The Stretch Neo Jacket is a waterproof and highly breathable jacket designed for mountain use. The Stretch Neo takes advantage of an all new technology from softshell supremos Polartec – the new Neoshell fabric. Neoshell Fabric takes softshell technology one step further. Polartec have managed to find the ‘holy-grail’ of highly breathable, 99.9% windproof and waterproof fabric that even has stretch built in. By increasing air exchange in the fabric it dramatically improves the active environment within the garment, users will be drier inside in a wide range of activities and exertion levels than ever before.
We have used the Neoshell fabric and applied tried and tested Rab design know-how. A simple, uncluttered design (with a helmet compatible and adjustable hood, 2 napoleon pockets with water resistant zips and 2 internal mesh pockets), means the Stretch Neo Jacket has all the features you need.
- Helmet compatible hood with wired peak
- YKK Aquaguard front zip with internal storm flap and chin guard
- 2 external Napoleon YKK Aquaguard zip pockets
- 2 internal mesh zipped pockets
- Double exit hem draw cord
- Velcro adjustable cuff tabs
- Reflective trim
- Medium cut
- Polartec NeoShell fabric
- Weight – 136g/m
- Composition – 100% nylon face and 100% Polyester back
- 50 denier
- Air Permeability – 0.5 CFM
- Tested size medium
- Weight – 477 g (16.8 oz)
- Pit to pit – 57.3 cm (22.6 in)
- Center back – 77.7 cm (30.6 in)
- Sleeve length – 96.8 cm (38.1 in)
- Retail – $385
Over the last two years, I have been really excited to see where waterproof breathables are going. Several companies have been making big strides to unseat Gore-Tex as the “go to” fabric when you think of waterproof. One of those has been Polartec with their new NeoShell fabric. As Polartec does not make clothing themselves, it is up to individual brands to take their fabric and incorporate it into their own designs. This is what Rab has done here. Rab was started back in 1981 in Sheffield, England. The founder was Rab Carrington who relied on his extensive experience gained on bold, lightweight first ascents to design and manufacture down clothing and sleeping bags. This is also where Rab got its name as you can see. Rab continues to make gear for the most extreme conditions in the world, and over time have grown their range to nearly fully outfit someone for an adventure.
At the OR Show last year I stopped by the Rab booth to see what they had going on and was particularly intrigued by their use of the new Polartec NeoShell in this Jacket. Fortunately, Rab was also interesting in knowing my opinion, so they supplied me with a jacket and pants to test.
The Stretch Neo Jacket is an alpine shell, and thus I tested it that way. Yes, I wore it around town, but most of the testing was ski touring and mountain climbing. I was able to test the jacket in some ugly conditions. Temperatures ranged from 15 to 60 degrees with times of rain, snow, and sun. Sometimes, I had all at once. I tested the Stretch Neo Jacket almost exclusively with the Stretch Neo Pants.
The Rab Stretch Neo Jacket is an alpine jacket at heart. Made for the backcountry it uses a design that has been a staple of the Rab line; they are good at making shells. When I call it a shell jacket, this means that it is designed to protect you from the elements. It is not deigned to insulate you but rather to keep you dry and therefore, warm. I like shell jackets as you can wear it by itself in warmer conditions or payer it over whatever insulating piece you want to depending on how much warmth you need. This combination makes it much more versatile than an insulated shell jacket. Those have their place but general mountain use would not be it, in my opinion. What sets this jacket apart from other shell jackets by Rab is the use of Polartec NeoShell fabric. I covered this new waterproof breathable technology in my Waterproof article that can be seen by clicking on the banner below. It will go into greater detail about NeoShell than I will on this review.
In a nutshell, the Polartec NeoShell is waterproof while still being slightly air permeable to allow for active air exchange. The NeoShell has a 10,000 mm waterproof rating and blocks 99.9% of wind, only allowing a bit to keep breathability in the jacket. NeoShell is technically a softshell material and has stretch for active comfort and greater range of motion. This also gives it less noise when moving than a typical hardshell fabric. The NeoShell fabric still uses a similar polyurethane membrane that is found in other jackets but have developed a process to make it microporous with a tightly controlled range of pore sizes. This gives it the stretch and durability of a polyurethane film but the breathability of a microporous structure. This also gives it the 0.5 CFM rating for air permeability, which keeps vapor build up to a minimum; the cause of sweat build up under a typical shell during exertion. You will see higher numbers for waterproofness in jackets on the market, but that does not mean they are more waterproof; the industry standard is at 3,000 mm, well below the NeoShell Rating. Water could possibly get through, but it would not be in any real-world application. For example, a fire hose from point blank may penetrate, if you are standing long enough to let it.
