Gear Guy

Should I pack both a soft shell and a waterproof jacket?

On extended backpacking trips, does it make sense to pack both a soft shell and a waterproof jacket? Or just take along the rain jacket? Also, since I come from Europe, I'm a little bit confused about what exactly cross-country skiing is. I know what telemarking is (those graceful people on the piste) and also langlauf (with the thin skis), but what is cross-country? Karl Cottenie Leuven, Belgium

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I think the soft-shell category has created a lot of confusion, confusion that on a few occasions I’ve worked hard to foster. Even within the outdoor gear industry there’s a lot of uncertainty over what constitutes “soft shell.” But in general, the idea is to come up with a garment that breathes better than a waterproof/breathable jacket, offers enough rain protection to keep you pretty dry in all but a hard downpour, and may in some cases also provide light insulation.

But then comes the question: What to do with my rain shell? Leave it home? Take it? My view is this: For day trips, or trips in seasons when a light shower is the worst weather one might reasonably expect, then pack the soft shell. For longer trips, or trips where the weather is apt to be a bit more severe, then pack the rain jacket. But to start packing both is to defeat the purpose of one or the other. Here in the Pacific Northwest, for instance, I would pack a Gore-Tex jacket during the winter or on long backpacking trips. For a weekend trip in July, though, I’d seriously consider only a soft shell, as the odds it will rain hard are low, and the even if it does the soft shell will keep me dry enough to that I won’t be completely miserable.

As for what constitutes cross-country skiing — here in the U.S. that typically means something like langlauf—ski touring, or skiing on groomed trails. It used to be that also included telemarking, but that sport has become so specialized that it now stands on its own. Then there’s alpine touring, which uses ski gear that resembles alpine ski equipment, but is designed to allow the user to hike uphill. Once atop a peak, the boots are locked into position and the skier descends much like an alpine skier.

Alles klaar?

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