This is one of the most common questions we get when customers are preparing for a ski trip. Our experts share their insights and opinions on the conditions best suited for each.
You'll know a hardshell by its reflectivity and "crinkly" feel. These jackets are a must-have in heavy wind, long-lasting precipitation or snow. They offer the highest level of wind and waterproofness while allowing for some breathability (waterproof-breathable). Hardshell jackets are very light (unless they are insulated) which means they are easy to pack. This makes them ideal as an outer layer that can be easily taken on and off.
Can I use a rain jacket as a hardshell? Yes and no. A rain jacket built to be durable and withstand abrasion can be used as a hardshell as part of a layering system in cold weather.
Best uses: Skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and backpacking when a lot of rain or snow is expected. In snow or sleet, an insulated hardshell is all you may need, based on your tolerance to the cold.
As the name implies, these jackets are soft and often feature 4-way stretch fabric with a fleece lining. Many are made with advanced waterproof-breathable fabrics and almost all include some type of DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating to help them repel water and snow. Softshell jackets are heavier and offer much more warmth than the typical hardshell. Although softies offer good wind protection, they are not as effective at blocking wind as hardshells. They also do a great job wicking moisture away from your body. If you'll be in moderately cold weather with light snow a softshell is all you need.
Can I ski in just a softshell? Absolutely! As long as you don't expect significant snowfall (or many big wipeouts).
Best uses: Athletic activities in colder weather where freedom of movement is paramount. Excellent insulating layer in very cold weather when snow/sleet is expected and you're using a hardshell as the outer layer.