The NeoShell fabric used in the Stretch Neo is 100% nylon on the outside and 100% polyester on the inside. While the jacket is made up of different colors of the fabric, it all uses a 50 denier, 136 g/m2 fabric. As with other fabrics, there are several different types of NeoShell. I have tested the Marmot Zion already for the site, and that was a thicker NeoShell with a light fleece inside fabric. This NeoShell in the Stretch Neo is more similar to a typical hardshell with only a thin back fabric. The whole jacket has been seam taped for full waterproofness. Seams typically are the weakest points on a jacket. The exterior of the jacket has also been treated with a DWR (durable water repellant) finish that keeps water from staying on the surface and wetting out the jacket. As with all DWRs they can wear out over time but are easy to renew if needed, normally lasting for upwards of 50 wash cycles. Another feature that has been added for increased weather protection is the use of YKK Aquaguard zippers. These are used both for the full length front zipper and both exterior pockets. The main front zipper also features a full-length draft flap behind it for preventing wind from penetrating the zipper.
The Stretch Neo has an attached hood that is rather large. Big enough to accommodate a helmet and has a wired peak in the front that is adjustable to your preference. The helmet is adjustable to help you change the volume for whatever your needs. It can be shrunk down to be comfortable without a helmet or let out to fit even a ski helmet. Another adjustable piece on the jacket is at the bottom hem. There is a double exit hem draw cord that can be used to tighten up the bottom of the jacket and will prevent both wind and other debris from coming up from below. At the wrists, the jacket uses Velcro tabs that can be secured at your preferred width. Something not commonly seen on an alpine shell is reflective elements but the Stretch Neo has been trimmed out with these. There are definitely times where you need to be seen or found out in the wilderness and this added feature helps.
The last feature worth mentioning is the pockets. There are two exterior Napoleon style pockets that are higher up on the chest to be usable even when wearing a backpack hipbelt. They use the water resistant zippers that I mentioned above. On the inside of these pockets the interior fabric is also NeoShell so wet items will not penetrate your core, a nice feature as these pockets are rather large to accommodate gloves, skins, or whatever else you want to stuff in there. On the interior, there are two internal zippered mesh pockets. One thing I did come to miss is hand warmer pockets. By not having them the jacket weight is kept at a minimum, but I did miss them from time to time, especially when wearing the jacket in a casual setting. The Rab Stretch Neo is advertised at weighing just over a pound, 18 oz to be exact. While this does not make the jacket heavy, it also does not make it as light as many of the newer offerings on the market.
One thing I always like to touch on is the sustainability of an item and any corporate initiative the manufacturer may be employing in order to be better stewards of our planet. The Stretch Neo I cannot say is very sustainable from a material’s perspective. I was not able to find and data on the actual materials being sustainable. I can say, however, that Rab does a good job as a company regulating their environmental impact and sustainability issues. Rab realizes it is a process and is working toward continued growth. They try to be aware during their design processes and take a similar approach that I have seen from some others in that they try to make a product that will last a long time and need to be replaced less often if ever. It is good to see that they are aware and actively trying to make a difference in regard to their footprint. More information on this can be found at their website.
Arm Length (15%)
Ease of Movement (15%)
Torso Sizing (15%)
I am 5 foot 10 1/2 inches tall and 160 pounds. In most brands, I generally opt for a size medium more because of arm length and torso length requirements. I do not want to have a jacket that feels short. There are a few brands that a small works for me, but not many. Looking at the Rab sizing chart, I realized that a small would be a bit too tight in the torso, so I decided to test the medium. One of the things I really like about the European brands s the fit. I find that most of them have a trimmer fit than typical American brands. According to Rab, the Stretch Neo has a medium fit. On me, the fit was really good. There was just enough room underneath to layer if needed but the torso had trim lines, so there was not any extra fabric through the torso. Being able to adjust the bottom hem also helped keep it snug and in place. As an alpine jacket there are two features the jacket needs. One is a longer torso length. This gives you more coverage and protection from the elements no matter what movement you are doing. The Stretch Neo has this longer torso, on me is just right.
