TOP/OUTER LAYER (THIRD LAYER)
The top or outer (softshell) layer is a collective term for the protective garment that is worn over the second and base thermal layers. A good top layer should be waterproof, provide heat retention, protect you from wind and act as a breathable membrane. The inner side may be lined with fleece or some other combination of insulating materials for added warmth. Its exterior is designed to be somewhat tougher in order to tolerate the elements, but does not (and should not) restrict natural movement. That is why it is so popular for any sports activity from walking, running, cross-country skiing to cycling and skiing.
Types of softshell materials:
• Membrane softshell (3 layers) – contains membranes that provide resistance to wind and water but that also allow moisture to be discharged from the interior layering system.
• Woven softshell – is made only from specially woven textile fibres and is characterized by its light density, breathable nature and affordability.
IMPORTANT FEATURES AND BENEFITS:
1. Water resistant
2. Wind resistant
3. Increased abrasion resistance
4. Good insulation (fleece layer)
5. Flexible material (for natural movement)
A waterproof coating is a non-permeable polyurethane which may be applied to the inner surface of a garment shell. In contrast to the stiffer material used in the construction of hardshell jackets, a softshell jacket is made from a woven material, by bonding two layers of fabric together. This unison of materials was developed to bridge the gap between a fleece (which offers less water and wind resistance), and a waterproof jacket (that by nature is made from less flexible materials). The water resistance of the waterproof coating usually corresponds to figures from 2 000 to 5 000mm.
A disadvantage of this type of waterproof coating is its tendency to degrade over time through frequent washing and general use. The advantage however is that it is relatively low in cost.
Advantages: Increases water and wind resistance; breathable fabric; low cost.
Disadvantages: Prone to wear over time; lacks durability.
A fabric membrane is a layer perforated with millions of microscopic pores that allow moisture (perspiration) to escape. These microscopic pores also act to block water molecules from passing through the outer shell material as water molecules are larger in comparison to the pores, thus ensuring that you remain warm and dry. The figures of water resistance are not less than 10 000 mm. This type of clothing is designed for use in demanding conditions and is built to last (provided it's maintained properly).
Advantages: High wind & water resistant properties, highly breathable and durable; increased longevity.
Disadvantages: Higher manufacturing costs; requires regular maintenance.
The outer shell material of the garment is densely woven to ensure protection from the wind. The membrane assists with the material's water resistant qualities, though in some cases, an additional membrane to combat the wind may be used (windstopper, windlocker, windbloc, etc.). Protection from the wind is important because strong wind can significantly decrease surrounding temperature and thus cause hypothermia. A lining made up of either a membrane coating or a laminated layer of fleece provides thermal insulation for the outer layer. Another option is to use thermoinsulating stuffing which is usually made out of so called textile hollow fibres - a synthetic material with ability not to absorb humidity and thus maintain good thermoinsulating features even in moist environment. The benefit of the textile hollow fibres lies in their lightness and low maintenance demands. The use of down is very rare - it is used only for shipping or fashion textile because of its high maintenance demands and high price.