Mountain Equipment Centurion & Tupilak: Gore-Tex Pro vs Polartec NeoShell

Durability

It’s a bit harder to make conclusions about the durability of the laminates, but I would say that Gore Pro is more durable and protective. The face fabric is heavier, the lining layer is woven, and the fact that Gore Pro is not a stretch fabric should also make it more durable. Stretching over time will break down the DWR, laminates, and even shell and liner fabrics. A stretch jacket will never be as durable as a non-stretch version of that same jacket. And the sandwiched ePTFE of Gore Pro may also make it more durable and protective than NeoShell.

Waterproofing

Years of field testing will tell us for sure, but with respect to waterproofing, it’s hard to ignore Gore’s track record and their 100% waterproof guarantee. We know that NeoShell has an approximately 10,000mm waterproof rating. I would hazard a guess that Gore Pro is closer to 15-20Kmm, so where NeoShell might leak in wet conditions in high pressure areas (ie, leaning hard on your elbows in a puddle), Gore Pro will not leak under any such circumstances.

In sum, a jacket made with NeoShell will work great in all but the harshest, wettest conditions. The laminate is light, flexible, and super breathable.

Gore Pro jackets, I believe, are much better suited for harsh and wet conditions, or where staying dry is absolutely paramount to safety (i.e., high altitude mountaineering and extreme alpinism).

However, as far as pants are concerned (which are generally subjected to more wear and tear than a jacket), I think the added durability and protection of Gore Pro would make for an excellent choice in the majority of conditions, both wet and more arid. (And we are dying to test out the Mountain Equipment Kamchatka Salopette to test this theory.)

For Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, interior BC and even the eastern coast of the US, I think a NeoShell jacket offers plenty of protection for 4-season play in the mountains. And even for wetter climates like the west coast of the US, Japan, Alaska and the Alps, I think a NeoShell jacket provides enough protection for 80-90% of conditions.

Only in the most brutal, wettest conditions would I hesitate to grab a NeoShell jacket. For the worst of the worst, a Gore-Tex Pro jacket is the clear choice.

Sam Shaheen Reviews the Mountain Equipment and Centurion Tupilak Jackets, Polartec NeoShell vs Gore Pro, Blister Gear Review
Sam in the Mountain Equipment Tupilak, Dragon’s Tail Couloir, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Fit of the Mountain Equipment Centurion and Tupilak

Mountain Equipment has done a great job with these jackets, especially with respect to the way they fit. They are the perfect length in the body, the sleeves are contoured well, and the cut provides enough room to layer without being unnecessarily bulky.

So often companies make either slim or regular cuts—regular cuts for the casual user, and slim cuts in the higher end pieces—but the Centurion and Tupilak each occupies a perfect middle ground for everyday use in the mountains. The best compliment I can give to the fit of a particular piece is that I never think about it when I wear it, and I almost never think about the fit of either of these jackets when I wear them.

The Centurion and the Tupilak have an identical cut, but they do fit slightly differently because of the fabrics. The Centurion feels a bit slimmer because the fabric is softer and drapes easier over the body. The Tupilak fits slightly wider just because the fabric has more structure, causing it to feel a touch shorter in the body. But again, despite these minute differences, the fit of each jacket is superb overall.

The only small fit issue I experienced is that there is a bit too much room in the waist of the jackets, as some fabric bunches when I buckle my pack’s hip belt, but I have a very slim, 29” waist). I think most people shouldn’t have any problem with the width at the hip of these jackets.

Hood

One important point to mention about the fit of these jackets is the hood: it’s huge. The hood of the Centurion and Tupilak will easily fit around a climbing or skiing helmet, and it has a uniquely shaped, high collar. The collar extends to just below my nose when the jacket is fully zipped, and offers a huge amount of coverage on the sides of the face. All of this means that the hood does a great job in harsh conditions (they don’t call it a Super Alpine hood for nothing). But at the same time, because of the well-placed, 3-way adjustments on the hood, it is easy to cinch down for milder conditions.

Though more of a design feature, the Centurion / Tupilak’s hood also has an awesome brim. Usually the brim of a hood is either laminated stiff plastic or wire, but the Centurion and Tupilak have an adjustable wire brim. And the best part is that the wire has very little memory. In other words, it doesn’t get all kinked after stuffing your jacket into your pack, and it is fairly easy to straighten out, which I really like. (I hate a wire brim that you can’t get to lay flat).