The other thing I find is needed in an alpine jacket is longer arms. The arms on the Stretch Neo Jacket are nice and long. One of the longer armed jackets I have tested. I really like this. Reaching out and moving around I never have had any pulling up of the arms. Some might find it long, but I really liked it. At the wrist, the Velcro cuffs work but does create a bit of bulk. When the fabric folds up on itself, it creates a bump under the wrist. Not a huge deal but it is sometimes noticeable. The jacket has been designed with raglan sleeve and when you couple that with the stretch of the fabric, you end up with a jacket with excellent ease of movement. I never felt restricted by the jacket, whether skiing, climbing, or just wearing it around the jacket moved how ever I did.
The Rab Stretch Neo Jacket has a very large hood. This is both good as it can accommodate a helmet easily but also is a little bulky when not in use. The jacket does have a Velcro hood securing strap that can be used to keep it out of the way when not in use. I have not been a fan of these as the rolled-up hood behind my neck never feels quite right. I would have the same complaint of the ones that zip into the collar. When not using the strap it can be noticed at first, but once I have been wearing the jacket for a while, I no longer notice it. There is one other part of the jacket that is a tradeoff as well. The jacket has a high collar which adds great face protection when the weather turns nasty but feels a bit bulky when opened up. I like how the chin has a soft micro fleece backer that protects he face. It just feels like there is a lot of collar. You can see it in the pictures I took.
While wearing the Stretch Neo it feels like a normal shell jacket when wearing. The inside of the fabric is comfortable against the skin. It is not a micro fleece or anything like that but then this is a true shell jacket. This jacket is built for the mountains, and the fit is right along what you would expect for that type of jacket. It is slightly trimmer than a similar jacket in American sizing, but for me that is great.
Water Resistance (20%)
Wind Resistance (20%)
The new Polartec NeoShell fabric has been a winner. I liked it on my first test of the Marmot and still like it on this jacket. In all my testing, the jacket has been completely waterproof. Generally, water resistance is not the issue; it is easy to make a jacket waterproof. Now what is difficult is making that same jacket breathable. With the Stretch Neo, I have found that cannot feel any wind getting through. The jacket is not 100% windproof as it purposely lets 0.1% of air through but at that level I could not feel it. What I could feel is the jacket did breathe better than other shells I have tried. When climbing on Broken Top and Mt Bachelor, I could keep on going without having to open up my jacket. It was blowing snow and rain at just about freezing, so I really did not want to if I did not have to. With the Stretch Neo, I never got hot enough that to need more ventilation. This does have a negative, but it is definitely worth it. Since it is air permeable, the jacket is not as warm as other shells, but I will take breathability over warmth any day. I would just layer something thicker underneath.
The Stretch Neo has four pockets. The two on the chest are nice and large. They are lined with more waterproof fabric on the inside so they were great for putting your skins in when you are at the top of the mountain. These pockets are crossover pockets, and I love the waterproof zippers. On the inside there are two zippered mesh pockets. These are a bit smaller but good for items you need to secure. None of the pockets have an audio port; I wish one of the inside ones had one. The other missing pockets are hand warmer pockets. You do not miss these when you have a pack on, but you do miss the when you are wearing the jacket around town. For what the jacket is designed for it makes sense to not have them. Another missing feature is pit zips, I can say I wish there was a way to still have these. Although I did not need to ventilate very often, I think it would have been nice to have.
The jacket does seem to be well made. I have not had any issues thus far. I have got the jacket out in the mountains several times but really have not beaten it up to much. I do not think there will be any issues; it seems very solid. The zippers have all worked well; they are a bit tough to move, but that is to be expected on water resistant zippers.
Overall, the Rab Stretch Neo is a mountain jacket and really is designed for that. When you take that into account and use it for this purpose the jacket really works well. As a casual jacket it is not ideal, but I would call it overkill to be just worn around town. I really like the NeoShell fabric as it is both waterproof and one of, if not the most breathable waterproof jacket I have tested. Yes, you can still break a sweat underneath if you are really working hard but with a short break, you will be dry. On most of my adventures, I never even had to open up the zips; it breathed that well. The jacket was missing pit zips and I kind of wish it had them, more just for more versatility and occasional venting. On the positive side, I really like the fit of the jacket. For a mountain jacket, it fits just like you want it to. Got to love a European fit. The Rab Stretch Neo Shell retails for $385, which is a relative bargain compared to other shell jackets. I really like the Polartec NeoShell fabric; it really performs, and I would definitely recommend it. As always, your mileage may vary.
Pros [field name=iFrame]
- Fully waterproof
- Air permeable and breathable
- Large hood
- Water resistant zippers
- Long torso and arms
- Great design for mountain use
- Not great for casual use
- No pit zips
- Bulky cuffs
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- Broken Top Summit Attempt