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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Shells the obvious questions?

Lee climbing in RAB's Neo Stretch Jacket and  Xenon insulation layer

As the three of us sat on my truck's tailgate yesterday afternoon a group of the local Seattle Mountaineers wandered by.  Of course we did a full court press handing out cold pizza and beer to the survivors of their alpine ice climbing field trip.

First questions from those that had read been reading Cold Thistle (btw thanks for the support guys) was, "what was the best and how durable are they?"

"Best" is a tough choice.  With the three fabrics listed I think any one could well be the "best".  As much as it might seem so, I am not trying to get out of answering the question here. 

All the fabrics have some stretch to them.  All are water proof  or nearly so.  And all breath better than any traditional Goretex shell I have used.   And all have totally different features as garments.  Those features and how the designs work with the fabric is what makes this all a real horse race imo.

Wetted out shoulder but no leaks yet on the Gortex product

Shoulders on the Mountain Hardware jacket showed no wetting on the *Dry Q Elite*

*Dry Q Elite* and *Active Shell * comparison above

*Active Shell* and *Neoshell* comparison above.  This Neoshell is 9 months old and just starting to wet out a tiny bit in the shoulder area. 

Three days out on the rain is not a test of long term durability or for that matter long term performance.  Only my Westcomb APOC made of Neoshell can claim anything even approaching reasonable and it is only 9 months old and I haven't used it that much.   Even the difference in 9 months of use on Neoshell compared to new Neoshell showed clearly on the "wet through" pack strap and back comparisons we made.

The newest Goretex Active Shell will be an exclusive Outdoor Research product for the first season starting in the Spring.  So that material, as good as it obviously was o our trip, isn't even available to the public yet.

But back to the

I found it amazing that only one of these jackets had a double slider on the front zipper.  That would seem to be a no brainer for a designer on a rain jacket.   Obviously to me NONE of the designers ever hiked in their own products in a real rain storm.  Because if they had, trust me here,  ALL of these jackets would have double sliders on the front zipper!

You'll have to forgive the water logged photos..even my camera was wet at this point.

I like really technical jackets.  Not a huge fan of pockets but no pockets or poorly placed pockets is simply frustrating in a $300+ jacket.   Thankfully the use of a helmet in skiing has everyone making shells and insulated jackets designed with a functional helmet capable hood.  It was a longtime coming for climbers.   How the pockets are placed and designed make s huge difference on how any of these jackets function, vent and perform for breathability.

The wrong kind of pocket or an overly built jacket will limit much of the fabrics ability to stretch let alone breath.  So not every Polartec Neoshell or Goretex Active shell garment is going to perform the same, sadly enough.

The Mountain Hardware jackets of *Dry Q Elite* should at least have similar advantages with their own proprietary fabrics.  But I have no idea how far that guess really applies to reality.


Dane said...

Sorry guys I hit the wrong button on these and deleted them unintentionally.

Rafal sez:
"The newest Goretex Active Shell will be an exclusive Outdoor Research product for the first season starting in the Spring."

Both the Arcteryx Alpha FL and Beta FL are currently available, and both are made of Active Shell... is OR using a different type of Active Shell?

Dane: According to an OR spokesman last week, the newest version Gortex version of Active Shell that OR has a lock on for the first year.

Zoran Vasic sez:
Your test is very valuable to all of us here at West Coast (excluding California).
Our environment here at PNW and SW British Columbia is very problematic.
All this European reviews of the gear while climbing in Mont Blanc or Pyrenees don't mean too much for us here. As you said, if you don't move "simple fishing rain gear" could be the best option. Unfortunately, terrain is very steep and we have to move. Snow is wet and sticky, air is humid and most of us overheat in our mild winters. I think your NeoShell
test give us a hope. Combination of hardshell bottoms and Neoshell tops sounds promising. Most of the guides in France or Italy use softshell bottoms and hardshell tops. But less layers beneath. have you noticed something like that in Europe, Dane?

Dane: I've only spent one winter in Cham recently but there were no soft shells seen on any of the Euro climbers we ran into including the guides.. Hardshells top and bottom but it was also pretty cold. The only soft shells I saw were on North American tourists, including myself.

