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Hard shell buying guide: How to choose the best jacket

If you browse for a new hard shell jacket either online or at a retail store you might be overwhelmed by the vast number of products and featured technologies. What is the difference between a shell that costs $100 and one that costs $700? When should you go with Gore-Tex? Do you need a two-layer jacket or a three-layer jacket, and what does that even mean? Well, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide highlighting the ins and outs of hard shells, so you can get a better understanding regarding the fabric and waterproofing that goes into each product offering.

What is a Hard Shell?

A “hard shell” is an outer layer of waterproof — as opposed to water-resistant — clothing worn to protect yourself from heat-sapping natural phenomena like wind, falling water (in its various states), or miserable and hazardous combinations thereof.

Hard shells exist in contrast to “soft shells,” which offer light protection from mild weather in fair conditions but typically are not seam-taped and without an inner membrane or coating. Hard shells often feature fully-taped waterproof seams along with a beefy outer layer of chemically-treated nylon designed to repel water, as well as an inner coating or membrane of waterproof fabric that will help prevent precipitation from soaking through the jacket.

Hard shells are also made to withstand whatever nature can throw at you while soft shells are made for light protection in fair weather.

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