Overall, I would say that the Centurion / Tupilak have a great fit for ski touring, ski mountaineering, resort skiing, and alpine climbing. For ski touring specifically, they are the best fitting jackets I have worn to date.

Features of the Mountain Equipment Centurion and Tupilak

The features on these jackets are minimal, including two zip pockets on the chest, one interior zip pocket, and standard hem adjustments. The exterior zip pockets are just big enough for skins, but if you have wider skins (110mm waist +) you will have to jam them in.

The interior pocket is small and a bit of an awkward shape. My phone fits in the pocket fine, but I don’t like putting it in there because it is hard to get to. The pocket is a tall and skinny rectangular shape that sits right under the left breast pocket. To access it, I have to unzip the jacket’s main zipper pretty far, which is not ideal.

Other than that, these jackets are pretty bare bones on the features. The only thing I wished they had is a powder skirt, but that’s just a personal preference.

Bottom Line

Gore-Tex Pro vs Polartec NeoShell, which is right for you? It depends what you’re doing and where (i.e., in what sort of climate / conditions). For those of us that don’t live in super wet climates, NeoShell makes for a great jacket. For those in extremely wet climates or those who are pushing the limits in environments where staying dry is paramount, Gore-Tex Pro is a great call.

As far as the Centurion and the Tupilak, I give them both two thumbs way up. With a great fit and minimal feature set, they are no frills jackets that will work for just about anyone playing in the mountains. Mountain Equipment hit a home run on these shells. If you need a winter shell, don’t overlook the Centurion and Tupilak. They have become my go-to winter shells, and I doubt that will be changing anytime soon.

 

29 comments on “Mountain Equipment Centurion & Tupilak: Gore-Tex Pro vs Polartec NeoShell”

  1. Excellent review. As I own and use both these jackets, I thought I’d weigh in on how wind affects breathability in the Neoshell.

    On two occasions, I’ve been on long ridge lines towards summits in sustained winds with my Centurion. There’s no question that it breathed even better than usual, as a typical windproof shell would have had me sweating it up. I’d guess that the active air movement of the wind leads to better breathability in the air permeable membrane, and that might be something to test in the next go around.

    • I think you’re on to something, David. I’ve been A/B-ing two Neoshell jackets this season, and in mid-February to mid-March, making almost daily (high-exertion) hikes up to Taos’ Kachina Peak, I’d never take the time to take off my jacket. On sunny, warm, windless days, I’d be sweating, though still happy to be wearing Neoshell over anything else. And on warm, sunny days with any amount of wind, I’d feel quite comfortable.

  2. Hi Jonathan

    Another excellent review!

    I’m wondering if you could provide some advice, I’ve skied with a conventional soft shell, an insulated Oneil Jacket for the past 10 years

    It has served me well, and I’ve really had little issues, but on 20 minute hikes up hill, I tend to sweat like crazy and wondered if a high tech shell would have me sweat less?

    In researching these jackets, I came across a review where a fellow ran on a tread mill for 20 minutes with a Gore Tex hard shell, and was barely wet, compared to another jacket with water proof coating, and extremely so compared to running with a garbage bag taped to his body

    That made me think these high tech Jackets truly are breathable and a difference maker, but then I read your review, and a comment from another website, pointing out the opposite, that a hard shell will breath less than a soft shell, regardless of technology, correct?

    So I’ll sweat just as much, if not more with a hard shell, right?

    PS

    I’ve read all your reviews on the Cochise and was thinking of getting them to be my 2nd ski quiver to my 2005 94 mm Mantras, it sounds like Mantra is better in less than 12″ of snow, and if snow is greater then it’s Cochise, correct?

    That being said, my Mantras are great up to boot height powder, and only suffer above that, which is rare for me catch, that’s why I’m thinking of holding off buying Cochise since they are just as equal in crud, etc compared to my Mantras

    cheers in advance

    • Hey John, thanks for checking out the review!

      The softshell vs hardshell question unfortunately isn’t that straight forward. As a general rule of thumb though, softshells are more breathable than hardshells.

      There are a plethora of caveats though.

