Gear Watch: Polartec NeoShell

This month Polartec introduced NeoShell, the latest salvo for the most waterproof-breathable fabric on the market. NeoShell's particular claim to the title? It allows air movement across the waterproof-breathable (WP/B) membrane, increasing the amount of moisture vapor that passes through the fabric.

According to the company press release, "NeoShell allows actual air permeability (0.5 CFM or 2 l/m2/sec). Even a tiny amount of air permeability, imperceptible from a wind chill standpoint, accelerates moisture vapor transport significantly." NeoShell also "Liberates Veterans of Adventure" as indicated by its unusual ad campaign of weather-beaten outdoors people.

And of course they have the accompanying company-generated chart to illustrate this (pictured), which does show NeoShell breathability to increase as air flow increases. And it's definitely much better than unnamed Competitors WPB 1 - 3.

My take on this? It probably is incrementally more breathable than its WP/B competitors like Gore-Tex, which rely on a temperature and humidity gradient to transfer moisture from the inside out. But like all WP/B materials, it's nowhere near breathable enough to transfer all the moisture you create at high levels of exertion.

You can read my general take on WP/B materials—and the difficulty in obtaining definitive data on their performance and breathability—in my past AMC Outdoors column: Breathe Easy: Unraveling the Hype of Waterproof-Breathable Materials.

NeoShell does offer a fair amount of stretch, which improves fit and motion. And it's always good to support Malden Mills, the Massachusetts-based company and long-time producer of Polartec fleece and other outdoor fabrics. Look for NeoShell in garments appearing in Fall 2011.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.