Today, we will do a combined review of two products that are on the market for almost a decade but somehow get overlooked those days, because of some more fancy looking products on the market. The Snugpak Vapour Active Softshell and the Vapour Active Windbreaker jackets. We will try to figure out if fancy is always better than simple problem solving.
Despite the name, both jackets are windbreakers. Windbreakers are not a new invention, in fact they were there before there were softshell jackets. Some might say that winbreakers were in fact the first softshells ever developed, but thats not the topic of this article. Normally windbreakers are made of parachute silk, a lightweight but dense material, giving them their water repellant properties. Water repellent, yet lightweight? Sounds like a softshell, right? Snugpak got a step further by using paratex micro, a material that has its heritage from parachute silk, but that is much more breathable. So technically, both jackets forfill the requirements of a softshell jacket and not just a windbreaker.
Both jackets share the same cut and features. Two specious stash zipper pockets on the front. A beefy YKK zipper fully opens the jacket, which is cut really wide to fit the jacket over insulating layers or your personal protective gear.
Further you get an adjustable hood in a stash pocket, the hood is also cut big enough to fit at least over a climbing helmet. The collar just ends right under your chin without constraining you. You also get elastic cuffs.
As this is a simple product the last feature is the adjustable drawcord on the hem, which really helps to keep the warm in and the cold out. No fancy arm pockets, pit zips or velcro parches. But you get a stuffsack that compresses both jackets smaller than a Nalgene bottle. The Vapour softshell remains a little bulkier when compressed, compared to the windjacket. This is caused by the only difference between both products. While the Vapour Windjacket features no lining and is solely made of paratex, the Vapour Softshell features a thin micro fleece lining. This lining offers a little insulation but mostly improves moisture wicking and comfort.
This moisture wicking property of microfleece, that everyone should be familiar with, works hand in hand with the wicking properties of the paratex micro outerlayer. As paratex micro doesnt exhale the humid air but instead wicks the moisture. So its not as breathable as goretex, but it does the job well. Thanks to the liner of the softshell variant you dont get unfomfortable, even when you simply wear it over a tshirt, even during physical stress. Its also a great second layer during early autumn or during those colder summer nights, when a high loft fleece jacket wont just make the cut. So the vapour softshell is a very versatile piece of gear.
We wore the jackets in different manner. As a quick windtop that you simply throw over all your kit on the go it performed best. It protected against most but the harshest rain, it really needs hours of continous, hard rain to beat the paratex material. When you wear it with a puffy jacket or something similiar its superior to most Goretex rainjackets in my opinion. Wind had no chance against either variant. But the jacket works best as an on-the-go layer because it simply fits into an usual BDU thigh pocket. You dont even need the stuffsack. Just stow the windjackets inside their hoods and cinch their drawcords. Something you wont be able to do with most softshells.
Next thing we did was wearing the jacket beneath a fieldshirt or smock. This can have two reasons. Either you still want to acess all your pockets, what can be especially the case with smocks, or you are required or want to wear a clean uniform. Combined with a german army issue fieldshirt you wont even see the the collar when ist stowed correctly under the fieldshirt. Wearing the Softshell or Windjacket beneath a fieldshirt or smock also improves water resistance, as the shirt or smock first has to soak up, which drastically reduces the water pressure. You also protect the paratex fabric of your Vapour Jacket, which is on one hand more rugged than it looks, but at the end of the day its still a thin piece of nylon.
Constructionwise we talk about the usual Snugpak quality, solid stitching, taped seams and propiatary materials. We didnt get any issues with thise jackets. Especially considering the fair price point.
So which jacket is superior?
I think questions like this can always be answered with „it depends“, this is also the case with the vapour jackets.
When you are wearing lots of insulating layers, you should just chose the Windbreaker variant. When you prefer to wear the jacket as a second layer during a march or sports, you should add the extra microfleece comfort offered by the Vapour Softshell.
Going back to the opening question of this article. Is fancy always better? We can also say „It depends“ and a classic windbreaker is a piece of clothing that everyone should try before he goes for fancy softshells made by dead birds and similiar animals on the market. Lightweight and effective is a combination you should always strive for.
You can get the Vapour Active line directly from Snugpak.
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