Hands-on Gear Review

Compare hardshell jacket ratings side-by-side >

Rab Stretch Neo Review

   
Best Buy Award

Hardshell Jackets

  • Currently 4.3/5
Overall avg rating 4.3 of 5 based on 10 reviews. Most recent review: September 19, 2014
Street Price:   Varies from $200 - $260 | Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Crossover chest pockets, 2 large interior zippered mesh pockets provide lots of storage, relatively inexpensive.
Cons:  On the heavy side, not as durable as other jackets that weigh the same or less, other shells have better features.
Best Uses:  Ice and alpine climbing.
User Rating:     
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (4.4 of 5) based on 9 reviews
Recommendations:  88% of reviewers (7/8) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   Rab
Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ July 9, 2013  
Overview
The Rab Stretch Neo offers climbers and hikers the best hardhsell for their dollar. With crossover chest pockets, a helmet compatible hood, and well designed adjustment cords, the Stretch Neo packs almost as much punch as our top rated Arc'teryx Alpha SV, but costs 40% less!!

The Rab Stretch Neo can be hard to find; if you find this is the case, the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, $399, has won our Editor's Choice Award in the hardshell category and has comparable pricing.

See our Hardshell Jacket Review to compare all of the models tested.

Compare top rated competitors side-by-side >

  • Photos
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge


OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Intro
Of the twenty-one hardshells we tested four were medium duty climbing-specific with crossover chest pockets. These have a very similar set of features, weigh between 15.8 and 18.7 ounces, and utilize four different waterproof breathable technologies. These jackets are the Montane Mohawk (eVent), Rab Stretch Neo (Polartec NeoShell), Mountain Hardwear Victorio (Dry Q Elite) and Arc'teryx Alpha SV (Gore-Tex Pro Shell). All of them excel at alpine climbing and technical mountaineering; they're reasonably lightweight, sufficiently durable, have hoods that are designed to be worn over a helmet, and their crossover pocket design helps to keep the user balanced on technical terrain. This type of hardshell arguably offers the greatest performance for its weight, and, though designed for climbing, they can be used for anything. Below we discuss how the Stretch Neo compares to its three closest competitors and to the other seventeen shells tested.

Click to enlarge
Medium duty climbing-specific shells, L to R: Montane Mohawk (15.8 oz), Arcteryx Alpha SV (16.9 oz), and Rab Stretch Neo (16.7 oz).
Credit: Max Neale
Likes
Materials
The Stretch Neo is the only shell tested that uses Polartec NeoShell. Like all new waterproof breathable technologies that aim to steal market share from Gore-Tex, NeoShell claims to be the best technology available and has lots of pretty charts to prove it. In the field we were unable to observe a significant difference between the breathablilty of NeoShell and Gore Pro Shell. More importantly, we believe that the breathability debate is largely foolish, for two reasons. First, all shells steam up inside. Some steam up slower and some dry out faster, but the difference is largely insignificant. Second, the real problem with waterproof breathable technology lies not with the breathability of a membrane, but with DWR coatings- they all inevitably fail and thereby drastically reduce any jacket's breathability. Creating ultra durable DWR coatings is, in this author's opinion, the single thing that would improve rainwear most. If breathability is your top concern, and your intended use requires high physical exertion in cold weather, consider a softshell jacket.

For most users, the largest difference between Gore Pro Shell and NeoShell will be the feel (NeoShell feels less crinkly is quieter) and the warranty- Gore offers an unlimited limetime warranty (return anytime for any reason) and Polartec does not. Durability is another potential concern: Gore has decades of experience laminating ePTFEs to various fabrics and brings their vast experience in other areas, like medical products, to their outerwear division. Polartec is relatively new on the scene and NeoShell hasn't been around long enough to be field tested over the long-term. We have a lot of confidence in NeoShell, and love how it blends softshell-like feel with hardshell performance. Even if the Stretch Neo isn't as durable as other shells its low price could enable you to get two jackets for the price of one of top-tier Gore Pro jacket.

