Is the Marmot Nabu jacket with Polartec Neoshell the holy grail of backcountry skiing jackets? Let’s see… it would have to provide the ultimate in waterproof protection. Check. Then it would have to offer up twice the breathability while still keeping you warm and comfy. Check. It can’t take up too much room in a pack and it would be great if it could provide protection from the wind while not blocking it out completely. Check. Typically all of these requirements are hard to come by in a single layer, or so I thought. Sure, I have owned soft shells that breath well and provide some insulation but they would wet-out easily. I own several hardshell waterproof/breathable jackets that use other membrane technologies that compact down well and keep me super dry when the weather changes, but they can be cold and don’t typically breathe as well as promised. Herein lies the problem of the quest for the one jacket quiver.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a media event in Jackson Hole put on by Marmot and Polartec for a few days of ski touring and product testing in the Teton Mountains with guiding provided by Exum Mountain Guides. It was a great trip and this is where I had the opportunity to wear the Marmot Nabu Jacket for the first time. This is a Polartec Neo Shell jacket made by Marmot that has won over my admiration and solved the riddle of the one jacket quiver. I am sure most of you at this point are thinking “sure you love it, you got a free jacket and ski trip, you have to love it.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth; if it sucked I would be the first to say it. Having personally reviewed more jackets than there are ski days in a year, they have to be pretty special for me to gush about them and the Marmot Nabu fits the bill for several reasons.
Looks like a softshell but performs like a harshell, only better.
Our days in Jackson Hole were filled with ski touring 2,700’ couloirs with names like ‘Son of the Apocalypse” and locations like Hells Canyon and Avalanche Canyon. Inspiring eh? We had all kinds of weather thrown at us, from hot sunny days to blow you off the mountain wind storms, just out of bounds at Jackson Hole Resort. Testing the Marmot Nabu Jacket in these conditions was ideal, and after all, that was the whole point of the trip. Upon returning back to Backcountry Skiing Canada HQ here in Nelson I put in many more days at the local ski hill, in the backcountry and also around town trying to find the breaking point of the Nabu and not wanting to admit that it could ‘do it all’. I am pleased to say that it stood up to any of the conditions Mother Nature could muster and with flying colours at that. Wind, snow, and even rain storms were no match.
I’ll get into specific features and what makes the magic happen with Polartec Neoshell further down but first give the following video review of the Nabu a watch, as PR pro Jordan Campbell extols its virtues:
If you want more info on backcountry skiing in the Tetons, Jackson Hole or Exum Mountain Guides have a look at a few of the posts we prepared while on location in Jackson Hole this winter. You can find them here, here, and here.
- 100% seam taped
- Water-resistant CF zipper
- Two hand warmer pockets
- Asymmetric cuffs with velcro adjustment
- The Hood cinches down to protect you from the elements but still fits over a helmet if need be. Three points of adjustability and a laminated brim round things out.
- You can see the zipper garage at the top of the water resistant zip and the hood adjustability in the first photo. The second shot shows how the hood adjustments disappear inside the jacket to provide a nice clean exterior.
- The chest pocket has a pass through media port to allow access to your tunes.
- Opposite the media port on the inside right side of the Nabu there is an internal zip pocket for valuables.
- Dual elastic draw cord hem to keep snow out should you encounter a powder snake.
Neoshell is a waterproof yet highly breathable and flexible membrane which has a grid textured wicking backer to transport sweat and help keep you warm. This grid leaves more room for air, adding extra insulation value while still being breathable. An abrasion resistant face fabric uses lightweight fibres to keep weight down and packability up. So how exactly does Neoshell perform better than those other brands? First off those other brands require enough moisture and heat inside the jacket to increase the pressure to effectively push the moisture vapour through the fabric. Polartec Neoshell on the other hand is just naturally more breathable and uses convection to pull moisture vapour out of the Nabu jacket even at low levels of internal pressure. This gives it more than twice the air flow of other waterproof/breathable fabrics.
