What Should You Wear When It Rains? | Softshell Vs Hardshell Cycling Jackets


– If you’re looking for rain
protection when you ride, you’ll be faced with a choice
of two types of jackets, a traditional waterproof, which is often called a hardshell because the fabric isn’t very stretchy and it kind of feels a bit stiff. The other option is a softshell jacket, which is much softer,
also much more stretchy, but typically not waterproof. You’d have to call them water-resistant. But on the flip side, though, they are much, much more breathable. Now, traditionally, you’d say, well, if it’s raining really hard,
you’d want a hardshell jacket, but if you’re working really hard, would you not actually be
better off with a softshell? Because whilst they
might let more rain in, conversely, they would
also let more sweat out. Ah, to find out, (dramatic music building) we need to do some science. (music ending abruptly) Cool, thanks for that. (metallic whooshing) For this experiment, we need one typical garden sprinkler and one traditional turbo trainer. A smart trainer might not be very smart. We’ve also left it until
it’s just above freezing before filming this video, just
to make it really pleasant. All I need now is a willing volunteer. All right, Ollie?
– Hi, mate. – You, uh, fancy you some science? – Yeah, always.
– Awesome. We’re looking at waterproof jackets. – (stammering) I’ve got
this thing I’ve got to do. – Ollie? You forgot your coffee, mate. Ollie? Chris, mate, you all right? – Hi, Si, how’s it going? – Yeah, all right mate. Do you, um, do you fancy
helping out in a quick video? – In a video?
– [Simon] Yeah. – Ooh, no, actually. Oh, I think my phone’s
ringing, Si, actually. Uh, hello? Yup. I’m going to be a minute. Sorry, man. (cheerful music) – All right, Jon. – Not happening. No way. (quick slamming) – Jon? Jon! Basically, if you hadn’t
worked it out already yet, I want to prepare the jackets but rather than ride in the rain, which is open to all sorts
of variations and errors, I would replace the rain with
a consistent water source, our garden sprinkler. I’ll then jump on the trainer, ride quite briskly to
get a bit of heat up, and then turn on the rain. After a set amount of time, we will then finish that particular test and we will compare the
state of my undervest. So the theory being if we weigh this before and after the test, we’ll know that any
extra weight on this vest will actually be moisture. The thinking being that
a hardshell jacket, which might be less breathable
but more waterproof, would actually have more sweat
in here but less rainwater, whereas the softshell
would have less sweat but more rainwater. And then the mark of success, the best type of jacket
will be the one ultimately that yields the drier undervest. Genius! (upbeat funk music) First up, then, we’ve
got the hardshell jacket. Now, I’ve got the luxury
of being able to use Assos’s legendary
Sturmprinz jacket for this. It’s made out of a proprietary
fabric they call Triton, which they say is temperature-sensitive. So it actually is more
breathable in warm conditions and then less breathable
in cold conditions. Now I don’t want to bang on about it, but I’d suggest that today it’s probably going to be
the less-breathable end of the spectrum because it
is absolutely freezing cold. Have I said that before? Yeah. Oh, and by the way, if you’re wondering why
I’m wearing a helmet on a turbo trainer, I gave
it quite a lot of thought and, basically, I didn’t
want to get a wet head, so I thought this might be
more kind of appropriate to real world, but I appreciate
I will look like a plonker. Right then, five-minute warmup coming up before I start to get wet. (upbeat funk music) I’m actually getting quite warm, so the thought of some cooling rain isn’t completely abhorrent at the moment. (panting) Well, guess we’ve got to do it. (yelling) Turn on the rain, please! Ah! (energetic rock music) Ah, man. (exhaling loudly) It’s unlike any rain I’ve ever been in. It’s really minging. Oh, my legs! Oh, god. It’s really very unpleasant. I’ll be honest, I might
even have to go a peep down. There is one slight issue with this test, it’s become apparent as
I’ve been spinning away, and that is that when
you’re out riding normally, you obviously have windchill. And there is zero wind here at all today, so it’s definitely not representative of real world riding conditions. It’s a lot warmer than
it otherwise would be, which I’m not complaining about today. But hopefully though, the fact that conditions
would be exactly the same for each jacket will mean then that although they perhaps don’t represent real world riding conditions 100%, it’s at least consistent and
comparable between the two. That’s how I put it, anyway. And you’re probably too far away. You might need to come a bit closer. Just come on, a bit closer. No? It’s got to be said that less expensive, entry-level jackets are going to perform less well in comparison to more
expensive hardshells, ’cause basically the
more expensive you go, the better the fabric’s going to be and there’s a lot of tech in those. So your traditional Gore-Tex, for example, will have a membrane that’s
basically got billions of tiny, little pores for
every square inch of fabric. And they allow water vapor out but they prevent the water
