Mountain Equipment Centurion and Tupilak (Gore-Tex Pro vs Polartec NeoShell)
Sizes tested: Medium (30” zipper length)
MSRP: Tupilak $500 USD
MSRP: Centurion $550 USD
Weights: Tupilak 530g; Centurion 480g
- Centurion: Polartec NeoShell 4-way stretch (Centurion)
- Tupilak: Gore-Tex Pro
- Super Alpine HC Hood
- Alpine fit with articulated and pre-shaped sleeve construction
- Storm Construction techniques used throughout
- 2-way YKK® molded Aquaguard® centre front zip
- 2 large Napoleon pockets with YKK® molded Aquaguard® zips
- 2-way YKK® WR underarm pit zips with laminated and bonded entry
- Adjustable laminated cuffs and dual tether hem drawcords
Here it is, a direct, apples-to-apples comparison of the newest Gore-Tex Pro and Polartec NeoShell fabrics.
I’ve tested two jackets from Mountain Equipment that are exactly the same except for their respective shell fabrics; the Tupilak uses Gore-Tex Pro, while the Centurion uses Polartec NeoShell.
Both the Tupilak and Centurion are designed for tackling big lines in the backcountry, though the Tupilak is marketed as a pure climbing shell, while the Centurion is marketed to backcountry skiers and climbers alike.
I’ll relay my experience with the performance of NeoShell and Gore Pro fabrics individually, then weigh in on which fabric I think is better (and for whom), and end with an overview of the fit and features of the Tupilak and Centurion.
Fabric: Polartec NeoShell
The Centurion is made with a 4-way stretch Polartec NeoShell laminate. I reviewed the Westcomb Switch LT Hoody that also features NeoShell, and overall, the Centurion’s shell performs very similarly to the Westcomb.
NeoShell is one of a few new convective or air permeable membranes. These membranes are not 100% windproof – they allow a minute amount of air to pass through the laminate, though it is not noticeable when wearing the jacket. I have worn NeoShell in some very high winds and didn’t feel any wind come through the shell.
Even though NeoShell isn’t technically windproof, it is still waterproof. Polartec claims NeoShell has a waterproof rating of 10,000mm (for more on waterproof ratings, check out Outerwear 101), and my experience corroborates that 10K number. In relatively dry climates (like the central Rockies of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and even Utah and interior British Columbia) 99% of skiers and climbers won’t need any more waterproofing than NeoShell has to offer. I have never had any water get through a NeoShell piece I have worn.
The fact that air can get through the NeoShell membrane is a big deal, though. It means that now there is an additional mechanism for mass transfer across the membrane that traditional membranes don’t have. In other words, convective membranes breathe significantly better than their non-convective counterparts. (For more info on convective membranes, check out Outerwear 201.)
NeoShell seems to be the industry leader in convective membranes, and the NeoShell on the Centurion certainly breathes very well. The most breathable hard shells I have ever worn have been NeoShell, and the Centurion is no exception.
As I mention in my review of the Westcomb Switch LT Hoody, even though a hard-shell jacket with NeoShell breathes better than any other hard shell I’ve worn, a hard shell still presents a large vapor barrier for sweat trying to get out of the jacket. NeoShell is not infinitely breathable. Similar to my experience with the Switch LT, I’ve found I still have to take off the Centurion (or alternatively an insulation layer) during periods of high physical exertion.
To borrow from the Switch LT review:
Is the Westcomb Switch LT the most breathable hard shell I’ve ever worn? Absolutely.
Does Neoshell live up to all of the hype? Just about. Is it a perfect solution? That depends.
It’s important to be clear that even though I find that I have to take the Switch LT off during periods of high-exertion activities, I also have to take off traditional softshells in similar conditions. In high-output situations, sometimes a light breeze and a bare chest can still get clammy and wet. Any clothing that you put on acts as a vapor barrier to efficient breathability.
Neoshell is a smaller vapor barrier than other non-air permeable membranes, but it is important to remember that there is a lot more at play in the mountains than just the membrane in your hard shell: layering schemes (including backpacks/hipbelts) and weather (humidity, temperature) play a huge role in your comfort at any given output level.
There is no formula for determining that, “On hike A or skin track B, I will have to take my shell off because the temperature is Y and the humidity is Z and I am in shape X and using equipment W and the cloud cover is R and…” What I can say though, is that if I start to sweat hard (i.e., my skin is damp, even dripping is some places) I have to take off this shell.
The bottom line is that Neoshell is a fantastic hard shell, but it is still a hard shell—and offers the outstanding protection of a hard shell. “Waterproof” and “Breathable” are two goals in direct opposition to each other, and NeoShell does a remarkable job of achieving both. But you may still have to take your NeoShell jacket off if you start hiking hard.
All of these points are equally valid when applied to the Centurion jacket. NeoShell makes a great hard shell, but no hard shell is supremely breathable.
The NeoShell on the Centurion has a soft hand feel, and it is quiet—more like a soft shell which is very refreshing when it comes to hard shells.
The 4-way stretch is one of the best features of this jacket. Working in conjunction with the Centurion’s excellent fit (more on that later), the 4-way stretch makes this one of the most comfortable hard shells I’ve worn.
I’ve worn 4-way stretch shells that are cut very slim, seemingly because the manufacturer can get away with a slim cut as the the fabric is somewhat stretchy. Personally I dislike the constant resistance to movement that these slim fitting stretch shells have. The Centurion uses the same cut as the Tupilak, but adds a stretch fabric. It is cut slightly more generous than other stretchy hardshells. I hardly notice it stretching, but I do notice how comfortable the Centurion is, especially when I switch back to the Tupilak and I realize how the jacket fits and feels without the stretch of NeoShell.
The only performance issue I have had with the NeoShell is a bit of soak through on the shoulders in a rain storm last week, right where the edge of my pack strap rubs on the collar of the jacket. To be fair, it is not uncommon at all for the DWR to wear out in high abrasion areas on hard shells like the shoulders, seat and cuffs. And even though I had a small amount of water soak through the DWR on the Centurion, no water made it through the membrane. I stayed completely dry.
I also have noticed that the orange fabric on the Centurion has been getting slightly dirty where the hip belt on my pack rubs on the jacket, but overall the jacket still looks almost new after 10 days of touring.