I know the title may seem quite bold given we have all been saved from the inclement weather thanks to the old trusty Goretex Rain Jacket, but in conditions that at are simply cold as the planet Hoth and not wet like the swamps of South East Asia, SOFTSHELL will reign supreme.
For starters, what the hell is a soft shell? So if you google search it, you get a very generic definition stating “SOFTSHELL jackets are used for hiking, climbing, and mountaineering in changeable conditions. Their main purpose is to keep you COMFORTABLE when you are active, so you do not have to layer up or down with a hard-shell jacket and a t-shirt or base layer”. The simplest way I can explain it for the most beginner dude to the most veteran ex sof bushmaster, it is simply a light, water repellant, breathable jacket that can be used 80% of the time outside of terrible rainstorms. So why would this be ideal in Winter Operations?
Sweat. No matter how hard you try to slow down patrol pace, or regulate your temperature with many clothing layers, you will undoubtedly sweat. And once you sweat, you become wet, then once you are wet in subzero temps you get cold, then inevitably die. Well maybe not right away, but you get the idea. The whole point in this glorious under used outer layer is it will repel light snow or slush, but also wick the uninventable moisture from your hard-working bod.
The main significant difference is in the materials used to make this beautiful piece of clothing. It is NOT GORETEX, and will not hold any water in. Some people may use the term Windbreaker interchangeably with softshell, but it is much more than that. Without getting too much into the science, just by simply reading the tag, we can see its not anything close to waterproof. SOFTSHELL is a hybrid mix of Nylon and Elastane, while the HARSHELL is 100% Polyester. I am sure many of you have worn the Goretex coat even in the rain, to only become soaked under the shell by your own sweat. With the Softshell, the multiple layers wicks moisture away from your additional layers just like a base layer wicks moisture from your body. By removing water(sweat) from your additional layers, you will now avoid becoming cold, and leading to a lowering of ones body temp eventually maybe leading to death. Crazy thing, they even make SOFTSHELL Pants. Yep, so throw on those bad boys on your lower body too and you will be 100% moisture control while being in the less that ideal conditions.
Like all things kit and gear yet again, options and brands are endless, and very much so overwhelming. Go with a reputable brand, like some mountain or outdoor company that maybe has been making clothing longer than an hour, and you should be safe. Very least, check the materials on tag and see what its actually made out of. I would also love to tell you only chose this clothing made in the old USA, but there are some super high end brands that manufacture crap in Asia now to “save costs”. I’m talking to you Arc’teryx.
Here are just a few tips and helpful suggestions when selecting SOFTSHELL Top or Bottom.
1. Get a non insulated one. I know the urge to get very warm jacket thinking it will be best used in Winter Ops, but given multiple layers is warmer than few bigger ones, I would get the lightest you can get.
2. Full length zippers. Tons of companies are making again the famous Anorak style, but it is not so useful in regulating if you become even warmer. So many times even in -25 Degrees Celsius I have found myself rocking the jacket completely unzipped under my over white shell to regulate my sweaty ass while pulling my pulk.
3. Big pockets. Maybe a no brainer, but with saying it, it just gives more options to store gear, maybe not huge gear but small daily used items. Think lighter, fire starter, some kindling in a bag, etc.
4. Color. This may be a very controversial topic, but sometimes camo all the time isn’t required. Coniferous Origins wrote an awesome post about “A Case for Grey” and he has a lot of solid info about colors and their environments. Check it out if you haven’t, it is worth your time and note taking. Coincidentally My Softshell top and bottom are also Grey, but it was issued to me and someone much more intelligent than me clearly chose the Grey over Multicam. Not only does Grey actually work pretty alright in the winter even without an over white system(if concealment is a big priority for you and your activities, Id get one too) grey can blend way better in a permissive environment a lot better and be less “army” looking.
Like the art of Rucking in all other conditions expect winter, you want to start off cold. By wearing as little layers under the SOFTSHELL system at first, it allows your body to naturally warm itself up and prevent you from stopping to remove layers, or worse, get soaked and cold.
In the photo below, I have my winter clothing out on the floor that I use while moving, ie, wearing my rucksack and pulling the pulk. Start off light, add layers accordingly. Most of the time, unless its -40 with a windchill of straight up death, this layer system is more than enough while pulling the pulk with gear. Again like all things previous, the gear I have in the picture is what was either issued to me or just has become what works. I am not a die hard fan of OR or Arc’teryx, this is just what I am currently using as a base. Overwhites are stored in my pulk, and white shades aren’t for the Jersey Shore babes, Snow blindness is real as f and white matches the environment.
Let me know in the comments what system you guys are using.
Have a good one, Nomadic Fieldcraft Crew.