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gear review: marmot zion neoshell jacket

By ccrossen | February 22, 2013


We are getting very close to perfection here … the elusive waterproof softshell is very, very close indeed.

Marmot’s Zion Jacket, made from Polartec® NeoShell® fabric, is about as close as you can get to the best of both worlds - real breathability and reliable/bomber waterproofness. This jacket and the other products being made with Neoshell are a new generation of outerwear that brings a wide-ranging performance AND comfort to the fore.

Neoshell’s real advantage lies in it’s combination of a 10,000mm waterproof rating, combined with a breathability that is 2x the leading competitive fabric. This difference is huge, especially in places like Tahoe, where things tend to be on the warmer and wetter side. A lot of softshell fabrics make some great claims, but Neoshell seems to be the real deal based upon the conditions, storms, up and down testing I have done. This jacket excels when you need to wear a wind/weather/snow shell on the up - either it’s cold with wind and/or it’s snowing/wet. You can actually wear it on the up - you may sweat, but much much less than with a hard shell - you won’t end up drenched, with a soaked jacket that provides no warmth. And your jacket will keep the wet/snow/wind out lap after lap, unlike most softshell material.


My friend Andy, a backcountry-focused ski partner whom I admire greatly for his dedication, talents, and discerning, exhaustively-researched tastes, showed up in the Zion jacket early this season, first day of the year, a very deep pummel-fest that had us out in full-on blizzard conditions, setting the track, navigating fir and willows, and getting blasted with every turn. It was a great day, only I was in a traditional hard shell, and he wore the Zion jacket. He couldn’t stop raving about how good his jacket performed. I was thoroughly soaked from sweat after one skin back up and the fairly wet Sierra conditions. The rest of that first month, as we got out after a great cycle day-after-day, he wore the Zion all the time. In his car, skinning up, skiing down, skinning back up. He never took the thing off. Cold, wet, dry, etc. Unless it was super warm and absolutely dry, he wore the Zion.


The one big problem with skiing in Tahoe is that our temps are generally very warm, we got shanked on a lot most years, and while a hard shell may cut it on the downhill, it’s too warm to wear on the up when you’re out there storm skiing … So getting out with Andy and watching him just delve in his one-jacket pleasure, I decided to get caught up with the times and check the Zion out. Well, after almost two months of testing, this jacket is about as close as you’re going to get to a one-jacket solution.

Other softshell material generally is only waterproof to a point. Too much wet snow, too much rain, too much of the above + sweat, and you’re going to be drenched after awhile. Hardshells don’t cut it on the up and often on the down - moisture build up inside is just too much for them to deal with, especially in a place like Tahoe. Colder climates tend to help, but you still run into issues. Not so with the Neoshell. This fabric is taking things to the next level in terms of the range it can cover, and perform as advertised. 10,000 mm waterproofness and 2x the breathability make a huge difference when it comes to having a layer that you can keep on all day, up and down.

From a basic jacket design stand-point, the Zion is a straightforward mountaineering/ski-mountaineering focused piece. Two pack strap-friendly, above harness side pockets, one small chest pocket, a small arm band pocket for a pass, and an interior pocket for an ipod, etc. The hood is attached, zippers are water resistant, seams tape-sealed. The overall fit is trimmer and more athletic than a typical shell jacket, and while the weight is heavier than a lot of the nice technical hard shells out there these days, the Neoshell’s versatile range, makes up for it … though it would be really nice to see this jacket in the 18-20 oz. range some day.

Many brands are introducing products with Neoshell, and hopefully we’ll see a lot more designs and innovations with this fabric. Currently, Marmot only makes the Zion Jacket, but hopefully we’ll see a backcountry-oriented pant in Neoshell from them as well.

The only real complaint I have so far is that I wish they made a lighter-weight version; I tend to be fairly sweaty no matter what the conditions, and I’d love one that was just a tad less warm. That said, it works perfectly fine for me, even in Tahoe, which is warm; I can keep it on all the time, rarely take it off unless it’s clear and sunny, otherwise, this is the ideal jacket. The collar is also a little high and not quite roomy enough. When zipped all the way up, it tends to feel rather tight and restrict movement a small degree. Zippers are a little stiff out of the box.

From Marmot:

Here it is: the next generation of softshells. The almost magical qualities of Polartec® NeoShell® not only make this lightweight jacket waterproof, but also highly breathable, with stretch for days. It comes with a full complement of big-mountain features, and has the added benefit of being free from the noise of a hardshell. Put it on once; keep it forever!

Marmot M-series fabrics are designed for moving light and fast. They combine stretchable, water repellent, abrasion resistant and highly breathable shell materials with insulating buffer materials on the inside.




M1 shells provide the highest level of warmth and thermal protection. They are best for intermittent aerobic use in cold conditions.

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