Duelling banjos is a series where you get your questions answered by our resident gear freaks. We operate with the idea that most questions do not have discrete answers, i.e. they have more than one correct answer. The idea is that by given you more than one perspective, you'll be better placed to make the proper decision. This episode's thorny subject: Bringing a softshell or a hardshell when travelling.
Ricky Bobby, your question is as old as my underwear (old), but not nearly as smelly. All I see is 1) you are going in summer, 2) you will be predominantly in the city, 3) you have limited space, and 4) you have good taste in vacation destinations.
1) Summer means it will be hot in the cities, but for those rare times you venture into the Bernese-Oberland (just sayin’ that’s what I would do) it might get chilly, but regardless a hard or soft shell won’t keep you warm- the mid layer should control that. But summer means precipitation will be the wet and day-ruining kind. Hard shell looks like a clear winner here.
2) In a city there isn’t really a chance of being caught in the rain. If it starts pouring, swing into a resto and grab a fondue with Kirsch. Softshell gets a point.
3) If you want your pack light as possible think about how often you will wear a piece that you may want to bring. A hardshell is essentially an emergency piece of clothing- you only put it on if it pours or is extremely windy. A softshell is slightly more useful as you can wear it not only to block wind and resist rain, but you can wear it out at restaurants as a simple coat and not look like that ridiculous outdoorsy person. Softshell gets another point.
4) When are you going as I would like to head back to Switzerland soon?
Both are extremely useful in my mind because it only takes one huge rain shower to ruin a whole day; however, that being said if you are in the city then chances are you are inside when it rains. I feel like I would wear a softshell much more in a climate like Switzerland than a hardshell (if sticking to the urban jungles). In my mind I always pack only what I will wear more than once or twice. Your question is a tough one, but in this case I will have to go with a softshell.
That being said you should definitely check out Gore’s new Active Shell. Arcteryx uses it in the Alpha FL and Beta FL and The North Face makes the Alpine Project jacket. This new membrane is fully waterproof and apparently breathes up to 50% more, so the long awaited more breathable hardshell may finally be upon us.
Good question Robert. I've actually thought about this a bunch, having been in similar situations. Although any answer requires a difficult balancing act, I'm going to go ahead and suggest the softshell. I'm assuming a lighter type of softshell. I think that its versatility will suit your trip better. There's no doubt a hardshell is better in a crazy deluge or to face the stiffest of winds at the top of peaks. However, I don't think that will be the case for you.
A softshell will be quite water-resistant and will satisfy your needs. I figure that if it rains so hard that you need a hardshell, you'd probably seek refuge or change your plans anyways. Indeed, if it rains hard, you've then got a good excuse to drink some beer and pick up chicks and/or go to a museum, all depending on whom you're telling the story to.
Pro Tip: Moms don't like hearing stories of conquest and gratuitous drunkenness.
Super Pro Tip: If it rains, head over to the museum, BEFORE the pub. That way you don't have to lie to your mom and you get to look all worldly in front of the ladies. If you are a lady, the museum helps you attract men of discerning taste such as myself. If you are part of the LGBTT community, inverse these elements as necessary.
That means the rest of the time you'll be better off with the softshell since it is better at the breathability game. This means you'll be more comfortable with it. It'll be better both for when you're doing cardio and when simply hanging out. So, softshell, if only because you won't be going spending extended periods of time away from "civilization." That means the all around versatility of the softshell wins over the hardshell's emergency magnificience.
Dear reader, feel free to ask us questions. It will be our pleasure to lovingly take the time to answer them.
Mark & Juan