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Soft Shell Fabric

Soft shells are lightweight, abrasion-resistant garments, that provide warmth, breathability, and wind resistance without a lot of bulk. A soft shell can replace the traditional combination of an insulating inner layer and a waterproof-breathable outer, in all but the wettest conditions. They also eliminate the need to stop and peel a layer, then stop to add a layer.

Photo: Richard Akitt

Yamnuska, Alberta

These garments are best suited for day-long activities in cool, dry, and relatively stable weather conditions. For multi-day expeditions or excursions in unpredictable weather, it’s a good idea to also carry a waterproof-breathable shell.

Design Features

  • Close, athletic fit has a low profile under a pack or climbing harness.
  • Clean styling without “frills” that can catch on branches or rocks.
  • Stretch fabrics and gussets allow a full range of movement.
  • Pants may feature double knees and bum for added durability and abrasion resistance, plus elastic ankle cuffs to seal out snow.


Face fabrics are tightly woven nylon or stretchy nylon and spandex blends. A tight weave will block wind, shed snow and light rain, and stand up to abrasion from rocks, trees, and ice. In addition, the fabrics are treated with a durable water repellency (DWR) finish to enhance their water-shedding powers.

Read more about the different Technical Fabrics used in soft shell garments.


DWR-treated garments should be kept clean to function at maximum efficiency. You can machine wash and dry your soft shell. Don’t use fabric softener in the wash. When it’s dry, give it a light iron to restore the DWR finish.