      1) Softshells are often insulated. Insulation is a breathability killer. The only part of a softshell that is intrinsically more breathable than a hardshell is the WPB laminate. The lining fabric and shell fabric vary enormously across fabrics.

      2) There are always trade-offs. Softshells are almost always less water and wind-proof than hardshells. There is not a good standard for measuring the waterproofing of softshells. The vast majority of manufactures don’t even list this. Not really relating to breathability, but something to keep in mind.

      3) There is a huge amount of variability in softshell fabrics. From thick fleecy farbics to Polartec Power Shield Pro which feels almost like a hard shell. On top of the variability in thickness/weight of softshell fabrics, there is a lot of variability in quality. You can go to Costco and get a softshell jacket for 25$ or get one from Patagonia for $400.

      I think the best thing for someone like you who is looking to decrease their sweating on short, intense hikes is to evaluate your whole layering system. I recommend a wool/microfiber wicking base layer. Thinner is better. An insulating layer, thick for cold weather, thin for warm weather. I really like the TNF Radium for cold weather and the Patagonia R1 for warmer weather. Both are super breathable. For the shell, weather soft or hard, stay away from insulation. Either of the ME jackets here would be excellent, or a thin softshell (I am reviewing the Patagonia Knifeblade which I’ve been really liking for high output days).

      The most important thing though is to remember that every layer you have between your skin and the elements is a vapor barrier. Layering is not necessarily a simple task!

      I hope that helps on your jacket search. I’ll have to punt the ski questions to Jonathan or Will as I haven’t been on either ski.

      Thanks!
      Sam

      • Thanks for the info Sam and the review (originally I thanked Jonathan, I guess I’ve been reading too many of his reviews haha)

        Well, I took the plunge, and bought a hard shell, mountain hard wear’s men spinoza jacket, only to realize it was for spring, 20D cloth versus 40 D, dry q Elite fabric!

        After reading reviews on the tight fit under armpits and chest, I completed the ensemble with a form fitting Eddie Bauer First Ascent Accelerant Primaloft Down Jacket as my mid insulative layer, it’s received rave reviews for warmth, breath ability and comfort

        Now hopefully, my short intense ski hikes will be more comfortable, and hopefully easier with better breath-ability, and cooler body temp, etc., that was the catalyst for the purchase,

        otherwise i spent a lot of money on something i don’t need, since my old insulated jacket does fine all other times, time will tell

        • Hi, John – if you’re thinking about a 2 ski quiver, I’m not sure that I personally would be too interested in a Mantra + Cochise. Seems like a bit too much overlap, though it’s perfectly understandable if you’re actually looking for that overlap – i.e., don’t need / care about a ski for deeper days. I regard both the Mantra and Cochise as good ‘challenging’ conditions skis, not excellent ‘good conditions’ skis. So you’ve got your Mantra, what about pairing it with the ON3P Wrenegade – a much better pow ski than the Cochise that still works well in anything soft, or a V-Werks Katana, also a better pow ski than the Cochise. Just some food for thought. Obviously, I love both the Mantra and the Cochise, just want to make sure you’d be really happy with that combination.

          • Hi Jonathan thanks for the response

            First off, I truly prefer a one quiver ski, for simplicity and cost, and 95% of the time, my 94mm underfoot Mantra, with no early rise tip, does the job for virtually all conditions, including mid calf POW if snow is light and not heavy

            Second, living 4 to 6 hours from the mountains, makes it difficult to catch freshly fallen POW, and if I do, skiing more than boot high POW is rare, and typically the snow is light not wet, making the Mantra more than suitable

            Also, skiing something more than 100 mm underfoot is new for me, and being used to a camber ski, I was concerned about getting something either too different or too wide

            The Cochise seemed like a great choice, being early rise in the tip and 108 mm underfoot, it has to be better than my Mantra for POW, especially deep heavier POW,, which is too much for my Mantras.

            knowing you love the Mantra spoke volumes, especially by the fact you love the Cochise as one ski quiver too, and all the great reviews out there, made the Cochise very attractive, so I took the plunge and bought a new pair 2013-14 brand with new Marker Griffon bindings.

