The Holy Grail of the outdoor industry is to develop a fabric that is waterproof yet truly breathable at the same time. As of yesterday, Polartec has thrown their hat in the hard shell ring with the launch of NeoShell. Directly taking on GORE-TEX and eVent, Polartec claims that NeoShell is the most breathable waterproof fabric on the market.
I was invited to Polartec's hometown of Boston this week, along with numerous international journalists, to meet the Polartec team and hear first hand about NeoShell. The company has traditionally offered outdoor brands a complete layering system of performance fabrics, from base layers to fleece and soft shells, but up until now has never delivered a waterproof breathable option.
The secret sauce behind NeoShell's superior breathability is a new hydrophobic, microporous, polyurethane membrane co-developed with filtration technology company Finetex. The membrane's unique construction, along with Polartec's patented lamination process, allows dynamic air exchange while delivering protection from wet weather.
So why is the NeoShell membrane better than GORE-TEX or eVent? Jon Adelman, EVP of Sales & Marketing for Polartec, had a great analogy. Think of other waterproof breathable membranes as normal spaghetti stacked up like Jenga blocks. You will have a few holes between the crisscrossed spaghetti to allow some air flow but not big enough to let water through. Now think of the NeoShell membrane as angel hair spaghetti. In the same amount of space, you will have even more holes to let air through but remain small enough to block out water.
Traditional waterproof breathable fabrics rely heavily on diffusion to move body moisture vapor out of your jacket. This means you need to work up a a pretty good sweat before your jacket membrane will begin to push that moisture vapor out.
Using the same principals of a convection oven, the air permeability of the NeoShell membrane adds convection on top of this diffusion to speed up the breathability process. This tiny amount of air circulation through and around the fabric, which is imperceptible from a wind chill standpoint, significantly accelerates moisture vapor transport out of the garment to keep you exceptionally drier.
Polartec has really turned themselves around the past few years with new financial backers, the launch of award winning PowerShield Pro and now waterproof breathable fabric NeoShell. On the back of this success, Polartec's Private Equity owners are currently running a process to find the company a new home. Similar to Columbia's recent acquisition of OutDry, I can see one of the big outdoor conglomerates snatching up Polartec for exclusive access to fabric innovation or even Gore acquiring Polartec for expansion into soft shells, fleece and base layers.
Polartec will launch NeoShell with a select number of brand partners for next Fall including 66 North, Eider, Mammut, Marmot, Mountain Equipment, Montura, Rab, The North Face, Vaude and Westcomb. I was given one of the new Westcomb Apoc NeoShell jackets so I will put it to the test alongside GORE-TEX Active Shell and eVent to let you know how it performs.