First impressions – Polartec© Neoshell© fabric

Polartec© Neoshell© – Here to stay?

“For all the hype, and impressive lab figures – the Polartec© Neoshell© fabric on this sample jacket has performed exceptionally well. In fact, it’s exceeded all my expectations. Make no doubt, it’s here to stay – I’ll be very surprised if otherwise!”

Well, I’ve had a sample of the all Rab Neo Stretch jacket for a few months now, which uses the all new Polartec© Neoshell© fabric –  and here’s a wee blog post from myself sharing with you my thoughts on this highly anticipated waterproof material. The jacket’s been through it all. From showery days, to wind battered summits, prolonged spells of rain to cowering behind rocks waiting for conditions to improve. It’s been scraped on rock, used as a mat on damp dirty ground and even a make shift pillow at camp. All the usual basically!

Though I wouldn’t count this as definitive review of the jacket because it is after all a sample, I do know that the final production only has a couple of cosmetic changes. Nothing spectacular and nothing that changes the fabric or design of the garment in terms of performance.

The calm before the storm

Rab are well known for using eVent® in their waterproof shell products. It performs better than most and is renowned for it’s ability to ‘let the sweat out’ when in use – effectively keeping any downpours at bay while the user remains dry inside.

Of course, certain factors can affect the performance of eVent such as how filthy the fabric is (it needs a good ole clean from time to time), being overwhelmed with perspiration along with unfavourable air pressure inside and outside the garment and so on.

There’s lots to consider if you want to get all ‘scientific’ about it. But to us mere mortals, what’s great about eVent is it keeps you dry, is not too warm in active use and get’s rid of your sweat better than most other shells – ie, you don’t tend to get too clammy inside or overheat.

New kid on the block

I’m a big fan of eVent along with the likes of Paramo, too. The latter being my favourite type of garment to wear in wintry climes – bar your skin, it’s hard to beat on performance. It’s extremely breathable, comfortable to wear, quick drying, continues to work if damaged and warm (not so good in summer, though).

So, where does Neoshell fit in with Rabs product range?

They’ll still be using eVent. Quite simply, the design team are keen to take advantage of some of the technical benefits of Neoshell with certain activities in mind. And it’s this thinking where you’ll see the use of the fabric with particular garments.

You can take a look at this handy info blurb Rab have put together on their website extolling the merits of Neoshell HERE.

There’s some impressive statistics in there. Namely the breathability of the fabric and the fact it can stretch – so, pretty handy for the likes of climbers or those on expeditions and so on.

But for us backpackers? How did I get on with it?

‘Waterproof’ and highly breathable

Well, bearing in mind all of the above – I think Neoshell is bloody brilliant. I’ve had it out in hot and humid conditions which involved drizzle to heavy and prolonged downpours. And all the while I’ve been taking notes of ambient temperatures, dew points, wind speeds and so on. The latter is worth noting because of the effect of air pressure will have on the garment if you’re out in rain and plodding head down for miles on end. All fabrics will wet out at some point be it inside or out. Most Paramo users will admit even that wets through on a windy day.

I have to say, on the whole I’ve been really quite surprised at how comfortable I’ve been when wearing this jacket. It’s a little softer than eVent and so doesn’t make that annoying ‘crispy crackle’ noise you can get with such membrane fabrics. And it really does stretch, too. Not loads like an elastic band, of course. But you notice it if you’re all zipped up and doing some scrambling or clambering over stiles with a heavy pack on.

Whereas I’ve expected to feel clammy and a little hot at times, instead I felt cool and dry – and the rain be it a heavy downpour or a prolonged spell of drizzle has always been kept at bay. There has been the odd occasion where I honestly thought I’d had unzipped the jacket to regulate my temperature within and realised I was all enclosed!

I’ve experienced some wetting out of the fabric around the wrist cuff area – which is kind of expected – but never once felt like the jacket was being overwhelmed. It certainly didn’t feel wet underneath at my wrists, unless of course I held my arms aloft in the rain.

