Soft Shells

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Soft Shells

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    John Reed


    The abstract to the Soft Shells article gave me the impression there would be some discussion of the so-called denier gradient fabrics. After reading the article twice I still don’t see it, although I am not specially conversant with the technical details important in this area, so I am not sure if I missed it.

    I am curious whether anyone has experience with the Paramo shells. They claim their fabrics are not only waterproof and breathable, but capable of (and willing to) move liquid water from the inside of the fabric to the outside. This is a powerful claim, and if true would seem to consign Gore-tex and whatnot to the same scrap heap of obsolesence that the slide-rule enjoys.

    Ok, so there’s not much interest in this so far. I bought one of their caps; it kept my hair dry in the shower for about 10 minutes. It seems to work well if it’s not raining, or for up to 45 minutes if it is raining; don’t know if it’s breathable yet..

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    John – hopefully, the new article on Pertex Equilibrium will give you some insight into how a denier gradient fabric works. We’ll put Paramo’s Parameta S denier gradient fabric on our list of fabrics for creating technology overviews about.


    Thank you for the education on Pertex Equilibrium. I am confused, however. Each of the garments discussed and pictured is described as a “shell,” yet you opine that they can make for “excellent base layer choices in the fringe . . . and winter seasons.”

    “Base layer”, as in nothing else between the Pertex Equilibrium shell and the skin (yes, I know you state that it is quite comfortable next to skin–particularily the lined ones). If used as a “base layer” then what is the next layer? A mid layer? An outer layer? And if there’s a next layer, is the Pertex Equilibrium “base layer” really still a “shell”?

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding how these “shells” are to be used and am assuming too rigidly that they are always used as the final outer layer.



    I, like I’m sure many of your readers, would greatly appreciate your evaluation and comparison of the various waterproof/breathable fabrics (e.g. Gore-Tex XCR, Precip Plus, etc.). Which are the best performers? Is an Red Ledge waterproof/breathable hard shell for $100 really comparable to a $180 Marmot Precip Plus or a $350 Gore-Tex XCR hard shell in terms of performance?

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    I would say that the GoLite Energy is least suited as a base layer. It is made with Pertex Equilibrium that is unlined, so there is no tricot or knit lining that serves to provide both warmth and improved moisture transfer (by absorbing sweat, and distributing it over a larger surface area so it can more efficiently be transported through the Equilibrium). Thus, I think the GoLite Energy would be a fine shell over any knit base layer.

    The Rab V-Trail top has a microfibre pile lining – about the weight of a very light tricot – and is a superb next the skin layer. In essence, the lining provides the same function as a conventional base layer (soft feel, wicking, insulation).

    The Buffalo Equimax Jacket and the Parrot Concure Pull-On both have Coolmax linings, which are very light, reasonably comfortable next to skin, and provide excellent wicking ability. The Parrot Concure, in particular, it a great design that is ideally suited for a base layer, although it is a little long for my taste (it is long because it’s primarily marketed to the bicycling community).

    How to integrate a garment like this (i.e., the Rab V-Trail Top) with other layers is more fully discussed in the recent artice on winter clothing:

    (M) Winter Backpacking Comfort: Lightweight Gear and Techniques for Shelter, Clothing, and Sleep Systems

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Both Gore-Tex XCR and eVENT will be featured in upcoming fabric technology articles.

    Because of the wide variety of so-called ‘proprietary’ technologies like Marmot “Precip”, Mountain Hardwear “Conduit” and the like, it’s impossible to feature each of these technologies in depth. So, they are going to be treated as a family of technologies that will be discussed in the context of PTFE membrane/laminate technologies in a comprehensive technology overview of waterproof breathable fabrics in general, which will be published this month.


    Pertex Equilibrium sounds like a promising new fabric. My question is in reguard to a garment’s abilty to evaporate heavy rain.

    Will a multiple layer laminated fabric worn as a baselayer be superior at evaportation to a garment with two separate layers or a shell worn over a baselayer? The difference being that body heat is driving vapor through the garment more directly in a laminated product where with multiple sepaqrate layers the air between layers insulates the outer shell surface. Any insights are appreciated.