Next winter I may try a warmer soft shell pant like the new Patagonia Northwall and I'll take my a Gortex bibs. My upper layers will stay the same though...Atom LT and SV generally.

I continue to be convinced that staying dry is the answer to staying warm. In cold dry ocnditions that isn't going to generally be a hard shell of any sort. For us o nthe west coast? My suggestion is climb in better weather :) Or any of the three fabrics we found suitable for the typical conditions.

JP sez:

Sorry your shell test didn't go as planned. But, a look at performance in 3 days of rain is still useful to us readers. I'm disappointed in the Hyper.
Interesting that the Active Shell was wetting-through as much as it was compared to your older Apoc. Difference in quality/amount of DWR finish on each shell? Was any of that moisture penetrating the membrane of the Apoc?

Dane: Sorry no clue on the level of DWR. But none of the three fabrics were wet on the inside during even the hard rain. The Goretex Active shell was exceptional imo breathing in dry weather as I pushed it to the max and the interior was always bone dry. Even thought the pictures were a little shocking when we made that comparison of "wet through" on the fabric.

I would find it hard to believe that the photos mean nothing. More likely imo a preview of what was to come. If that is the case...the *Dry Q Elite* was the stand out with Neoshell only a tiny bit behind comparing new shell to new shell.

Any of the three could be over loaded and got damp internally if you were working hard enough and not paying attention to the goals of staying dry.

Frankly I just don't have enough inof on the top three fabrics yet to make a suggestion. *Dry Q Elite* and Neoshell garments are available now and from what IO have seen so far both are spectacular if you need a totally weather proof shell.

On the last day I was abusing the Goretex Active shell by using it as a seat on wet covered rocks and heather. Thinking I would get it to bleed through. No such luck and was surprised at just how dry if kept me and how well it breathed working hard while climbing and the decent back to our camp.

I like the OR design a lot as did Lee so it was a favorite we both worked hard. You couldn't get Doug out of the Mtn Hardware piece.

nicktruax said...

FWIW, word has it that Westcomb has a superior DWR. Not sure, but I have been testing the same APOC jacket since last winter and have found this to be the case when compared to the usual suspects. Horses for courses.

Thanks for the feedback as always!

Dane said...

Have to say I was really impressed with both my older Apoc Neoshell and the newest Neoshell we had for this trip, Rab's Neo Stretch Jacket.

What ever the DWR they are both using on the Neoshell it seems to work.

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Unknown said...

Hey Dane, sorry to see the test didn't have perfect weather but it's nice to see your first thoughts on the jackets. For what it's worth, the Drystein has an 80 wash DWR. Not sure what the others are.

Dane said...

Steve, couple of ways to test a shell garment...pouring rain is likely one of the best :). Not the conditions I like to play in but really happy to have seen the results. I may complain but actually what we did have for weather couldn't have been better for the actual shell test. Bummer for climbing Rainier but that wasn't the real objective of the weekend anyway.

Thanks for the industry support and the additional info on the Drystein. Cheers!

Ian said...

I don't understand a climbing jacket without a double front zipper. Same goes for a belay jacket.

Greenlight said...


REALLY appreciate this excellent, informative field test. Will be sure to link to it.

I'll be commuting by bike here on the rainy West Coast, and plan to go ice climbing this winter. Breathability + waterproofing will both have to be exceptional, because I only have the money for one jacket.

Didn't see much description of the differences between the Rab Neo Shell and the Westcomb Apoc. Could you please elaborate in the next post?

Also, have you heard anything about breathability / performance differences between the hardshell variants of NeoShell you tested, and the other variants of NeoShell, such as
1) the "softshell" used in the Marmot Zion, TNF Jammu, or Vaude Alpamayo
2) the "bridge" soft/hard version used in the Mammut Gipfelgrat
3) the "ultralite" version used in the Westcomb Switch LT Hoody?

Dane said...

Green, the idea of this test wasn't so much to test jackets but to test the fabrics. The features you may want on a jacket for the bike are likely not what I want on a climbing shell.