Click to enlarge
Rab Stetch Neo in Hyalite Canyon, Montana.
Credit: Chris Simrell
Features
The Stretch Neo is designed for ice and alpine climbing, but it can be used many other applications. The shell's most significant climbing-specific feature is the pocket design: two expansive bellowed pockets lie high up on the chest. The pocket zippers hug the jacket's main zipper the right hand crosses over the chest to open the left pocket, and vice-versa. This design is frequently employed in climbing shells because it provides access to the pockets without throwing the climber off balance. For example, imagine that you're high up on a mountain on a steep snow slope. You need to get something out of your left pocket so you put your right ice tool over your shoulder and reach with your right arm across your chest into the left pocket. This is more stable than a traditional handwarmer pocket design where the right pocket's zipper is on the right side of the wearer's right chest because your right arm needs to move up high and right, which moves your center of gravity away from the snow/rock/ice and away from the center of your chest. Although most people who use this shell, including our testers, only spend a small amount of time using the pockets in the environment they're designed for, the pocket design is better for climbing and easier to use in general. Crossing your right hand over your chest and unzipping the left pocket is easier and faster than reaching it high and right, where you heave less leverage to open the zipper.

The drawback to crossover pockets is that you don't have any place to hide your hands from the elements. But in the backcountry your hands get wet and cold regardless of a jacket's pocket design, and you always have gloves with you. Handwarmer pockets are best for urban environments, where you might get caught out in the rain while walking to the coffee shop. If you absolutely must have hand pockets check out the Patagonia Super Pluma and Rab Latok, or get a cheap rain jacket.

Beyond the exterior pockets, the Stretch Neo has a helmet compatible hood with three single handed drawcord adjustments and two interior zippered mesh pockets. These interior pockets are among the best of all 20 shells tested- they're large and the mesh (most others are solid nylon) allows you to see inside.

Click to enlarge
Note the Stretch Neo's two mesh storage pockets. These are larger than most other climbing hardshells (ski jackets have big stash pockets) and the mesh let's you see what's inside.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Fit
The Neo Shell has a versatile fit that accommodates moderate layering. There's space for lightweight insulated jackets (such as the Rab Xenon), but only skinny folk will be able to don a larger puffy (like the Patagonia DAS).

Dislikes
Although the Stretch Neo offers a high level of performance for an excellent price, the jacket's design falls short when compared with the best shell we tested- the Arc'teryx Alpha SV. With both of these jackets in hand our testers always reached for the Alpha SV before the Stretch Neo because it has more features, better features, is more durable, and is more comfortable and weighs nearly the same amount.

For many applications, including backpacking and climbing, a lighter shell is vastly preferable to a heavier shell. Some hardshells, such as the Patagonia M10 weigh half as much as the Stretch Neo. Therefore, it's important to consider the potential performance gain from using a much lighter shell like the M10.

On a smaller note, we believe the Stretch Neo's bottom snap closure is unnecessary. In our testing we found that snaps are best on large expedition shells with two-way zippers (neither the Alpha SV nor Stretch Neo have them) when your shell is worn over your harness and the bottom zipper is raised to expose a belay device. In this circumstance a snap can be useful to close the jacket around the bottom of the belay device, which helps keep you slightly warmer. Without a two-way zipper we see no reason for a snap. And climbers almost always climb with their shell tucked underneath a harness- so two-way zippers are rarely useful on hardshells.

Click to enlarge
Velcro comparison, top to bottom: Montane Mohawk (strip is too thin), Rab Stetch Neo (two little strips), and Arcteryx Alpha SV (the best of all 20 shells tested). More surface area helps the velcro stick when its frozen with ice and snow.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Value
The Stretch Neo is an excellent hardshell and it's $200+ cheaper than the Arc'teryx Alpha SV, our preferred expedition shell. The differences between the two will likely be insignificant to all except big mountain guides and people who live in the backcountry.

Other Versions
The Rab Stretch Neo - Women's is the women's version of this jacket.

The Rab Latok, $490, is a tank-like hardshell for the most brutal of expeditions.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale

Compare this product side-by-side to top competitors >

Where to Buy?


Thinking about buying some gear we've reviewed? Help OutdoorGearLab out if you do. Just click on any of the above seller links and if you make any purchase, the seller will contribute a portion of the sale to help support this site. It won't cost you anything extra, and it's a simple way to help us fund our gear reviews. Thanks!

*Most retailers free shipping offers apply only to lower 48 US states using ground/economy shipping. See retailer's website for details.


OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: September 19, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (4.4)

88% of 8 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
9 Total Ratings
5 star: 56%  (5)
4 star: 33%  (3)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 11%  (1)
1 star: 0%  (0)
Sort 9 member reviews by: Most Recent | Most Helpful
Write a Review on this Gear

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Jul 12, 2012 - 07:30am
robbehl · Climber · Manchester, UK
6/10 Breathability? Seriously? My previous jacket was a top of the line Goretex Pro Shell jacket and my personal experience is that the Stretch Neo is noticeably more breathable. I don't mind that it doesn't have pit zips as frankly they aren't as important with a more breathable material.

