From my experience, I've only ever used hard shells simply because I've always thought they were made for more treacherous weather. However, I recently saw a video by Patagonia that claimed soft shells are more durable. Is this true? If so, why is it that hard shells are advised over soft shells for harsher weather then?

  • Interesting, but I first hear the terms softshell and hardshell. In Poland they have no counterpart, jackets are classified by membrane type. The membrane is the active element, and the durability (I think you mean water-proofness) depends practically fully on it. Aug 20, 2013 at 6:18
  • 2
    I've heard the term softshell before, but not hardshell, except for suitcases.
    – gerrit
    Aug 20, 2013 at 9:38
  • In US outdoor industry, "hardshell" jackets are ones with heavy nylon outer layers, while "softshells" have either cloth or polar fleece material as the outer layer. While there are some "gortex" softshells out there, most of the time if you say "gortex jacket" you mean a hardshell.
    – DavidR
    Aug 20, 2013 at 14:03
  • First thing I thought of was tacos. Guess I'll go have some dinner and revisit this question later. :) Aug 21, 2013 at 0:37

2 Answers 2


The hardshell/softshell distinction doesn’t mean pretty much anything today. It used to be that hardshell was completely waterproof and windproof, implying limited breathability, and softshell was somewhat waterproof, somewhat windproof and much more breathable. In other words, softshell used to mean a material you could wear most of the time while being more comfortable than wearing hardshell.

Then some of the outdoor manufacturers unfortunately realized that those softshell things sell quite well and reused the label for whatever they wanted to sell. Nowadays the softshell label can mean almost anything, so that it doesn’t make sense to say if it’s more durable than hardshell. (Especially given that the waterproof and windproof “hardshells” are today often built to minimum weight, so that the toughness greatly varies between different hardshells even within one brand.)

  • 1
    +1 - that's right. Whenever you're buying an expensive piece, these days, you really have to research the fabric itself. Even "Gortex" (the biggest jacket material brand name in the USA) is really a label applied to a half dozen different fabrics with slightly different properties.
    – DavidR
    Aug 22, 2013 at 11:31

First off - whether one is more durable or not, they're somewhat different products. Whether you need one or the other is more based on what you're doing than on "durability".

Hardshell vs Softshell

note - these are marketing terms in the US outdoor industry. Apparently they're not standard internationally.

Hard shell jackets offer a high level of windproofing, and low breathability. They're also usually the most waterproof. They're made with heavy nylon / canvas materials. Think a heavy gortex rain jacket. The hardshell material itself offers great protection against wind and rain, but not much insulation. Because they're windproof, they usually don't breath as much as softshells.

Softshells are more like polar fleece jackets, perhaps with a cloth cover- they're very warm, because the material traps a lot of air. They also tend to retain their warmth when wet. Some softshells may have a goretex treatment, and be somewhat waterproof. But they're generally not very windproof.

What they're for

Hardshells are necessary for harsh environments with strong winds. You may also have a "softshell" jacket underneath the "hardshell" outer layer for insulation.


Durability in outdoor gear is a odd issue. My experience is that a lot of gear on the market now is designed to be ultra lightweight, often at the expense of durability. Jackets, backpacks, even the expensive ones just get torn up sometimes. You can find products with more rugged construction, but they come at a weight penalty. I could see how a serious mountaineer (which high end jackets are theoretically designed for) may prefer a light outer layer that will just get replaced after each expedition.

  • 1
    I realize I didn't exactly answer the question... but I feel like hardshells and softshells are for different things, and they're both valuable. Its like asking "which is more durable, a seat belt or my car's airbags?"
    – DavidR
    Aug 21, 2013 at 16:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.