Polartec NeoShell: Built For The Out-Of-Bounds Life
Published on 12/28/2011
By Peter Reese
MARMOT AND RAB POLARTEC NEOSHELL JACKETS
Some small children refuse to color within the lines. Their parents' refrigerators are a riot of freeform orange, blue and green blobs that barely stay on the paper. Even when grade school puts them in neat rows of desks, their gaze strays to the bird on the bobbing branch outside the window -- or the storm clouds mustering strength in the West.
These errant souls aren't destined for guided nature walks at national parks or a life of Blue Planet reruns. They, or more specifically, we, are drawn to the blank spaces on the map, the obscure rather than the obvious routes across mountain or desert. Polartec, in a highly-intentional stroke of irrational genius, has become the Official Purveyor of the Off-Trail Nation. Neoshell is the fabric woven into this new banner, one being waved by progressive brands including Marmot and Rab.
Polartec claims to liberate the veterans of adventure. At Active Junky, thanks to a wide range of testing experiences, the view is a different one (what a surprise, eh?). More like the ideal skin than a technical outdoor fabric, Neoshell stretches the boundaries of possibility across a world of aspirations.
Forty mile an hour wind and continuous rain assaulted the Marmot Zion Jacket sample over a five day testing period of near-freezing temperatures. Underneath the generously-sized softshell, layers of wool stayed dry despite powerful gusts that toppled gear and blew airborne waterfowl miles downrange. Brief respites encouraged the front-side vents to open wide and deliver refreshing airflow while hood and waist drawstrings added fit and flow options.
The same piece took high-and-dry ridgeline conditions in stride. Neoshell turned aerobic activities into comfortable cruising without an all-or-nothing, stuff-or-suffer scenario. Cuff adjustments and full hood tailoring made the Marmot a welcome companion rather than a grim survival suit as the sun reached apex. Ditto on the raglan shoulder graphics and sensible pocket architecture that kept the piece from becoming too self-serious.
Rab, a long-time boundary pusher, entered the mix with a shorter jacket style. With a wire-brimmed hood panelized to stay close and tight, the Rab Fusion Jacket screamed for steeps and deeps. Even wet snow seemed to fear the easy-breathing Neoshell exterior. More like a track jacket than your father's mothball-scented winter coat, Rab stuck close during poling and scrambling.
Here, the fabric's soft hand meant relaxed movement without getting sloppy under the arms or around the neck. Fashionable enough to handle Happy Hour without invoking any hint of poser, Polartec pushed well past being pigeon-holed for backcountry-only wear. As with Marmot, the lined front panel vents worked well and were easy to adjust with gloved hands.
Intelligent torso sculpting by Rab's designers means no powderskirt is needed. Pockets are few to minimize breaches in the shell and keep the wearer from turning into a lumpy excuse for a backcountry traveler.
Neoshell's subcutaneous anatomy is built around a sub-micron membrane. This construction blocks water but allows two-way air exchange. On the durable skin's surface, elasticity permits full movement and comfortable stretching -- without sagging or bagging after repeated use.
Polartec is proud of the world-class legion of testers that have found new freedom with their fabric. Rightly so, yet the brilliance of Neoshell is not only its suitability for first ascents. From our viewpoint, pieces like those from Marmot and Rab make it easy to wield the crazy-colored crayons anywhere the alpenglow pinks up the sky or hoarfrost sketches masterpieces on lichen-covered rocks.