            Had I seen your posting earlier, I might have thought twice, and considered the ON3P Wrenegade it does appear to be what I’m looking for just wider

            In any event, I suspect it would be very challenging to get the ON3P Wrenegade for a similar price as my Cochise

            Hopefully I find the performance of the Cochise to be significantly better than the Mantra in deeper POW too justify the purchase, otherwise I might have to consider ON3P Wrenegade

          • Hi Jonathan,

            I just skied the Blizzard Cochise, a day after 48 cm had fallen at Nakiska Alberta Canada in 72 hours,

            First off what a light weight ski!

            My original Mantra 2005 circa 94mm are tanks compared to the cochise

            It was so funny, when I went to pick up the Cochsie, i was instinctively bracing my self for carrying a heavy weight, only to realize instantly, despite the Coshise, being a much larger surface volume of ski, they are much much lighter, light years in comparison to a 2005 Mantra

            However, they never chattered which surprised me, but they are fast, wow!

            And i always felt my boots needed to be tighter since the ski was so light in weight

            but once I got used to them, they just rocked, they never dipped into the POW, my Drift Ghost-s proved that on video, and they really are a remarkable ski

            They handled heavy soft chopped POW fairly easily, still a bit of work, but the skis made it easier and enjoyable, the 94 mm Mantra would’ve struggled, and made it far more work in those variable conditions

            thanks for your reviews, they Rock, and they helped!

  3. Great stuff, Sam. I just stumbled on your articles, and before I was halfway through Outerwear 101, I knew I was reading material written by another Chem E. Nice to know I’m not the only engineering geek in the mountains. Keep up the good work!

  4. I have seen some issues with Polartec Neoshell. This PDF (https://www.discoverytrekking.com/pdfs/neoshell.pdf) shows that after 20 washes the membrane degrades to 5000 mm waterproofing. Considering that the threshold for “waterproofness” is 10,000 mm, wouldn’t this mean that after just one wash the membrane isn’t waterproof?

    I have a pair of Flylow Compound Pants (made of Neoshell) and haven’t been too impressed with the durability. I sent them back twice this season for repairs already. I ripped a hole in the shin and also ripped the back of the pants somehow. Flylow has been great with repairs and their customer service is awesome, but the fabric durability is not great.

    For comparison, I also bought a Arctery’x Stingray Jacket (made of Gore-Tex 3L) a week after the Flylow pants and I haven’t had any issues with it. I’ve skied nearly the same amount of days in the jacket and it still looks brand new.

    • Just because the HH is under 10000mm, doesn’t mean the jacket will suddenly, magically leak; it is a totally arbitrary threshold. My local legal standard for a waterproof claim on a fabric is more like 3000mm, IIRC.

      As regards durability… that’s been a bit of a flaw of marketing. There are a dozen or more different flavours of the Neoshell fabric, and many different face fabrics. Problem is though, they were all just called ‘neoshell’ when it came to selling the garments, so there’s no way to tell what you were getting. Lots of bits of gear made from the cheaper or lighter-weight versions of the fabric were sold and treated as if they were any other robust hardshell, and unsurprisingly wore out. The heavier, less stretchy, more expensive grades of neoshell survived much better. Gore keep their customers on very tight reins and are a little more careful with their branding, so this sort of problem was much less likely to arise with their fabrics.

  5. Hey Spencer, thanks for your comments!

    For those reading this who didn’t click the link you provided, it’s Polartec’s generic NeoShell marketing flyer, which is actually a great read (although obviously a bit biased).

    To address your questions/concerns:

    1) It is easy to get membrane durability confused with fabric durability. It is also easy to get membrane performance and DWR performance confused.

    When Polartec says it will be 5K waterproof after 20 washes, they are talking about the membrane performance. Meaning that the membrane will slowly break down as you wash it. After 20 real world washes, the DWR will likely be gone entirely so no water will bead on the jacket anyway. My recommendation is to treat your WPB garments with finesse and understand that washing is a tricky business. Washing a jacket with dirt on the outside in the proper technical detergent can reinvigorate the DWR, but it will always weaken the membrane. The best answer is to try to keep your expensive outerwear clean so you don’t want to wash it often.

    When you get holes or tears in your 3L outerwear, that is almost exclusively a function of the face fabric durability and has very little to do with membrane performance or durability. Generally, companies will pair lighter weight face fabrics with more breathable membranes because heavier face fabrics will limit breathability. Most NeoShell pieces are on the lighter side of 3L garments and their durability should reflect that. Personally, I haven’t had any durability concerns in the few jackets I’ve worn.

