Now you might think that it was a smart move for tactical clothing companies to embrace softshell technologies, and you’d be largely right in that, as they their performance characteristics encompass all the needs that we hear from the “light is right/tactical athlete” brigade; in truth, the idea of a “soft shell” is nothing new to the world of mountaineering and alpinism, and climbers have been embracing it for years already!
What is “softshell”, and what it can realistically do? Ultimately designed with breathability in mind, a softshell garment (in principle) offers greater comfort than a traditional hardshell one, with the softer fabrics making it much more dynamic, and quieter too. The fabrics used are far less rigid and don’t “rustle or creak”, allowing for quieter movement, obviously ideal in a tactical setting.
Softshell garments are more like the “all-rounders” for the performance-oriented user, and it’s an ideal choice when you’re looking for a versatile layer that can either be worn in place of a heavier hardshell waterproof, or indeed as an extra layer underneath one in more extreme conditions. It’s the choice of the user that demands a high degree of movement, but who also understands the need for moisture management inside their clothing system.
Softshell garments are usually made from a woven fabric (although there are exceptions to this), making them an additional warm layer that provides comfort without the restriction or limitations of other materials; a good softshell fabric wills provide a high degree of perceived “warmth”, although they will also offer significant breathability, preventing you from overheating when active. The very best softshell garments are also windproof, which negates the “chill factor” and maintains a comfortable microclimate around your core. Whilst a softshell will keep you dry in light rain (and the face fabric itself may be deemed “waterproof”), many do not benefit from taped seams so they’re not going to keep you anywhere near dry in persistent or heavy rainfall. Most softshells are described and being “highly-water-resistant” rather than fully waterproof.
Our in-house clothing expert Bill tells us;
“My personal “every day wear” softshell is still the excellent Clawgear RAPAX. The Rapax is an extremely breathable and uncompromising “mid-season” garment with a light build and low stowage volume for a wide range of tactical and range applications as well as everyday use. Weighing in at 580g this is a jacket that you can chuck in your range or safe zone bag, having it there for when the weather turns. The seam-free shoulder area eases pack/range bag carriage without pressure points and prevents water from getting in, whilst the wind deflector prevents cold air getting inside through the zipper. The adjustable waist adjustment straps provide a close-fitting and functional waist design. Claw Gear also make use of water repellent sewing yarn which adds to the overall protection level.
With an innovative low profile pocket concept the Rapax is extremely comfortable to wear and the modern styling allows a full range of unrestricted movement. The jacket itself is water repellent and breathes extremely well, making it a superb layering piece under a hardshell jacket if things turn really unpleasant. The Rapax also benefits from two lower, mesh-lined handwarmer pockets, a pocket on the left upper arm, and velcro patches for team/unit patches; there’s also an inner pocket which allows routing for comms cables if you should need them. The Rapax is easy to pack and takes up minimal space in a pack, so it’s absolutely ideal if you want to stow it away “just in case”. Overall it’s a superbly designed jacket made of high end fabrics and components, and the finish of it just oozes quality and attention to detail.
If you’re in the market for a new performance softshell jacket in the very latest “tacticool” colours then I would thoroughly recommend you take a very close look at the Rapax!”
As usual we’ll conclude by saying “do your research” before you buy, and nowhere is this truer than when it comes to softshell. Research, research, and research again before you part with your money, and this way you’ll end up with a clothing “partner” that will serve you for many years to come!