Quick break in the sun and checking for dampness inside

If anything, Neoshell has exceeded all my expectations.

It’s perhaps not as windproof as some other membrane fabrics but in reality I’ve not noticed any difference whatsoever. Not when layered up at least.

All that’s buzzed through my head when walking along was how comfortable I was and how I could swear I was in an eVent garment. Yes, Neoshell is that good in my experience.

I can’t even recall any noticeable damp on the inside of the fabric either. I’ve noted a little clamminess around my arm pits and back area – but it’s never been overwhelmed due to the fabric not performing as it theoretically should.

It’s proven to be durable too. Knocks and grazes on Peak District gritstone have been of no concern, dirt is repelled with ease and even though I’ve yet to give this regularly used jacket a wash – it’s still as good as new.

Casual pose from a casual guy

I’m not wanting to sound like a salesman here, or even a sponsor of Polartec or Rab (I’m none of these) but I’ve been truly flabbergasted by how well Neoshell has performed (even when the jacket is fully sealed for a good few hours). I won’t be too surprised if the actual sample jacket hasn’t many alterations compared to the one that’s now in stores. Granted, the design of a waterproof jacket is crucial to take advantage of any of it’s fabrics merits but even so, on the worst designed of jackets you can see how good it could perform.

Saying that this jacket has a clean and simple design, though it’s not particularly lightweight. But you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, no? You want a waterproof jacket that keeps the wind and rain at bay and is going to last you a few years of regular use?

Neoshell is it, in my humble opinion.

Is it worth the money for us backpackers?

Well, if I’m honest – yes and no.

Neoshell is bloody brilliant, don’t get me wrong – and it’s no surprise that Rab have taken to using the fabric in it’s range. Continuing to use both membranes – they’re clearly thinking of what tools in their arsenal will give them the best results for a given product and it’s related activity.

Which is no bad thing, of course. We all want gear companies to have that mentality.

But the only real advantage to walkers, backpackers in my opinion, is it’s breathability.

Even so, overall to most folk this will be a negligible difference when compared to eVent. What harm is a little sweat to most outdoors people anyway? For such garments how active you are, the temperature and air pressure within the product and outside etc affects how well it performs.

Across a broad range of conditions, the jacket has been exceptional but could I honestly say it’s way ahead of anything else out there? No not really.

Granted, the ability for Neoshell to stretch is not something to be scoffed at – but I can’t really see how that is of any real benefit for walkers and backpackers. In which case, they ought as well stick with an eVent garment. I suppose it’s worth considering for those who heat up and sweat easily on the gentlest of walks – I fall into that category in which case I’d likely go for Polartecs new membrane fabric.

But we have some time to go before we see garments like this reduce in weight. It’s not a problem of course to some people, me included but it is for others. A lightweight jacket featuring Neoshell could prove to be a best seller for mountain marathoners, for example.

It really is swings and roundabouts and I make no apology to anyone who may read this and wish for me to drum up a personal definitive answer. There isn’t one to be fair. There’s no point in being anal about it.

It’s like most gear out there – there’s always a compromise down the line. There is no one size fits all product in whichever field you may seek. We all have different bits of kit for different activities and times of year – and it’s no different in this case concerning Neoshell. It’s clearly suited for particular people performing specific activities.

Overall, I really like Polartecs new fabric. It’s a winner, make no doubt.

For all the hype, and impressive lab figures – the Polartec© Neoshell© fabric on this sample jacket has performed exceptionally well. In fact, it’s exceeded all my expectations. Make no doubt, it’s here to stay – I’ll be very surprised if otherwise!

***UPDATE 11/01/2013***

Well, I’ve continued to hammer this jacket and it’s still performs as well as the day it arrived. No joke. I’ve yet to wash the garment (still!) – and despite being stained and soiled it’s still doing it’s job brilliantly. So, unlike eVent it doesn’t require so much care to ensure performance. That’s a given. Alas admittedly, it does need a clean now. It looks absolutely filthy! And only because of appearances.

