First test: Rab Neo Stretch jacket

The Rab Stretch Neo jacket is made from a new Polartec fabric called NeoShell, which claims to ‘fall in the sweet spot between traditional soft shells and hard shells’. So NeoShell is designed to be waterproof and breathable like a hard shell, while maintaining the stretch and comfort of a soft shell.
Polartec NeoShell does have some stretch in it, which no doubt adds to the ease of movement this jacket allows. It also feels pretty robust compared with lighter fabrics, and certainly I’d feel happier rubbing shoulders with rock while wearing this than with most other lighter jackets.
A tiny amount of air can permeate Polartec NeoShell and while this is not perceptible from a wind chill standpoint, Polartec believes that it accelerates breathability. But, as with many other extremely breathable fabrics, I still managed to create a little bit of condensation inside. For me it was the inner layer, the scrim, that ensured that any moisture that developed was dispersed and effectively hidden to prevent the jacket from feeling clammy.
While fabric is important, what really makes or breaks how comfortable you are on the hill is how well the jacket is designed for your type of activity. The Stretch Neo weighs in at 564g (men’s size L) so this is not a super-lightweight offering; but it’s well-designed for Alpine use, mountaineering and skiing. You get Napoleon pockets, which are great for stashing guidebooks, GPS receivers and other small items, but useless if you just want to tuck away your hands to keep them warm and dry when walking. The Rab Stretch Neo is also short; there is a scoop back for a little extra protection of the bum, but waterproof overtrousers are going to be needed to stay properly dry around the groin in the rain. The hood is very well-designed to provide excellent movement and vision on the move too, while the sleeves are perfectly shaped not to ride up when climbing.

Price £250
Material 3-layer Polartec NeoShell
Lining none
Sizes S-XXL (men’s); 8-16 (women’s)
Weight 564g (men’s L)
Made in China
Stockist details (01773) 601870; www.rab.uk.com

Polartec NeoShell is a great new fabric and the Rab Stretch Neo soft shell jacket is well-designed for mountaineers, but hillwalkers may benefit from other jacket designs.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine December 2011