Ever since soft shell garments were introduced, people have struggled to define the category, though it’s generally agreed that soft shells are typically water-resistant, somewhat soft to the touch, highly breathable, and relatively stretchy. Because soft shells are so versatile, they have become like a favorite sweatshirt, and for many people, including members of the SNEWS® team, a soft shell is that go-to jacket to chase away the chill, even in a drizzle.
A number of the soft shell jackets in our arsenal of outerwear protection are either made entirely of, or partly of, Polartec’s Power Shield, which is a stretchy fabric that relies primarily on a water-resistant coating to shed moisture. Because the fabric performs very well, we were naturally intrigued with the promise of Polartec’s new Power Shield Pro, which adds a microporous polyurethane membrane to increase the moisture protection. As of January 2010, 66 North, Eider, Lowe Alpine, Millet, Montura, Norrona, The North Face and Trangoworld were all launching products with Power Shield Pro, so we managed to get our hands on a TNF Kishtwar jacket.
What makes the fabric, and the Kishtwar so special, Polartec told us, is the combination of a new microporous membrane technology from a South Korean company, Finetex, and a new lamination process used by Polartec. The result, according to the company, is a fabric that is both highly water-resistant and extremely air permeable.
We tested the jacket during a 24-hour adventure race where the nocturnal climate turned damp and chilly; during a 3-hour spring ski in the Sierra (where our tester bravely crashed time after time in wet snow); and during steady, though by no means hard, rainfall on a number of February and March walks when the temperatures hovered around 38F.
We figured that our tester, a man who starts to sweat even thinking about warm temperatures, was the perfect guinea pig to evaluate a soft shell constructed to increase moisture protection while maintaining an acceptable level of breathability and moisture vapor transfer.
By all accounts, the Kishtwar performed admirably in diverse weather conditions and air temperatures. During the adventure race and hikes, our tester used the front zipper judiciously to assist the jacket’s breathability, moisture vapor transfer and air permeability. As a result, he said that he never felt like he overwhelmed the jacket with sweat and heat, at least not until the sun beat down on him and temps climbed into the high 40s while slogging on skis up a steep slope. Even after an extended period of repose on wet snow following a spectacular yard sale (damn new randonee skis he claimed), the jacket shed moisture better than any other soft shell he’d tested, though it still didn’t shed as well as a hard shell – but that’s the point. Because TNF did not add tape to the seams of the jacket, our tester pointed out, the company kept the Kishtwar firmly planted in the soft shell category.
The Kishtwar is constructed with a well-designed hood, plus two generously sized hand-warmer pockets and a Napoleon pocket. The jacket also had the superb fit, styling and stretch that we expect to find in a soft shell. If our tester had one quibble, it is that he’d prefer a hood that could be zipped off if desired – though we know not everyone will share this view.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $279 (available in retail stores Fall 2010)