    2) Like I said in the review, I think NeoShell is best suited for jackets rather than pants. Pants almost always take more abuse than jackets and the burlier face fabric and more robust laminate of Gore Tex Pro is a better choice for pants all around.

    Personal sidebar, the “softshell” fabric used in the Stingray is pretty sweet eh? I really dig the hand feel of that jacket. It’s a bummer more companies aren’t using it. I haven’t been able to get out in a Gore soft shell yet, but I’m chomping at the bit to do it!

    Thanks again for taking a look at the review!
    Sam

    • Thanks for addressing my questions/concerns! I see what you mean about the difference between membrane durability and fabric durability. For my next set of pants I’ll probably go with a Gore Tex Pro offering, per your recommendation.

      I agree with your comments on the Stingray jacket fabric. It has been super durable but not “noisy” like a lot of other hard shell fabrics. I found that it breathes pretty well, but I the Neoshell pants I have definitely breathe better. Hopefully a company will pair a heavier duty face fabric with the Neoshell membrane- it sounds like you would get the best of both worlds (durability and breathability).

  6. I have used the Westcomb Switch LT and have been surprised that
    It has been pretty durable.
    It is a lightweight fabric but has withheld ragged and sharp
    Ski edges on the shoulder. I kept looking for damage, but none was there.
    In moderate to beginning to be warm weather, I think I opened the pit zips
    Once or twice during hard skiing. And that might have been out of habit as much as need.
    I felt that I was able to layer lighter, due to not overheating and getting wet (if that makes any sense).
    This “1st generation” Switch has too big zipper bodies on the pit zips, which feel catchy when moving the arms. I see they have changed this.
    I have yet to wear in typical “supercold” JH January weather, maybe the general burliness/thickness of Goretex is a crutch. For I have been in high winds with Neoshell and not felt the chills.

    • I agree with your thoughts on the Switch, surprisingly durable. I like that the face fabric is supple as well and not stiff. It’s quiet and comfy, a great combo. It’s one of my favorite and most versatile shells!

  7. I own a RAB Polartec Neoshell jacket and at first I was very impressed by the breathability and it seemed better than my previous Goretex Proshell jacket.
    Last winter was very mild so no cross country skiing for me and no heavy backpacks. I used it mainly for daily commuting on my bicycle. After about 8 months of use I went for a 1 week kayaking trip and it was raining daily. I did not wear a rucksack but my shoulders and neck got wet and I was cold too. I could not understand it at first (it is an expensive jacket, top brand, first months were great). After coming home I looked at the jacket more carefully and I thought if the membrane would leak then also light would leak through! So I held the jacket against the light and to my surprise the upper part (neck/throat) looked like a mosquito net. There was also some light penetration on the upper chest part near an end cap of an elastic band (for adjusting the hood). The rubbing of the cap clearly destroyed the membrane.
    I took pictures, send it to RAB and they were directly replacing my jacket. Still I feel that durability is an issue and that it is a design problem. So I contacted a friend who has the same jacket (bought at the same time) and he too had the same problem and it is something you clearly notice with the light test.
    So I am not that happy because I am afraid I have to send it back again in a few months time. For comparison, I my old Goretex jacket is delaminating but the membrane is still intact.
    I did not wash the jacket because this could affect the membrane (see other posts). However the distributer advised me to wash it regularly. They are even suspecting dirt from my skin that may have attacked the membrane!
    So my question to all of you: please hold your jacket against the light and report what you see! I can send pictures of the fabric if you want to know how mine looked like!

    Regards, Bert (Wageningen, The Netherlands)

    • Hey Bert, Thanks for your comments!

      There are definitely some people that are experiencing durability issues with NeoShell. Unfortunately I can’t comment too intelligently on this topic because I haven’t had the chance to put multiple years into a jacket (I am always wearing new jackets, a curse and blessing).

      However I can say a few things. First, none of my NeoShell pieces show any damage when held up to the light. I have read (though not from Polartec directly) that the initial NeoShell runs did exhibit some physical damage/delam that has since been addressed. I do not know the timeframe for when these jackets were produced though. I have not experienced any membrane damage on my jackets however.

      I would love to hear how your replacement jacket from Rab holds up, this winter I will likely be putting in the majority of my days on the Centurion — If I have anything useful to report we will definitely update this article.

