By Marty Grabijas
In the beginning we had wool sweaters and mountain shells made of cotton or poly-blend fabrics. When it rained, life was generally miserable. Then came pile fabrics and Gore-Tex. When it rained life was bearable, if not good.
While early iterations of performance fabrics had their flaws, they were better than smelling like a barnyard animal and pretending you weren’t getting more soaked by the minute. Since its introduction and through its subsequent evolution, Gore-Tex fabric has remained largely unchallenged as a
Enter NeoShell by Polartec. The basis of its mechanics and physics could fill this publication. For those who geek out on such details, a wealth of information that ranges from sketchy to spot-on is available online. In a nutshell, the fabric incorporates a micro-porous polyurethane layer that is hydrophobic (essentially waterproof), highly breathable and stretchable like a softshell. When it comes to field performance, the bottom line is NeoShell breathes far better than most waterproof/breathable fabrics, and still keeps the wearer dry.
In my experience, NeoShell makes it necessary to wear more substantial base- and mid-layers when my physical output is anything less than a fast walk. Due to NeoShell’s higher rate of breathability my core wasn’t basking in a humid tropical environment like it would have been with less-breathable fabrics. This is a plus during higher-output activities such as scrambling around Cascadia, but when riding lifts on bitterly cold days NeoShell’s higher level of breathability creates a sensation of vulnerability – like maybe I left a vent (or my fly) open.
When ramming around the backcountry on wet days NeoShell is the bomb, allowing me to stay dry from both the rain and perspiration without having to mess with vents and zippers. So if you can layer up a bit more during those few really cold days, NeoShell may be the ideal waterproof and breathable fabric for our environment.
I put two jackets crafted with Polartec NeoShell fabric through the wringer during the northwest’s rainy season, skiing inbounds, skiing backcountry and bucking and splitting wood for the stove. If they can handle that, they can handle anything, and either of these two superb jackets will seamlessly take you through all four seasons.
Westcomb Apoc Jacket
Sizes: Men’s S – XXL
Colors: Alpine Red, Avatar Blue, Black, Electric (yellow), Harvest (orange), Leaf (green)
Fit: Just a bit slim. You might need to bump up a size.
The folks at Westcomb created my perfect coat with the Apoc Jacket. Everything functioned flawlessly, allowing me to fully enjoy my time outdoors. I never needed major pit zips when searching out powder in our El Niño winter. If I had one gripe – and I can usually find several in any piece of equipment – it’s that I would like a bit more room in the chest pockets for climbing skins in winter. For summer use, that’s a non-issue.
L.L. Bean NeoShell Bounder Jacket
Sizes: S – XXL (men’s), S – XL (women’s)
Colors: Linden Green, Deep Yellow, Blue
Fit: True to size to a bit generous
At around half the cost of many jackets made with waterproof/breathable fabrics, the L.L. Bean NeoShell Bounder Jacket is a screaming deal. Of course you give up things like pit zips, but in my experience, NeoShell does such a great job of moisture transport that pit zips may be unnecessary. Overall, the NeoShell Bounder Jacket may lack the total, absolute refinement of some other garments, but it more than makes up for it by bringing a superb NeoShell jacket to market at a killer price.