explain the diffrence in 'soft shell' vs 'hiking pants'

12:11 p.m. on October 31, 2013 (EDT)
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I'm a bit confused by the pants categories ...I get 'hard shell' ...but what really is the difference in a 'soft shell' vs what is simply called 'hiking pants'?  Are they just a bit denser/tighter weave?  TY!

12:25 p.m. on October 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Like most terms in backpacking gear soft-shell is used a bit loosely. Hiking Pants (which could be soft-shells)...are lightweight pants made of fabrics like  nylon-cotton-polyester...I personally like nylon with a high spandex percentage (15%)...but there are lots to choose from. Soft-shells are for me more specific than hiking pants...because it refers only to pants that have a membrane sandwiched between layers of soft fabrics (usually a form of fleece)..the result is that you get a fairly water resistant and good wind resistant pair of pants. Unfortunately I find soft-shells a bad compromise in regards to multi-day backpacking (looking sweet around town or on day-hikes is another matter). The reason being is that soft-shells do not breath as well as regular base-layers and mid-layers/insulation...and they are not as water-proof as "hard" rain-shells...yet they tend to weigh almost as much or more as both a mid-layer and lightweight rain-shell combined!

4:40 a.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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If you search the Forum for "soft shell" you'll find a running debate what this term might mean.  But you question can be answered, probably with no one dissenting.  A shell garment, hard or soft, blocks the wind, whereas garments referred to as hiking pants usually breathe, and let the wind pass unmolested. 

As for hiking pants – what does that term mean?  Cut offs? Jogging shorts? Cotton cargo pants, or high tech fiber trousers?  I think "hiking pants" is very vague term.


7:00 a.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks for the explanations guys ...yes, 'hiking pants' can be pretty nondescript I guess! I do have a pretty clear 'description' in my head however! It was the difference between the two that was loosing me, but it makes more sense now -  TYVM!

5:46 p.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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should add that:

-many soft shell pants don't have a membrane, just densely-woven fabric.  those that have a membrane will be more wind and water-resistant but generally won't vent heat and moisture as well and won't feel as stretchy.  a few soft shell pants are actually fully waterproof and nearly-windproof and still provide a measure of 'breathability,' for a high price, but you wouldn't want to hike in those except for early spring. late fall, winter, or a deluge so bad that staying dry outweight venting moisture or heat. and most people just looking for rain pants choose a hard shell. 

-there are a wide variety of thicknesses and weights of soft shell pants.  some are actually reasonable for cool three-season hikes; others are really best suited for winter, high winds, skiing, that sort of thing.

8:47 p.m. on November 1, 2013 (EDT)
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I am in the process of reviewing a jacket and pair of pants for the Gear Review Corps that are, according to the manufacturer and the producer of the fabric, supposed to "bridge the gap between hard shell and soft shell". I will be testing them (separate reports) in a wide variety of conditions (so far, I have been out in our beautiful SFBay Area weather (temps in the 70s), a heavy wind storm (gusts measured in the 30-40 knot range with my trusty Kestrel 4500) that included dense fog (down to about 30 foot visibility, temps in the 40s) and drizzle, and (being impatient for our rainy season to start, plus curious about how waterproof they are) standing in the shower with the cold water turned up full blast (the fabric wets out and lets some water through after about 10 minutes, so I expect the torrential rains we get during the winter at sea level here to wet through as well). Although there has been light snow in the Sierra, the snow and ice tests (skiing and ice climbing) will have to wait at least another month, and maybe until January when I go to Salt Lake for skiing at the family's favorite resort (Alta, which is maybe the last resort to cater heavily to us free-heel skiers and forbids snowboarders) and thence to the Outdoor Retailer Show.

I am starting to get the impression that this is another of those attempts at "does everything for everybody", jack of all trades things that "works ok", but does nothing superbly well. We shall see.

Face it, though, the requirements for staying cool and dry in warm weather include lots of breathability, while avoiding wind chill and keeping the rain or melting snow from getting through requires almost complete blocking of the wet stuff and the winds that push the wet stuff through. So compromises have to be made.

9:21 p.m. on November 2, 2013 (EDT)
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I've always made do with hiking pants and longjohns, but then again I am a fairweather hiker.

7:01 a.m. on November 3, 2013 (EST)
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I'm thinking that's what I'll do too ...I have a pair of the MH Yuma pant - they are a pretty dense/tight fabric & shed water fairly well and should block sufficient wind, so I think with a base legging they'll work fine; should keep me dry & warm enough ...I don't intend on winter backpacks/overnights, just 4-6 hour day hikes. 

June 19, 2018
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