Polartec’s waterproof/breathable NeoShell fabric debuted to consumers earlier this year — one entry on a growing list of competitors to Gore-Tex, eVent and other proprietary shell technologies.
Our first test of NeoShell came in the form of the Rab Stretch Neo Jacket, which we’ve had for a year now, giving it a full range of seasonal testing from ascending Colorado's fourteeners in the summer to descending its powder slopes in the winter.
After extensive testing, we think NeoShell has a place among the top waterproof/breathable options on the market with some major advantages and just a few nitpicks. The Rab Stretch, employs the fabric well in its debut and will play nicely with core outdoor consumers.
True to it’s marketing, breathability is where NeoShell shines, especially with spring/summer mountain activities. With most waterproof/breathable jackets, there’s the annoyance of constantly having to put on and take off the layer, or fuss with vent zippers, as conditions change (and they do drastically in the Colorado high country). But with this jacket, we were amazed how we could just leave it on for most of our hike and stay comfortable, even at high exertion. Rab was so confident in the breathability of NeoShell, that it didn’t even add vent zippers to its Stretch Neo.
Polartec claims the impressive breathability is thanks to the technology’s “two-way air exchange,” in which more air movement is promoted inside to help drive out moisture quickly.
Of course, this immediately brings up the issue of jacket’s wind resistance, which many consumers will note is quoted by Polartec as blocking 99.9 percent of wind. They might question buying a jacket that isn’t completely windproof. What about that 0.01 percent of wind getting through? In our tests, against strong dry winds on the summit or slopes, we didn’t notice the difference, and we certainly benefitted more from the increased breathability. When a strong rain was added to the equation, however, plus wind, and we had a single layer underneath, we could feel some cooler air movement. Although, most importantly, we remained dry.
Which brings us to NeoShell’s waterproofness, rated at 10,000mm of water pressure. Some competing brands go higher, but Polartec argues that the 10,000-level will keep you dry and there’s not much gained by going higher, other than more sweat that will wet you from the inside. We kept completely dry from heavy rain and snow in the Rab Stretch Neo behind the fabric and the jacket’s YKK Aquagard zippers. Zipper function was smooth with no snagging or sticking.
The Stretch Neo is a solidly built and well-put-together jacket; we’ve come to expect no less with Rab products. Stitching and taping is very clean, both outside and in. Although NeoShell touts itself as a lighter waterproof/breathable fabric, be aware this isn’t a lightweight jacket — it’s built more for mountain durability.
A nice high collar protects the chin with soft fabric on the inside. A helmet-compatible hood is adjustable and roll-down stowable, plus features Rab’s signature wire brim to peak it just right. There are two exterior Napoleon pockets and two interior chest pockets. Some of your core outdoor customers will appreciate the ease of access to the Napoleon pockets while wearing a pack, especially to store items such as skins, but we’re not the biggest fan of them. We prefer the higher pockets, but positioned to the side rather than center. Another pocket bummer— no media slot for earphone wires, which we think should be standard these days.
Sizing ran quite a bit larger in our test product, with a medium still being a little big, which was great for our winter tests with layers underneath, but a little bulky for summer. A plus though, the jacket cinches down well in all the right areas to help with fit.
In many ways, the NeoShell fabric almost breathes and feels like a softshell. It even has a little bit of stretch to it. But one drawback we noticed is that the soft face picks up dirt a lot more easily, especially around the chin and zippers. We suggest going with a darker color because of this.
Overall, Rab and Polartec have taken a great first step forward with NeoShell and we’re excited to see what the future holds with advancements and competition in the waterproof/breathable sector.
Suggested Retail: $365
SNEWS® Rating: 4 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection).