adds some weight. (11 ounces versus 11 ounces).
This quick comparison shows that softshell is roughly equivalent to a similar system of hardshell plus insulation. The weight argument doesn’t hold.
One of the key differences between hardshell and softshell is the breathability/waterproof tradeoff. I’ll not debate that here, as different people want different things. Some prefer the most breathable layers they can get as long as they are wind resistant and shed some water. Others want absolute waterproof layers and don’t worry about breathability.