droplets that you see on the surface from getting in. One more minute to go. (panting) All right guys, can you make
it stop raining now, please? (mysterious electronic music) Guys? Guys, can you turn it off? (panting) Guys! (freewheel whirring) (cleats tapping) That was pretty unpleasant but not anywhere near as
bad as I was expecting. The question is how are things looking underneath the shell? Can you see a bit of steam going on? There’s definitely some water vapor. (zipping) I’ll keep that in for now, I’m going to quickly
take this base layer off and then we’re going to
stick it on the scales. Right, hold on. (jazzy lounge music) Right, let’s get this over with, shall we? Ready to roll. I’ve got a fresh undervest
that we’ve just weighed within a few grams of the other one, fresh bib tights, thankfully, and also, of course, a fresh jacket. Although, technically I say fresh, this has actually been
with me for three years and I wanted to use it
because this kind of what I consider my go-to piece of clothing in the winter months. Assos have since superseded it. I think the Equipe RS is the
newer version in the range. Right, let’s do it. (squeaking) That’s not my legs, by the way. Honestly, it’s not my legs. It’s not my chamois either. Right. It’s time. (yelling) Turn on the rain! Ah! Oh, man. (lively acoustic jazz music) Now, let’s talk a little bit more about softshells, shall we? So it’s fair to say there’s
probably a bigger discrepancy between different types of softshell than different types of hardshell, in a sense that this one has
actually got bits of fabric that don’t have a membrane behind them for improved breathability
and ventilation, whereas some might be exclusively made out of a windproof material. The fundamental difference
between a waterproof and a water-resistant
fabric in this case, though, comes down to the size of
those pores in the membrane. So there are less pores
on a windproof fabric but they are far, far larger, which basically helps
all that vapor escape from the inside out. However, some of you will notice on my much-loved, much-washed jacket is that that coating on the hardshell that caused the droplets to
bead off has now washed off. So eventually, that happens on
both softshell and hardshell. When it does, you need
to re-proof it quickly because the breathability is
going to be significantly impaired on this one now because
the fabric is so wet. (panting) But it’s simple enough to do. One other major advantage of the softshell that we’re not getting
from this really bizarre, slightly unpleasant test is the aerodynamic qualities
that a softshell has. And I know aerodynamics
are a byword for boring, but it’s really important. Ollie and Chris went to the
windtunnel to test it out and they found that if you
were riding at 30K an hour for 100 kilometers with
a waterproof jacket, if you swapped it out for a softshell, the same effort would actually get you one kilometer an hour faster, which means you’d finish
your 100 kilometers about 10 minutes early, which is not to be sniffed at. And if you’re a pro, the
difference in time is less. In terms of percentage
gains, it’s even more. So, again, it comes down to
if you’re working really hard, you might be warmer, you
might need more breathability, but you’d also want to see
more dividends for your effort in terms of out-and-out speed. Right. (panting) Just a few seconds to go now. (exhaling loudly) Here we go. Three, two, one, stop, and ride, yes. End the ride. (panting) I’ll be back for you later. My perception is that I’m a
little bit damper this time. You can see the inside. The water has come through,
unlike on the hardshell. There’s quite a bit of
water vapor going on, (zipping) showing it’s wicking very fast. Let’s get this undervest
off and get it weighed. (quiet electronic funk music) Wow, 300 grams. So the base layer then
underneath the hardshell jacket weighed 100 grams less than the base layer that was underneath the softshell jacket, showing that when faced with
a deluge of hose pipe water, the hardshell did keep me
dryer at the end of the day. Now, are these results
scientifically valid, no. Are they interesting? Well, certainly for me, actually. But to actually draw this
out to real world conditions, I am actually going to have
to draw on my experience that perhaps I was hoping to discount in the name of science. Basically, under super-heavy rain, you can’t beat a hardshell, but a softshell is probably
going to be more versatile, in the sense that you
can wear it on dry days, you can wear it when it’s drizzly, when there is a threat of rain. But the hardshell, of
course, can be rolled up and stuffed in a back pocket
in case of emergencies. So whereas you might get
more use out of a softshell, it definitely doesn’t replace
a full-blown waterproof jacket in a cyclist’s wardrobe. I’d be very interested to know what you think about all this, though, so do make sure you let us know in the comments section down below. Please, in the name of
40 minutes of suffering underneath a hose pipe, give this video a big thumbs up as well. And if you would like to see some tips on riding in wet weather,
we have a video on that. You can get through to it by
clicking on the screen now.

