Types Of Jackets, What To Know…

What Is Layering? And, Why Use Layers?

Layering is simply the use of multiple pieces that can be added or removed as the weather conditions or your activities change.  The main purpose of this is to keep you warm or cool, protected from bad weather, and ultimately comfortable doing whatever outdoor activity you are involved in.  
     A basic example of layering would be something like this:  First, a base layer, something soft and close to your skin that can give some warmth and wick away moisture from your body.  Second may be a fleece layer, to add an extra bit of warmth in cold weather. Third may be an insulation layer.  This is your main layer for warmth.  It may be a down jacket or a synthetically insulated jacket.  The temperature will determine how heavy or the light the insulation layer may need to be. Then, finally a hardshell, softshell or possibly a light windbreaker to add an outer layer for protection against rain, sleet, snow or frigid windchills.
     All of this varies according to your activities, and the conditions.  But being able to add or remove pieces of outerwear greatly increases your comfort and your overall outdoor experience.



What are Hardshells?

     Hardshells are the outer most layer used for protection against the worst types of weather, such as rain, sleet, snow, and frigid cold winds.  The ultimate in protection.

     These jackets can be used in many ways, and are available in many different weights with varying features.  Some jackets are lighter, made to be easily rolled up and put into your backpack only to be pulled out if needed.  The lighter weight shells are not as durable as heavier ones can be, so the activities that you intend to do while wearing them may be limited.  Rugged activities such as rock or ice climbing may require something more durable.  Even when carrying a heavy backpack, you may want a tougher hardshell.  

     There is also a wide range of features that you may find or want in your hardshell.  Some popular features are: waterproof zippers, pit-zips, adjustable hoods (some are helmet compatible and some are not), high chest pockets, a Recco reflector, adjustable cuffs and hems, powder skirts, double zippers, and interior pockets.  Finding the perfect combination of features in your jacket will ensure your happiness with your purchase.

     Hardshell jackets are also made from different materials.  A common membrane that can be used is called GoreTex.  This is a waterproof and windproof membrane that is the key to protecting you from the elements.  Many companies use their own type of membranes which are very effective as well.  These materials must also be able to breath while keeping water and wind outside.

The Patagonia Triolet Hardshell is the perfect example of a waterproof / windproof jacket that is ready for the worst conditions that you can throw at it. A great piece to wear over a heavy, warm insulation layers, as it has plenty of room, and allows for lots of unrestricted movement. Some other examples of really durable hardshells are: The Arc'teryx Alpha SV, the Rab Latok Mountain GoreTex Pro , and the Helly Hansen Odin Mountain Infinity 3L jacket.
Above are pictures of Hardshells from Arc’teryx, Patagonia, Rab and Helly Hansen.  To the right are a few close-up pictures of the hardshells.


     Softshells are very popular and can encompass a wide range of jackets.  They can be used for just about any adventure.  While they are similar to hardshells in that they are a protective layer commonly worn on top of other layers.  They may not be as waterproof and windproof as a hardshell, but they can be more breathable and flexible.  Some softshells are great as lightweight windbreakers made out of thin nylon, that can be rolled up into a little pouch or its own pocket, and carried in your backpack.
     Softshells are generally not insulated.  I simply like to think of them as a “second Skin” on top of your other layers, whatever they may be.  (Fleeces or insulated jackets).  Just that little extra to help regulate heat and add protection from the weather.  Even around town, they can be a great asset.  
      Many softshells are made from different materials which can then dictate what the softshell is best used for.  A softshell such as the Arc’teryx Gamma is made of a stretchy, breathable material that is tough and durable.  That makes it great for rock climbing.  While other softshells are lighter for hiking, and others made out of nylon are great lightweight windbreakers.  There is a softshell for everything!

Down and Synthetically Insulated Jackets

Above is a synthetically insulated jacket from Rab, the Xenair Alpine. To the Left is the Thorium, a down jacket from Arc'teryx.


Down Jackets

Synthetically Insulated Jackets

     Down jackets are known for their weight to warmth ratio.  Very warm and very light.  Goose down is the light fluffy undercoat that keeps geese warm and protected in the frigid cold weather.  While they are very warm, they are not good if they get wet.  The fluff in the feathers holds the in the heat, but if they get wet, those feathers clump up, and therefore will not be able to be all fluffy to keep you warm.
     There are a lot of different down jackets out there.  The warmth is dependent on the quality and fill power of the down.  Some jackets are super “puffy” and are very warm for the coldest winter days, while others are lighter and thinner for cool weather.
     Many popular companies such as Arc’teryx, Patagonia, Helly Hansen, Rab, and others all make Down Jackets.  

      This is the most common form of insulated jackets.  They are generally cheaper than down jackets, and do not loose their ability to keep you warm if the insulation gets wet.  The insulation may be thin for cooler weather, or thicker for cold weather.  Every jacket can be a bit different, so be sure to choose the proper insulation piece for your needs.  The outer face fabric used on all insulated jackets makes a big difference on  performance.

Fleece Jackets

The Arc'teryx Kyanite Lightweight Hoody
The Helly Hansen Cascade Shield Fleece
     These fleece jackets are a favorite of mine.  They are soft, warm , and very versatile.  They can be a thin lightweight layer, or heavier like a sweater for colder weather.  I enjoy wearing them under an insulated jacket, just for an extra bit of warmth on colder days.
     I also like to wear them casually as a stand alone piece on cool days, or even around the house during the winter.   While they are warm, they are very breathable and will allow cold air to flow through them if it is windy , so be prepared to throw a light shell over them if there is a cold wind.  Many softshell jackets like the Arc’teryx Gamma Lightweight, or the Patagonia Houdini Windbreaker will be the perfect layer over a fleece for some extra protection on colder windy or rainy days.
The Patagonia Better Sweater
     There are several Fleece Jackets available that are kind of like a hybrid cross between a fleece and a softshell.  That is because they have a fleece on the inside, but a “harder face”  on the outside typically with a DWR (Durable Water Resistant) coating.  These fleece jackets are unique because they are able to repel some light rain and wind, unlike most other fleeces that will absorb water quite easily.  So, with this design, they become similar to a softshell in that they provide some protection from the elements.  In this case, that one jacket can provide similar protection to wearing two separate pieces such as a normal fleece and a softshell on top.  A few examples of this are the Patagonia R1 Techface Fleece, and the Helly Hansen Odin Pro Shield and Cascade Shield Fleeces.

Jackets For Skiing And Snowboarding

     Jackets for Skiing and Snowboarding need to be durable, waterproof, windproof, comfortable, and allow for movement.  They should have a powder skirt to keep snow and ice out , a large helmet compatible hood that is adjustable, and Plenty of pockets for your hats, gloves, goggles, and even your ski passes.  An other nice feature is to have pit-zips, a great way to expel heat and keep you comfortable.  Many jackets may also have a Recco reflector which is a device that helps rescue teams find you if your lost or buried in the snow!    

For more specific information on Jackets from various companies, please go to my YouTube Channel, and use the playlists to help you find the video you’re looking for!