The Rab Neo Stretch jacket has become my go to ‘day after day’ waterproof jacket now. And particularly for winter use too. With it being a little heavier than your usual of this ilk, and despite how breathable Neoshell is, I’m yet to really feel any cold biting winds come through.

Consider the Rab Neo Stretch a worthy investment in your arsenal against the elements outdoors. I love it.

Thanks to Martin at Summit and Valley for noted photos above. It’s a bit tricky taking pics of yourself when out on the hill – for me at least.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. Terry, good write up. I will bear Neoshell in mind. I suppose weighing everything up, I think I would favour eVent simply because of the weight compared to Neoshell- but I have not tried this yet and I will go with heavier garments if I see real benefits. After all I wear Paramo and I still think it is the best despite the weight penalty compared to other fabrics – just too hot in summer. I can extend the season because I can take the sleeves and hood off with my 3rd element jacket. But summer in humid and rainy conditions eVent or maybe Neoshell is probably the best option. I not sure that for backpackers Gortex Active Shell is man enough around the shoulders. The staff at Cotswold say that they expect pack straps to wear out the shoulders quickly on the two garments I saw. See my post on Active Shell for further details. It did however get a good write from one or two journo's


  2. terrybnd says:

    @markswalkingblog – Thanks Mark. Yeah, I'm a big Paramo fan, too and I agree with you 100% on it's merits. Alas, too warm for summer use though I've used the Cascada trousers on the odd occasion (with venting).

    I've seen the Active Shell in the flesh. It's really soft and light. Impressive actually. But you make a good point on durability as it's something I queried Dave at My Outdoors about (he's had an Active Shell Berghaus jacket for quite some time.

    He reckoned it's fine by the way and loves it. However, I'm a little more suspicious. Quite often without realising (rolling about in dirt etc while filming) I can cause inadverdent damage to gear 😦 So, it be something I'm wary of. Even so, it has some impressive stats too.

    Swings and roundabouts aint it?

    But I do like the Neoshell. Honestly didn't expect it to perform as well as it did mate. Saying that, I've tried to be as far and objective as possible with my thoughts on it from the viewpoint of a backpacker. One may agree with me, others may not.


  3. Martin Rye says:

    Its no doubt good. In fact Gore-Tex are so living of there name and folks who bother to read up on what is best give Gore a miss. eVent and now Neoshel as well rule for backpacking. That and Paramo. I like my Paramo top a lot. Yet I keep reaching for the Demand top. Go on RAB make a Demand smock in Neoshel.


  4. terrybnd says:

    @Martin Rye – Thanks for the pics by the way 🙂 Told you they'd come in handy.

    Agree with you totally mate. The possibilities for Rab with Neoshell is certainly enticing after trying out this garment. A smock would be a grand idea, Martin. No doubt they'll look in on here and see your suggestion.

    What got me most about the Neoshell was it's breathability. It really worked in 'real world' conditions. So much so that despite the extra bulk and weight, I pack this sample Neostretch now for my trips 😉

    Things can and should only get better for future products with Neoshell.


  5. Terry,
    You've mentioned that there will undoubtedly be modifications to the garment when it goes into production…do you happen to know what they might be…or can you make a guess?

    Since it is a jacket and not coat length, what do you think might be the degree of water flow between a backpack and your back…by this I mean…how much water are you going to get down the back of your butt and onto your legs if you are not wearing waterproof pants….like say for instance on a hot summer day while hiking along a ridgeline, but getting caught in a sudden down burst? Do you think that RAB will consider making this garment longer in the back to alleviate this situation?
    Many times I prefer to continue hiking on those iffy kind of days without rain pants on (just shorts or lightweight pants) if I know that the weather is going to be on and off showers, instead of donning the whole water proofs rig to keep from heating up too much in a high humidity situation.


