Softshell vs. Hardshell Layers for Hunters

Hunting is a progression of weighty decisions—from where to apply to which basin to explore. They aren't always easy decisions, and choosing the right gear for the hunt can be just as daunting. Armed with enough intel, you can make the right decision. That’s why knowing how to utilize your gear most effectively is paramount, which includes choosing the best outerwear for your hunt.

There are two primary outerwear pieces: softshells and hardshells. What’s the difference? Softshells are designed to be worn in moderate and variable conditions. Because they’re made of highly breathable materials with a durable face fabric, you can wear them during high-exertion, abrasive activities. Hardshells are your go-to when the weather gets really nasty. They are completely waterproof and windproof, providing dependable protection from the elements. 

Stone Glacier outerwear systems include a softshell jacket (De Havilland Jacket) and two hardshell systems (M5 and M7). Each shell has its strengths, which you can apply to different scenarios to leverage each piece’s strengths in the field, depending on the hunt and conditions.

Like our packs, we build our outerwear systems from the ground up. Our softshells and hardshells are designed specifically to fit the needs of hunters for every kind of hunt. This blog dives into the design, technology, and intended product uses to help you understand which shell is right for your hunt. 

Waterproof Hardshells 

Waterproof rain gear for hunters

Whether you’re hunting Roosevelt’s elk in the jungles of western Washington or Dall’s sheep on an exposed ridge in Alaska’s Chugach Range, you need to know you can stay dry when a soaker sets in. That moisture usually comes with plenty of wind, and the combo can quickly send you packing if you don’t have the right gear to weather the storm. This is hardshell weather.

Benefits of Hardshells

Our hardshells keep you bone dry and block the wind. Period. Like everything we make, we designed them to be lightweight and packable for mountain hunting. The M5 Jacket and Pant is constructed with a mechanical stretch 3-layer HydraShield™ laminate, a quiet and soft face fabric, and a protective Tricot backer. These features allow extended range of motion (think drawing a bow or navigating technical terrain) and keep weight to a minimum. The M5 Jacket and Pant weigh less than two pounds combined. Plus, the M5 jacket packs into its hood.

The M7 Jacket and Pant are designed for colder, extreme conditions where the weather is just as tough as your resolve to stay on the mountain. Because we built the M7 with an insulating fleece interior, it’s designed to lock in body heat and block out wind and rain. While the M7 Series will accommodate layers underneath, it is designed for very cold conditions and slower activity levels, so you don’t need to constantly take layers on and off.

Hardshell Construction and Fabric 

In extreme conditions where staying dry is vital, a hardshell outer layer like our M5 and M7 series is your go-to. Both lines incorporate HydraShield™ technology with 33,000mm (M7) and 31,000mm (M5) waterproof ratings. Seams are fully taped throughout, and we employ #5 YKK Aquaguard Vislon zippers to ensure that moisture and wind stay completely out. The articulated hood is designed for maximum protection with two shock cord lockers to close gaps around the face and neck easily.

When you know the weather will be cold and wet for the entire hunt, combine the M5 or M7 series jacket with an insulating layer like the Grumman or Cirque Jacket. The Grumman Down Jacket, with its 850+ fill goose down, is the ultimate in packable warmth. Combine it with the M7 jacket, and you can wait out anything. The Cirque Jacket features breathable Primaloft insulation with pit zips. Wear it with the M5 to stay warm and dry inside and out as you hike drainage after drainage. 

Durable Softshells

Softshell systems for hunters

Hardshells provide durable protection in variable conditions. They don’t excel in every hunting scenario, but a softshell can make all the difference when the right conditions are encountered. While our M5 and M7 series are made with an industry-leading breathable fabric, no hardshell breathes as well as a softshell. If you’re hopping over deadfall in an old burn or hauling a pack through the brush under overcast skies, a softshell is a better option because the fabric is more breathable and durable than a hardshell. That’s why we designed and built the De Havilland system. 

Benefits of Softshells

Our softshells are built to be comfortable, highly-breathable protection from the elements. With a durable 4-way stretch and an articulated, athletic fit, the De Havilland line is built around performance—whether you’re hunting bears in spring with camp on your back or chasing elk at timberline in the fall. Wear the De Havilland Jacket as protection from light moisture and wind. If you have to gain 500 feet in a hurry, simply open the pit zips to instantly dump heat. 

Softshell jackets generally have a light fleece interior to provide comfort and insulation, which also makes them less packable than hardshell jackets. Because they breathe better than a hardshell, softshells excel when you’re hunting in variable conditions with intermittent wind and rain, busting brush, or experiencing varying levels of activity. Likewise, the De Havilland Pant and De Havilland LITE Pant are built with durability and breathability in mind for the most active part of your body during a hunt.

Softshell Construction and Fabric 

We design our softshells to be breathable, weather-resistant workhorses. The material is a blend of polyester, nylon, and spandex that is DWR treated to resist water and wind. The De Havilland Jacket features chest and hand pockets that allow easy access while wearing a pack. With an extended back hem and a lightly brushed fleece backer, this jacket excels under a backpack. Integrated pit zips are a must for ventilation.

De Havilland pants, which feature our Stratum™ Layered Zipper System, allow you to keep cool while on the move and retain body heat when you slow down for a stalk. Our Patented Contour Waist™ System lets you adjust the waist size of the pants up to three inches, which is ideal for layering. The De Havilland Pant’s 4-way stretch and weather-resistant fabric is the perfect all-mountain choice. For early-season hunts and desert environments, the De Havilland LITE Pant features more nylon, more stretch, and less weight. It has all the features of the De Havilland Pant but weighs five ounces less. 

Because you’ll likely be on the move when you’re wearing a softshell jacket, wearing the right insulating layers underneath is critical in cool conditions. The Grumman Down Vest takes up little room in your pack and weighs next to nothing. If you like to run a bare-bones kit, the Grumman LITE Down Jacket is a solid option. Or try the Cirque Vest, a breathable insulator that won’t impact mobility. 

The Bottom Line 

Softshell systems are going to check most of the boxes for most hunts. They’re comfortable, durable, breathable, and warm, especially when paired with an active insulating layer underneath. But when the wind and rain strike in earnest, a stowable hardshell is your only option for staying on the mountain. Depending on the conditions, each system serves a purpose. Luckily, there’s a system for every hunt and every hunter, regardless of what mother nature has in store.