Over recent months—well, years, actually—the debate concering hardshell fabrics and their capabilities has been heating up. Though waterproof, breathable materials have been around for quite some time, the quest for the perfect combination of the two characteristics has been something of a holy grail for textile producers.
One of the front runners in finding the perfect waterproof/breathable balance is Polartec, with its NeoShell fabric. So we asked our cross-country walking tester, Andrew Forsthoefel, to put Rab’s Stretch Neo jacket and pants through their paces to see how they would fare.
Over the course of his 3,000-mile journey, Andrew has been rained on in 10 different states, and he gave us a report on the gear he’s been using for the past 11 months.
"The NeoShell fabric feels a bit like softshell, but it vastly outperforms softshell when it comes to waterproofing," Andrew reported. "On most fabrics, water only beads for the first few uses. On the Rab Stretch Neoshell, it's still beading and I haven’t done anything to recoat or refresh the material."
When you’re moving all day and carrying a heavy pack in all weather conditions, from mountains to desert, the real crux of the matter is breathability. Forsthoefel’s report: "The jacket is pit zip free, but I stayed dry and didn’t ever feel sweaty, even during a hot summer thundershower down South."
"The inner laminate is comfortable against my skin, so I often wear the jacket over nothing but a t-shirt," Andrew said. "Also, on a couple of occasions, I hiked wearing just the shell pants and boxers and I was perfectly comfortable."
Forsthoefel appreciated the simplicity of the setup. "Your average through-hiker doesn’t need a safari-vest smorgasbord of pockets. We’d rather save the weight. The two napoleon pockets and inner mesh pockets were more than sufficient and helped keep the jacket at 500g and the pants at 470g."
Fit was also excellent: "The cut was athletic and unrestrictive. When I had to wrestle on my 50-pound pack, I could really feel the advantages of the slight give in the fabric."
Available now, $365 (jacket), $299 (pant); rab.co.uk.
—Berne Broudy & Andrew Freeman