My only real criticism is the lack of hand warmer pockets which seriously compromises its versatility. As an alpine mountaineering/climbing jacket it's awesome but when I've used it backpacking/hiking when I've not had/needed gloves the lack of pockets to shelter my hands a bit was quite irritating. Conversely the drop tail makes it quite an attractive jacket for mountain biking.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Sep 19, 2014 - 12:23pm
OliverPA · Climber · Vienna, Austria
Both my girlfriend and I have used a Rab Stretch Neo for about one and a half years for mountaineering, climbing and trekking.
The gist of our experience is: Awesome jacket but we wrecked the DWR on a total of 4 jackets within very few months each.
The first two jackets even leaked whilst trekking in Patagonia (shoulders, possibly due to the heavy backpacks putting too much pressure on the jacket?) so we put on plastic garbage bags to keep out the rain. We had them replaced by Rab (very quickly btw - awesome service!). As the DWR again failed very quickly we've sent in the replacements for money back.
I can accept that after a month or two the jacket might need cleaning and the usual tumble dryer treatment. No problem at all (even though Polartec themselves state that the waterproofing ability gets reduced to 5000mm after 20 washings). But in our case the entire back and shoulder parts would wet out within a minute and washing+drying didn't change anything. So we would've had to start treating the jackets with spray on DWR after very few months of (weekly) use. Not good enough.
Well, I just hope the Arcteryx Alpha AR that I will get next performs better… If not we've wasted a lot of money :-(

The fit of the Stretch Neo is the best I've ever had (I'm 186cm and of lean build and M fits perfectly). Tight around the chest but still fits merino+fleece+primaloft (Atom LT) underneath if necessary. The arms are very long which seems odd at first but turns out to be just perfect.
The hood is great, the pockets are great.
I would've loved to keep the jacket.

Just wish it had pit zips because especially for mountaineering I often wear the jacket for wind protection or when it gets more technical to protect the merino from rock and ice and despite the fabrics welcome breathability pit zips would be an improvement.
And I wish the jacket had a two way zipper so I can put it on quickly whilst wearing a harness. I also wish the Arcteryx jackets had a two way zipper though…

So how do you rate a hardshell that's awesome but fails in the rain? Quite a puzzle…

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Mar 7, 2014 - 09:58am
hurlersx · Hiker · Bunratty
I just bought the rab stretch neo.
The jacket is excellent and looks looks great. Sizing is an issue for me though.
I am 5 11, with a 37 inch chest, and went with a size small. I feel that the jacket may be a bit too tight under the arms. I could get away with it, if just wearing a t shirt underneath while cycling, but not with anything else on. If I got the medium, would it be too baggy then on the bike for instance?

How have other people found the sizing for the jacket?

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Jan 23, 2013 - 10:56am
simply_light · Backpacker · Midwest, Indiana
I have encountered no problems with the breathability of this jacket. I never even felt I needed the pit zips that it lacks.

For what it delivers, it comes in at a very reasonable weight. I've owned it for 6 months and have had no issues with durability and actually love the fact that it feels much more substantial than some of my other lighter shells.

If the price tag doesn't turn you away, go for it.

Jared M. Baker
Simply Light Designs

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Jan 14, 2013 - 01:35pm
David J West · Climber · AZ
I have had this jacket for about six months now and have had a lot of opportunities to test Polartec's tall claims on breathability. I hike up my ski resort for training in the mornings so staying dry is crucial to being comfortable when around zero degrees fahrenheit. I have tried many jacket systems softshells work very well to keep the sweat out but only work moderately well if you score a nice powder runs and you are still cooking on the inside of the jacket. Gore tex works great to keep the moisture out but I have taken my Gore Tex Pro shell off after a good morning workout and sweat was literally dripping down the inside of the jacket and I was wet and frozen all morning.
The Rab Stretch Neo is the best alpine jacket I have ever owned! My base and midlayers are always dry or just slightly wet even after 4000 ft in elevation and 1200 calories. The jacket is soft, stretchy and breathable like a soft-shell but fully water proof like a traditional shell. The features Rab included are also superb the pockets are perfectly placed out of the way of your pack and the same waterproof material is used inside the pockets so you don't loose warmth or get wet from your gloves or anything else wet you put inside. The hood is simple fits well over a helmet and cinches down great. The high collar is great when it's windy. Best of ll the sleeves are long for those of us with a possessive ape index so you can easily reach and not expose your wrist. Most other Polartec Neoshell jackets have a fleece lining which can limit your layering ability this one does not big plus in versatility. Their is nothing not to like about this jacket if high energy alpine endeavors are your thing.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Aug 12, 2012 - 04:14am
DomLodge · Hiker · Northampton, UK
"By failing to understand the differences between NeoShell and other membranes, the tester really missed what distinguishes this jacket from the others in the category.''

