My latest revelation in gear: all the new outdoor clothes I really like share this common thread, that they are made of hi-tech softshell fabrics produced by the same Swiss company, Schoeller. Softshell outdoor clothes are more than just stretchy. They mark a better way of constructing the clothes that you wear while exerting energy. Essentially the Schoeller fabrics are similar to GoreTex but they are more permeable and they stretch. This allows much more free motion, more breathability, and allows the clothes to fit tighter saving material weight.
Softshells shed moister/heat/sweat *much* faster than GoreTex and they are super comfy at the end of the day around camp or even in your sleeping bag. However my favorite characteristic of these new fabrics is that they act similar to fleece so that they keep their ability to insulate and feel good against the skin even if they are saturated with water, whereas hardshell fabrics just feel like wet plastic bag against your body. These Schoeller fabrics are super good for cycling, climbing, and mountaineering… basically sports where you sweat. I still like hardshell garments for sailing and snowboarding where for the most part you are being eaten by the wind and weather.
The best softshell clothing companies I have found:
- Cloudveil: Excellent pants and tops
- Arcteryx: Bad web site, amazing gear all around. They also have hybrid soft/hardshell clothes that I have yet to try but look very promising.
- Beyond Fleece: Allows you to customize the gear you order. Add pockets, hoods, waterproof zippers etc…
Much of this gear is prohibitively expensive, like $300 for a jacket. I usually go to local dealers and figure out the sizing and then shop around on the outlets.