While nothing will keep you bone dry while going full-tilt on the skin track, if you keep a moderate pace the Nabu will keep you warm but not hot and sweaty. This is especially true when compared to Gore-Tex. eVent does a better job than Gore-Tex but when you bring Neoshell into the arena there is no contest. I have worn all brands of jackets with all brands of waterproof/breathable membranes and nothing works as well as Polartec Neoshell, period.
Taped seams ensure that the weather stays outside of the jacket while still providing incredible amounts of stretch. Notice the light grid-mesh interior fabric on the right and the thicker fleece material on the left which provides more warmth around the chest and the ability to have interior pockets.
For a run down on the benefits of Polartec Alpha and Neoshell have a watch of this video overview we created while ski touring in the Tetons with Jordan Campbell, the PR pro for Marmot:
With more mobility and breathability than Gore-Tex Pro shell and eVent (by far) it’s easy to see why Polartec Neoshell is a no brainer for those who take their backcountry skiing seriously. It’s an aerobic activity and therefore you need a jacket that moves with you.
Neoshell breaths so well you will need to experiment with your layering system in order to fine tune it just right for you. The jacket does not provide complete wind protection, but I like this feature for ski touring as I run a little hot and on windy days a bit of reverse air permeability is a good thing in my books. Different story if you are sitting on a chair lift all day and the wind picks up. If you own other Marmot softshells then you can compare their M ratings as the Nabu is rated as an M1. This means that it offers the highest level of water resistance and warmth which is best suited to intermittent aerobic activity in cold wet conditions i.e. ski touring. M3 being the other end of the scale and suited for drier, milder conditions.
The Marmot Nabu also has a fleece liner in the front torso region which allows for two hand warmer pockets as well as the chest pocket and internal zip pocket. It also provides a little more warmth and insulation in the core area on blustery days. I guess you could call this ‘functional’ zonal construction.
One thing to note is that if you wear fleece as a mid layer then putting on and taking off the Nabu will be more difficult as the light grid-mesh liner will act like velcro when paired with fleece but really why would you ever wear a fleece base layer? This light grid-mesh liner’s function is to help wick moisture away should it build up on the inside of the garment. It also helps keep you warm and feels soft against bare skin. You can’t say the same thing about your favourite hardshell now can you… cold plastic-y Gore-Tex anyone?
On the sizing front I am typically a large in most jackets given my 6’1” 170 frame but the Nabu is an athletic cut so I went for a medium, it still fits over other insulation pieces but is trim enough I can also wear it under another jacket but why would I want to? Don’t take my word for any of this, go and give the Marmot Nabu a look-see at your local gear shop. Its the only way you’ll truly understand what all this praise is about and why I can say that this is the my one jacket quiver.
If you are interested in other Polartech Neoshell jackets then have a look over the following reviews of the Westcomb Apoc Jacket, the Mountain Equipment Arclight jacket, the First Ascent Neoteric jakcet and the Westcomb Shift LT Jacket
Price: $350 US
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
Colours: Black, Team Red, Green Lichen
Weight: 592.5g / 1lbs 4.9oz
Fabrics: Polartec Neo Shell 88% Nylon, 12% Elastane 6.5 oz/yd
Guarantee: For life
- Unparalleled stretch compared to that of any other hard or soft shell out there.
- Asymmetrical cuffs and articulated arms.
- Warmer than a hardshell jacket but breathes way better.
- Massive hand warmer pockets that don’t get in the way of a harness or hip belt of a pack.
- Soft interior fabric against bare skin
- Nice simple design with only the features you need and no more so weight is kept reasonable.
- Looks, feels and breathes like a softshell but performs better than most hardshell.
- Hood adjustments are inside the jacket so you need to unzip to adjust things
- Not ideal for ice climbing as the hem is a traditional cut and pulls up on your torso when your arms are above your head.
- No pit zips but you won’t need them with the Polartec Neoshell fabric, so this is really a pro but I was having a hard time finding anything bad to say about this jacket.
Fit / Mobility 2/2
Warmth / Breathable 2/2
Quality / Price 2/2
This is only our opinion. Do you disagree? Did we miss something? Are we totally out to lunch? Join the discussion in the forums here, and let us know what you think. People like/dislike gear for different reasons so chime in and we'll get a well-rounded evaluation.