The biggest part of enjoying the outdoors is literally comfortable in your own skin.
Not too hot or cold, wet and miserable. And when you get once mastered, it's pretty simple.
A lot of people I talk to say, "So if I buy this jacket (to be replaced by thermal, pants or whatever you want), I'll be fine". Unfortunately it's not quite that way. No piece of clothing can do or the right thing for all conditions everything. for example, a fleece keep you warm, if not wet and there is no wind. Add one of these and it may not work properly. If it rains, a waterproof jacket the fleece allows the coat to work better.
So what are the functions of the clothes?
A lot of articles talking about the type of clothing. I prefer to talk about the function of the different layers. This provides more flexibility when used together.
Layer 1 - Base Layer
The base layer is what you wear on your skin and has one function - you dry. If your skin is wet, the moisture will remove the heat from the body 25 times faster than air. That's why you cool off as soon as you stop moving.
Layer 2 - Isolation
The insulation layer is the hardest to get too well, because your needs are constantly changing. If you walk or paddle, you're creating heat, but once you stop running, you stop making so much. So you need to adjust the amount of the insulation again. Add to this that the temperature continues to change in the course of the day and you need to change your insulation 20 times a day.
Layer 3 - Protection
The outer layer is to protect you against the environment - wind, rain, sun and wear. It creates a micro-climate around you, so you stay dry and regulate heat. Hot and dry means that you get your mind around instead of keeping miserable. It also staves off hypothermia, one of the biggest killers during outdoor activities.
Soft-shell - The miracle layer.
An addition to the three layer system soft-shell. This has become the wet dream of the marketing departments. They can write what they like about it. Or if they can not work out what it is, call it a soft shell.
So what is soft-shell. Most simply put, an outer jacket that is windproof, water-resistant rather than waterproof. And this is where I prefer to talk about the feature. Many people talk about the 2.5 layer soft shell - jackets are windproof and waterproof. But often say that they are a replacement for the insulation layer. In fact, softshell is a replacement for the outer layer when it's dry. You trade waterproof in for breathability. But remember, with the first drop of rain, you need to replace the softshell with a traditional hardshell.
Softshell comes in 2 basic constructions - membrane of weave. A membrane construction, such as Gore Windstopper, uses a membrane with an outer material to protect it. The membrane is usually less waterproof than a standard shell ( either larger pores or a different treatment ) or the same membrane as a hardshell but not taped. A weave construction, such as Polartec Powershield, is based upon a dense weave which leaves less space between the fibres. Quite often they aren't 100% windproof to allow greater breathability.
But which way do you go? If you want maximum breathability and will throw a hardshell on at the first sign of rain, choose a softshell based on weave. If you want more water-resistance, choose a softshell with a membrane. But don't forget to take it off when you put your hardshell on. The 2 membranes will actually work against each other when it comes to breathability and you might as well put a garbage bag on.