      One thing to remember is that these membranes are extremely thin, lightweight and porous. They are fragile. There is no perfect membrane, but the bigger the pores, the better it breathes so it follows that the better it breathes, the more fragile the membrane is.

      I hope your new jacket holds up better! Let me know if you have any other questions,
      Sam

  8. I enjoyed the reviews. Not too many which do comparisons!

    If i may respectfully mention, usually when a review goes on the topic of sizing (e.g. too long arms, too tight in the chest), there is no mention made/ definition of a baseline set of body measurement for readers to compare themselves against i.e. height/weight, chest, sleeve, waist – 29 in'” that popped out for me etc. My 2 cents thanks!

    • Hey Axe,

      Thanks for your comments. Making comments on sizing isn’t an easy thing! We typically try to base our sizing judgments on average body proportions. For instance, I know that I have pretty average length arms and torso for my build, but that I have a small waist. So if I say the arms feel long or short, that is relative to my “average” build. But i typically don’t comment too strongly on waist proportions because I know I have a girly waist.

  9. I can see through my Marmot Neoshell at the hood, shoulders, and arms. It lost its waterproofness after about three months of wear, but it is so comfortable that I wear it as my daily jacket all year. I wash in DWR every six months.

  10. There’s no contest really. Gore-Tex is like wearing a plastic bag, and the Pro is actually the least breathable of their membranes.

    Neoshell is the best thing to happen to outdoor gear since humans discovered wool.

  11. p.s. I’ve never sweated up under my Neoshell, but Gtx has me soaked within minutes in any kind of intense activity, or mild-but-wet weather. Although it feels softer, I’ve found Neoshell to be very durable. My jacket is a Montane further faster Neo, and I had a pair of Rab Neo Stretch pants which I returned under warranty – seam issue not the Neoshell itself, and have swapped them for some Nexus pants. I wouldn’t consider anything other than Neoshell in future. I do have an Arcteryx Gtx jacket, which is my throw-on, stuff-away jacket, but it’s not a good as the Montane. I haven’t experienced soak through in the Neoshell (that I’ve noticed), and as they say, there’s no point in just locking in the sweat with Gtx.

    I think the durability issues people are having with Neoshell may be related to the manufacturer’s application of it, rather than the Neoshell itself. Although it’s relatively new so I’m sure it’ll improve, it’s too good to not stick around. I do know that Rab are dropping it though – I get the feeling they have a cheaper deal with eVent, or are developing their own membrane.

  12. Hi there. This is a great review. Many thanks. I am convinced that Gore Tex Pro is the choice for me due to the better durability. However @Sam, as of 2017 which would be the best Gore Tex Pro jacket to your opinion? There are so many manufacturers Mountain Equipment, Mountain Hardware, Arcteryx, Patagonia, and many more?

    • Hey Martin,

      When it comes to what jacket to pick, all of those companies make great, high quality jackets. The most important thing to consider is how you’re going to use the jacket, what features you want and what sort of fit you’ll need. The best Gore-Pro shell for alpine climbing and ski touring won’t be the same jacket.

      I recommend going into a local shop and trying on a bunch of jackets once you figure out exactly what you want your jacket to do.

      Thanks,
      Sam

  13. Wow, great review here! I’m thinking about getting this jacket, but I can’t decide whether to size-up to allow for cold mountaineering layers. I see that you tested a medium that fit you and your 29″ waist well. Just based on the size chart, I would also get a medium, because my measurements fit with that size. Still, I’m leaning toward a large, because I have a 32″ waist, and I wan’t enough room for insulating layers. Do you have any suggestions? I wish I could try it on, but no one carries Mountain Equipment in the Pacific Northwest.

    • Hey Luke, I would probably recommend sticking with the Medium, as long as your mid layers are pretty slim fitting. The more bulky your midlayers are, the more likely I’d be to size up. I have a friend with the Large, he’s 5’11” with a 30″ waist and he was able to layer enough under that jacket for a Denali summit, for reference.

      • Thanks Sam, I bought a Lhotse in Medium, and it fits GREAT. Never had a jacket that fit so well. Plenty of room for a couple light layers AND a medium underneath. The sleeves are super long, but that’s okay. Thanks for the info!

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