Can I lighten my pack by trading a fleece and shell for a soft shell?
I going climbing this summer in Switzerland and looking to shed a few pounds off my gear. My idea is to dump all my fleeces (except maybe a vest) and heavy-duty shells in exchange for a soft shell. Id like to find one with a hood that actually moves well with the head and allows for a helmet, too. What would be a suitable soft shell for Alpine mountaineering and rock climbing that is warm enough to not need fleeces, and waterproof enough to handle a Southeast Asian monsoon? Matthew Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
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Well, Matthew, you can dump some gear by getting a soft shell. But not all. Not for a multi-day trip. The best soft shells replace two pieces (a fleece jacket, and a shell) under 80 percent of the conditions youre apt to run into. Meaning they might cover you 100 percent of the time. Or, only 20, depending on conditions. Thats because warm” soft shells arent typically quite as warm as a mid-weight fleece jacket layered under a shell, while the weatherproof” soft shells arent typically as weatherproof as a full-on Gore-Tex jacket (or something similar).
Arc’teryx Easyrider JacketArc’teryx Easyrider Jacket
Still, the versatility of a good soft shell gives you some options. Lets say you normally pack a set of lightweight long underwear (bottoms and long-sleeve top), a mid-weight fleece jacket, and a Gore-Tex jacket. You could instead pack along an Arcteryx Easyrider Jacket ($289; www.arcteryx.com), made with Polartec Power Shield. Power Shield is used in the warm” style of soft shell; it insulates nicely, blocks out wind, and sheds snow and light rain. It also breathes so it stays comfortable in warmer conditions. Worn over a piece of light long underwear, you can wear the Easy Rider over a wider range of conditions than the mid-weight fleece. And because you dont have as much need for a full-bore rainjacket, you can get by with a lighter rain piece such as a Marmot PreCip ($99; www.marmot.com). You save some weight and some space in your pack, and are more comfortable overall.
Id be reluctant to leave even a light rainjacket homeif it got really wet, or if you were forced to bivouac, youd want it. But if the weather forecast warrants, it might be worth a try doing without. Youll still need a hatnone of the Power Shield soft shells that Im aware of (including the REI One, $179; www.rei.com) have a hood. If you decide that a hood is the most important factor, you might try Mountain Hardwares Hooded Synchro Jacket ($260, www.mountainhardwear.com). Its Conduit membrane and weather-protective exterior taping should hold up against the elements.
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