No he didn't.

His experience of the actual real-world capabilities of the jacket are what's important.

To that end, he has done his job admirably.

The RAB's membrane could be made of unicorn hair. It's irrevlevant.

He also does not suggest that the DWR treatment is the sole factor in determining the jacket's breathability. Simply that it's an extremely important factor, and an underrated one at that.

My previous hiking jacket was constructed using eVent - a similarly-lauded fabric in aspect of breathability.

The combination of face fabric and DWR was nowhere near as effective as it needed to be, and the jacket 'wetted out' after only ten minutes of heavy rain.

At this point, rain jackets, and this one in particular stop breathing completely. No matter how technologically advanced the membrane, if condensation cannot escape past a layer of water sitting in the outside of the jacket, the membrane cannot function.

Since one only tends to wear a rain jacket…..when its raining…..this makes the jacket's ability to move water away from the surface of the jacket - however this is achieved - an extremely important factor in it's performance.

Rain water on The Alpha, in my experience, just keeps 'beading up', hour, upon hour. As I understand it, this new face fabric does an even better job. I'm therefore not surprised at all by the reviewer's findings.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Aug 10, 2012 - 12:39pm
jstod · Skier · BC
Full disclosure, I have associations with RAB but I also work with other companies that make Pro-Shell products and I have no doubt that NeoShell is far more breathable than ProShell.

There are advantages to both membranes, but if breathability is what you're after, NeoShell is the way to go.

The tester's discussion of DWR's as the sole factor in a shell's long-term breathability is totally wrong. Gore and NeoShell use fundamentally different membranes and my personal use as well as understanding of the technologies show's the latter is more breathable than the former in all conditions.

By failing to understand the differences between NeoShell and other membranes, the tester really missed what distinguishes this jacket from the others in the category.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Aug 10, 2012 - 07:34am
DomLodge · Hiker · Northampton, UK
I own both. (The Alpha SV in it's previous incarnation, with the 140 den. face fabric). I use the RAB for general hiking, the Alpha SV for winter excursions or wherever I require a shell with that extra bit of durability.

As a big guy 'up top', I am well placed to comment on the respective capabilities of these shells in respect to their breathability.

I (almost) completely agree with the reviewer. The Alpha SV - in real terms - breathes just as well.

As suggested, a great deal comes down to the DWR treatment, and how a top-quality face fabrics that beads precipitation efficiently is far more important than the membrane within the jacket.

Take the RAB for a moderate hike in humid conditions, and I notice, at best, a 5-10% improvement over the Alpha SV in terms of breathability. Maybe.

A full-on, all-day flog, in cold and relentlessly wet conditions, and if anything, the Alpha breathes better, especially the longer the day goes on.

Either way, the difference is negligible, and in real-world conditions, rarely even noticeable.

Overall, I concur with the reviewer's assement of both. The RAB is an excellent all-rounder, but the Arc'teryx is simply the best shell on Earth. Practically faultless.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
   Jul 10, 2012 - 02:46am
portlandclimber · Climber
ive owned this for a year now. giving it 6 for breathability is a joke, you give the sv the same score when the sv uses plastic bag technology (goretex)

realy happy with it and wont be replacing it anytime soon

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Help other readers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you? 
Yes
 
No


Have you used the Rab Stretch Neo?
Don't hold back. Share your viewpoint by posting a review with your thoughts...

Write a Review on this Gear
Click to enlarge
Rab Stretch Neo
Credit: Rab
Where's the Best Price?
Seller Price
CampSaver $199.98  -  45% off!
MooseJaw $238.99  -  35% off!
Amazon $259.95  -  29% off!
Compare prices at 3 sellers >

*Help support OutdoorGearLab. If you click on one of the seller links and make a purchase, a portion of the sale helps support this site
Related Best-in-Class Review
The Best Hardshell Jacket Review

The Best Hardshell Jacket Review

We took 20 hardshell jackets on a three year mountain sport endurance test to find the best.
Video video review
Helpful Buying Tips
Get More OutdoorGearLab
Follow us on Twitter, be a fan on Facebook!
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Related Gear Reviews