  6. 00264167 says:

    really useful review, good to know that theres not that much difference to event in breathability in real life use….gives me a reason not to spend more, although i like the look of the north face neoshell jacket with the micro fleece backer that will hoover up sweat even faster.
    i would be interested to know how neoshell breathes once wetted out, as tbh i cant be bothered reproofing with dwr every few months.


  7. terrybnd says:

    @Barefoot Child – Hi mate. I've checked and there's not a great deal of difference between sample jacket and final production model. Pockets altered slightly I believe and the taping, too.

    The back on the jacket is long mate. You can tighten it short and snug if you prefer with cord. So, any run off will fall down and over your arse so to speak.

    Thing is mate, as you know very well, we get a great deal of humid, wind driven rain and so long garments aren't really practical on our hills at least. No idea if Rab will ever drum up something like you describe.

    Sounds like you're after a poncho more than ought. I got one but mainly use it as a tarp to be honest.


  8. terrybnd says:

    @0264167 – Hi. The Neoshell performs brilliantly when wetted out. You still feel dry and comfortable – it's a bit like Paramo in that respect.

    The jacket I've got is bloody filthy and still performs as new. Something I didn't elaborate enough on in this blogpost.

    Neoshell is essentially in laymans terms a softshell garment that's highly waterproof I suppose. It'll breather well even with dirt.

    So, in that respect it has another slight edge on the likes of eVent and Gore etc.

    It's still going strong anyway. I'll do an update in a few weeks and dig up some more info from Rab and Polartec


  9. Hi Terry,
    I've been waiting for the RAB Polartech Neo Stretch jacket to hit the Outdoor Gear stores, and finally it has. I went into the main gear store that I frequent, and not only do they stock RAB gear, but they have gone full tilt! I was able to see more than just a few items up close and personal.

    One of the items that was of special interest to me was the Neo Stretch stuff, I was pleasantly pleased with what I saw. One of the things that I noticed was the very large external pockets…good idea…large and two of them instead of just one small pocket. I made note of the extended back…noice. And I don't want to miss mentioning the configuration of the hood. The way it is designed it moves with your head instead of allowing your head to just swivel inside, which limits your view to the sides and it makes allowances for a helmet also. I would say that I too would opt for the Blue color.
    Not only do they offer the jacket, but they also offer a pretty good looking pair of rainproof pants as well, with all of the zippers in the right place.
    I will be returning soon to do a size/fit and movement test.

    The one thing that set me back a little was the price tag, but I have been looking for a replacement for the plethora of rain jackets that I own at this time. I am pretty sure that if I was to add the money up, that I have probably spent more over the last few years on rainproofs then it would cost for a set of the new RAB jacket and pants set. And the RAB design features coupled with the performance capabilities of the fabric do seem to be cost effective…at least in my book they do.

    Happy trails.

    PS Mark (store owner) had said that the president of RAB himself had come to his store to do all of the product presentations…I thought that was cool.


  10. terrybnd says:

    @Barefoot Child – Alright mate :)Interesting. Rab have been making big inroads in the US in past couple of years and it's an ever growing market for them.

    I've no doubt their kit will do well over your side of the pond – more so given where you live as the climate is similar to ours in the UK, eh?

    It's the attention to detail in design where Rab scores highly (and other brands too). Things like a wired peak hood – so it moves with your head as it turns and so on.

    The pockets are interesting on the Neo Stretch in that they are positioned for ease of access with your opposite arm/hand.

    One thing I like about Rab gear is the slightly over long cut in the sleeves – so if you reach upwards etc (as in scrambling/climbing) the sleeves don't roll up onto your arms and so on.

    All Rab down gear has been stating US fill power for past year, too – and sleep bags have included the US labels with information, state laws and so on, too. So, expect to see some of those products coming your way.

    Speak soon matey! 🙂


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