32 thoughts on “What Should You Wear When It Rains? | Softshell Vs Hardshell Cycling Jackets

  1. Brand new hardshell vs a 3 year old softshell. Which has probably been washed incorrectly 100s of times… good science!

  2. Crappy test, (although honest, because those DWR-coatings will go bad and then you are left with a crappy softshell) but entertaining video.

  3. I quite like riding in the rain OR the cold….. but not BOTH at the same time.
    I had a thought too. the wind chill factor in real world conditions might have a different effect on a hard shell to a soft shell. I can see a mobile water source like a fire truck driving alongside you and showering you with a high pressure hose as you ride to provide a controlled scientific environment. ? All in the name of science. ? Thanks for the Vid.

  4. Good effort Si.. both have their place, for me, usually together in the winter months in the UK. It rains a lot here in the summer too, so I use the HS then as well!

  5. How well did the Tribble protect your microphone? Hardshells are typically nylon, which do not hold the DWR as well as Polyester and nylon is naturally hygroscopic so will not dry as fast. There is likely something to be learned if you would have weighed your base layer also which may better represent in the intent of the test. One needs to consider the entire system when doing similar tests.

  6. I adore my Endura softshell. Warm, reasonably water resistant, comfy. And black.
    But cheap hardshell handy for when it's persisting it down, or as an extra layer.

  7. I bought me a Rapha classic jacket with pit zips under arms and it works perfectly in any cold weather condition. I don’t know the exact fabric used but if I get too warm, I just unzip the arm pits to cool off. I have been in rain as well and it still works perfectly. I also just use a ls base layer for warmth and am comfortable on 50 mile rides with winds at 28mph. I paid a lot for this jacket but it works perfect in my winter riding sessions. I also ride all year long and am 68 years old.

  8. Si … the hose rain … and just lovely and appreciative mates you have in the GcN office … to get back at Olly just cut to that video of him carrying that cyclecross bike up that hill again … that'll show'em 😀 … jk … totally enjoy your videos guys

  9. Working in the outdoor industry, I can say that there have been recent advances in breathability in waterproof garments (gortex active, shakedry) that had impressed this ultra hot running enthusiast that types to you now. I basically wear a wind vest and a base layer when cross country skiing at 12 degrees Fahrenheit I run so hot, and I've been using a gortext active shell on some commutes to great success. The only problem is it's more a backpackers cut, not a cycling one.

    Waiting for the wider industry to adopt this tech into proper activity specific design to make the most of it. Exciting stuff!

  10. Hi Simon, ? cool test but why did you not install a fan to be more real? Have you ever washed your jackets after a long sweating ride and looked on the water proofness after the wash? The daily use makes you really notice the differences of a top of the range product to a looks nice product but not capeable … Cheers you make awesome videos

  11. I always wear a softshell, but try to keep a hardshell stowed in case I need it. I think the best fabrics right now are Polartec's NeoShell (most waterproof and breathable, but not very stretchy) and Power Shield Pro (more like the 'softshell' material most are familar with, durable, very water-resistant , very breathable , nice and stretchy). My rainshell of choice would be one of the Patagonia stretchy H2NO jackets (the RainShadow or the TorrentShell)… stretchy and with pit-zips.

  12. Don’t use a hard shell. I would do if I commuted in winter. I have a couple of softshells. You get wet but the water insulates too – so for general use and packability I go with soft shell everytime.

  13. Well done boys. You proved a brand new and expensive hard shell is better than an old softshell where the waterproofing is shot. Science.

  14. Classic GCN ‘science’ ? One jacket let’s in less water but makes you sweat more and the other the opposite – so how do you tell where the weight is coming from? One jacket is old and therefore no longer shower proof and the ‘rain’ never touches Si’s back in either.

  15. I mostly use a softshell with a Merino Baselayer underneath. Sweating anyway, so getting wet is not the problem, it is the cold air to protect against.
    Next test with "rain" and a "ventilator" for wind 🙂

  16. My "hardshell" is akin to riding inside a plastic bag. Even when its torrentially wet, I still get wet from sweat. May as well go with comfort.

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