    John Davis


    Locale: Isle of Man

    While descending a hill in a bitter north-easter yesterday, my two-layer, soft shell Mountain Equipment pullover evaporated sweat away uncomfortably quickly. I was very cold for a few minutes. A combination of Parameta shirt under a Berghaus Inferno windshirt has, in the past, given me a similar experience.

    On the ascent of the next hill, with my back still to the wind, I found that the two-layer pullover was easier to ventilate than two single layer garments. Nevertheless, I prefer the two garment combo as the older fabrics are nicer to the touch and quieter than the new fabrics used in the ME soft shell.

    Evaporating heavy rain away in a cold wind just doesn’t bear thinking about. As cold winds can occur at any time of year where I live, it seems to me that a genuinely waterproof coat should always be carried when backpacking in the mountains. They are getting very light so there is no good reason for not carrying one.

    Best wishes, John D.

    Eric & Anca Simon


    I’ve used the normal range of gortex, triple point etc over 17 years of working and playing in the UK mountias. As a soft shell I have found paramo (I use a lite weight smock) to be by far teh best. Like all soft shells it is slightly to warm for a humid summer day. Thats when I use Pertex over a Merino top.

    Not only does the Paramo outperform all other fabrics in terms of breathability and comfort while keeping you dry it is VERY durable. I use mine every day for three years, no “normal” jacket can take that abuse. All I do is stick it in the washing machine and use the waterbased reproofer. Magic!


    Nicholas Couis
    BPL Member


    I’ve used epic and really like it. I’m finding it harder to find any jackets now and can’t find the heavier stretch nylon Epic. Why aren’t more companies making garments of this type of material.Does anybody know,Thanks.

    Karen Allanson


    Hello — your article was very helpful, as always, but I didn’t see any mention of Equilibrium used as a sleeping bag outer fabric. Marmot and a couple of other manufacturers are now offering this, and I’m wondering how this fabric would perform (especially in winter conditions) as opposed to Dryloft or Epic?

    Many thanks!

    Michael Martin
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Idaho


    Are you sure you’ve seen Equilibrium used in Sleeping Bags? I thought Marmot’s “EQ” bags use Pertex Endurance Fabric.


    Colin Thomas


    I for one am interested in the new stretch version of equilibrium. I think it will have a greater comfort range than all others fabrics and actually be able to used in all 4 seasons. My Arc’teryx power shield lightweight jacket is only good in cold weather so I sold it. The Berghaus jacket out now weighs in an 11oz and the new Montane jacket due out in the spring is an ounce lighter and look to be able to do what most of us want a soft-shell to do.

    Those Paramo and Buffalo products look intriguing too though. I wish I had the money to try out all this gear to find out what works best for me.

    Tony Burnett


    Locale: OH--IO

    This past weekend I was in the local outfitters in Sylvania, OH (outside Toledo) and noticed they had a pair of Cloudveil Prospector pants on the clearance rack (wrong size!). There was a Schoeller Dynamic hangtag on the pants. This surprised me. I thought Inertia was some sort of proprietary fabric. Maybe the pants were a couple of years old?

    Also, assuming the pants truly were Schoeller Dynamic, I was surprised at how thin the fabric is. For some reason I thought Dynamic was a bit thicker. More like Powerstretch.

    So, how does Dynamic compare to Inertia?

    Unfortunately, no one in my area carries many softshell garments (save for the Windstopper and some Powershield), so I rarely get to touch-n-feel the fabric first hand.

    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    Dynamic and Inertia are very simular. I believe Inertia is a bit lighter / sq yard, and the fibers seems to be smaller which results in a slightly softer and lighter shell. They seem approx the same when it comes to wind and water resistance. I have found Inertia to be more comfortable against the skin, and Inertia seems to more comfortable over a slightly larger temp range. Dynamic is definitely more durable. After a year my Intertia pants where showing wear and the Dynamic pants looked almost new.

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