Most Breathable Fabric Ever? - First Impressions

First user impressions of NeoShell, Polartec's new super-breathable waterproof fabric.

Posted: 4 February 2011
by Jon
Rab Stretch Neo Jacket - out in early autumn 2011
Seam tape is a distinctive black.
Give-away sleeve label.

Polartec's new NeoShell fabric isn't out until late summer, but we've had a pre-production sample of Rab's Stretch Neo jacket made from the fabric for a couple of weeks now and we reckoned you might like an early heads up on how it works.

A bit of background first. As far as we can tell, NeoShell is the next logical step in the development of Polartec's sof shell Power Shield fabric. It started with Power Shield, a perforated PU membrane that sacrificed some wind resistance - say a barely noticeable 2% - for significantly improved breathability. The next step down the line was Power Shield Pro, a fabric that was pretty much waterproof, but again, sacrificed some outright wind resistance on paper, for improved breathability and it's very impressive stuff.

So you can probably guess what's coming next - a fully waterproof fabric called Neo Shell that allows more air exchange than other waterproof fabrics to give improved breathability. It is, says Polartec, somewhere on the margins between soft and hard shell and the most breathable waterproof on the market with airflow through the fabric claimed to be twice or mnore that of 'leading competitors'...

And it's waterproof too. Up to 10,000mm, which Polartec says is quite enough in the real world. And then there's the controversy over lab testing which they say, in simple terms, is currently not representative of real world performance.

Rab Stretch Neo

So what is? The shiny new Rab jacket in our gear cave for one. You wouldn't know it was anything particularly extraordinary from the feel, granted it has a nice soft feel to it and a little stretch and the taping inside is black rather than the more usual grey/white.

It has Rab's usual mountain cut with long sleeves, a capable, tab-down helmet hood, big Napoleon pockets and all the adjusters you could wish for. Oh, and no pit-zips, but then if the jacket is really as breathable as Polartec says, why would you need those?

So what's it like? Well, it's a very nice blue colour and it feels nice on, comfortable and for general walking use it felt great - no clamminess, no overheating, like, well, a very breathable soft shell. Even working relatively hard, Neo Shell seemed to cope quite effortlessly. 

Which meant desperate measures were called for, so we took the Stretch Neo mountain biking. To put that in context, riding a mountain bike in proper hilly  areas, like our local Peak District trails, is a brutal test of a breathable fabric. You're simply working very, very hard in short bursts and most waterproof fabrics simply can't cope with the inevitable sweat production. Even eVent, which we rate highly, is overwhelmed during hard use.

Ironically, given that no cycle clothing brands use the fabrics, both Power Shield and Power Shield Pro do pretty well on a bike and TNF's Kishtwar Jacket made from the latter, survived quite a few winter outings last year. And NeoShell? Probably the best waterproof fabric we've used in such demanding circumstances, we were still sweating hard on a cold but humid evening, but subjective, the moisture seemed to clear from under-layers faster than we'd expect and by the time we got home after a long road descent, we were pretty much dry on the inside.

The only exception to that, was the lower six inches of sleeve on both arms which were damp inside and out. We're not sure what was happening there, but we'll investigate further and report back as well as trying to compare NeoShell back to back with Gore's new Active Shell fabric and MHW's DrtyQ Elite.

For now though, we're cautiously impressed. The stuff really does seem to work and we're looking forward to getting some more mileage on the jacket in the next few months.

More NeoShell tech jabbering at www.justazipper.com


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Jon, you had me laughing testing the jacket by throwing a mountain bike up and down the hills. If I was wearing just a base layer it would be wringing wet, never mind wearing a hard/soft shell.

In fact I've got a great jacket that is windproof at the front, and almost transparent on the back to allow you all the sweat to evaporate whilst out on the bike. Its useless for walking in as any wind cuts through the back, but on a bike it really lets the sweat evaporate... and yes, its usually soaking after I've been thrashing up and down the hills, but it dries fairly quickly.

Sounds like this jacket works as it should then?

I guess the damp around the cuffs is from the sweat condensing on the sleeve, where the body's core heat has less impact on the external cold, and running down the sleeve to gather around the cuffs? could be some capilary action dragging that sweat up the outside of the sleeve too?

Posted: 04/02/2011 at 18:28

Well being pedantic, the answer to the title question is of course no. In fact its almost the least breathable (Wind bloc accepted I think?) that Marsden Mills make

Now if we're talking (membrane based) waterproof fabrics then.....


Posted: 04/02/2011 at 22:09

When Pandas go Bad wrote (see)
Jon, you had me laughing testing the jacket by throwing a mountain bike up and down the hills. If I was wearing just a base layer it would be wringing wet, never mind wearing a hard/soft shell.

In fact I've got a great jacket that is windproof at the front, and almost transparent on the back to allow you all the sweat to evaporate whilst out on the bike. Its useless for walking in as any wind cuts through the back, but on a bike it really lets the sweat evaporate... and yes, its usually soaking after I've been thrashing up and down the hills, but it dries fairly quickly.

Sounds like this jacket works as it should then?

I guess the damp around the cuffs is from the sweat condensing on the sleeve, where the body's core heat has less impact on the external cold, and running down the sleeve to gather around the cuffs? could be some capilary action dragging that sweat up the outside of the sleeve too?

That's me, forget hills, I get that wet commuting on my bike.


Posted: 04/02/2011 at 23:03

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