The "soft shell" Neoshell is likely the same Neoshells we just tested. But I could be mistaken on that. The idea was to use only the *newest STRETCH versions of a breathable hard shell technology* which Neoshell i think was the first to actually work at the level I required last weekend.

The super light version Westcomb is using I suspect is something different. But haven't seen it yet.

I'll make an effort to check the others out and get back to you. But suspect some of the written descriptions are the same Neoshell fabric we tested in two versions, RAB and Westcomb, this time around.

mitochondria100 said...

What is your take on the Event shells by Integral Designs? I am an addict: ultralight, waterproof and breathable. What rain? I fell into the Cascade river while wearing one and did not notice much!

Dane said...

Greenlt I had a chance ot do a bit more research.

1) the "softshell" used in the Marmot Zion, TNF Jammu, or Vaude Alpamayo

Nothing for certain here just a guess. The Marrot looks like what we have already tested. The Jammu is a brushed fleece lining in some kind of shell. No clue on that one or the Vaude Alpamayo, sorry.

2) the "bridge" soft/hard version used in the Mammut Gipfelgrat

This one is a true soft shell as most have used in the past...but Neoshell. Looks sweet for a soft shell. Have to wonder what Neoshell does for the breathability of the original fabric. Hard to believe it makes it better.

3) the "ultralite" version used in the Westcomb Switch LT Hoody is
340 NRS Polartec® NeoShell® - Fly weight nylon ripstop with breathability and waterproof performance.

What we have been testing in Neoshell on the Apoc and I suspect on the Rab Neo stretch version is according to the Westcomb web site also 340 NRS Polartec® NeoShell® - Fly weight nylon ripstop with breathability and waterproof performance.

Hard to keep up on this stuff and all the details.

Dane said...

Here is more on what is available in Neoshell:

Anonymous said...


The real question is - do we really need 400$ shells ? Maybe it's more reasonable to use a poncho on the approach and and later, if for some reason you decide to climb in bad weather , a cheap,light shell with pit-zips. If it's warm enough for water to be liquid then you'll be sweating anyway while climbing(Scotland is a special case). As for durability, how many people wear out their jacket before buying a new one ?


Zach said...

Good meeting you at the trailhead, Dane- and thanks for the brew! From what you've posted on the results, it looks like there was a high level of water proofness across several fabrics. But I'm curious if you think this new breed of hard shell has reached the goal of being The One- i.e., do they also breathe well enough to eliminate the need for both hard and soft shells in the Pac NW climber's closet?


Anonymous said...

Hi Dane

I was wondering which pack you ultimately brought on the trip and how it perform?

best regards

Dane said...


Lee took a 35l Arcteryx. Doug a custom 30L CCW. Doug carried the most weight by 5# or so with the rope. Lee the most volume including th tent. I used a Blue Ice Warthog @ 25L.

I carried 2 extra shells, a bit of food and some hardware. But it was a tight pack. In normal conditions (if I was just climbing) it would have been fine for a Rainier traverse. And I really like thye helmet "net" inparticular.

I'll write more on those and a few other climbing packs soon.

Dane said...

Zach...I'll write a bit more on that subject shortly. Good to meet you as well!

Thomas Hornsby said...

Slightly off topic Dane, but I saw in one of your photos you guys brought along a Bothy Bag. Is that something you typically take, or did you choose it after seeing the weather forecast? Ever carry a silnylon tarp as a group/cooking structure?

Dane said...

Rafal sez:
"The newest Goretex Active Shell will be an exclusive Outdoor Research product for the first season starting in the Spring."

Both the Arcteryx Alpha FL and Beta FL are currently available, and both are made of Active Shell... is OR using a different type of Active Shell?

Dane: According to an OR spokesman last week, the newest version Gortex version of Active Shell that OR has a lock on for the first year.

Rafal, I checked into this more after your comment. OR has the newest stretch version and according to Gore is the only one in NORTH America using it this year. Seveal of the European brands are using the same materail is my quess but not Arcteryx according to Gore and OR.