Polartec Softshell Fabric Tech — “Powershield Pro” may be a leap forward

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 5, 2010      

Polartec recently went public with their new “Power Shield Pro” fabric. The idea with this stuff is it’s porous enough to allow some significant airflow, yet still significantly water resistant — combined with stretchy fabrics that have a softshell feel. I’ve been testing a North Face Kishtwar softshell jacket made with the stuff, and so far the verdict is favorable.

Testing TNF Kishtwar jacket

Your ever faithful blogger during a typical testing day over the last few weeks, something breathable but water resistant was the ticket.

My main concern these days, since I’m focused on vetting gear for high altitude Alaska, is having shell garments that breath well when it’s cold. Combine that with reasonable water resistance for snowcave digging or busting through a wet snowstorm lower on Denali, and that’s my fabric. Luckily, I was able to test the Kishtwar jacket during a number of single digit touring days over Christmas.

Kishtwar jacket, Powershield Pro, me sweating underneath at 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Kishtwar jacket, Powershield Pro, me sweating underneath at 8 degrees Fahrenheit -- it breathed amazingly well for something said to be quite water resistant.

One test session was particularly telling. With the frigid temps and my being a bit tuckered from several days workouts, I was able to wear my lightweight down sweater under the Kishtwar during a trail breaking session. Rather than stripping when I warmed up, I left the down layer under the Kishtwar. If I’d been in my usual hardshell, I guarantee that after a few hours the down jacket shell would have shown significant moisture, and the down would have started collapsing due to moisture saturation. I’m delighted to report that instead, the Powershield Pro appeared to have breathed nearly as well as the ultra-breathable Cloudveil Serendipity that’s my trademark outer layer.

Now that’s not saying I wouldn’t rather have had my ultra-porus softshell for such cold temps. But I usually carry a lightweight “backup” waterproof hardshell when I use a true softshell. Thus, since the days the softshell gained favor, I’ve ended up carrying one more layer than I used to. Sure, they’re lightweight, comfortable and efficient layers, but why am I carrying more junk rather than less? The idea with Powershield is you can eliminate the hardshell in most situations, by having a “softshell” that breaths quite well, but has enough water resistance for most missions.

We’ll, it’s winter, so I haven’t tested the Powershield Pro in 10 hours of freezing sleet (should I head for Montana?) And such conditions might still require something with a full-on rainwear rating. Nonetheless, for anything less than that I’m certain this stuff will work fine, so perhaps it’s the way to eliminate that extra hardshell you keep packed away. Thus, be sure to give fabrics with this membrane a careful look if you’re shopping for softshell clothing.

Official press release:
January 1, 2010 (Lawrence, Mass.) – Polartec, LLC, the manufacturer of Polartec® performance fabrics, is launching a revolutionary new softshell fabric. Hitting consumer markets in Fall 2010, Polartec® Power Shield Pro® delivers the best combination of weather protection and breathability ever offered in a single fabric.

“Polartec helped launch the ‘softshell revolution’ over ten years ago with Polartec® Power Shield®, a fabric that offered superior breathability, durability and stretch with enough weather protection for everything but the wettest conditions,” states Karen Beattie, product marketing manager for Polartec. ”Polartec Power Shield Pro dramatically ratchets up the fabric’s water resistance, while retaining critical breathability.”

Thanks to a new proprietary membrane technology and lamination techniques, Polartec Power Shield Pro allows true air permeability (8 l/m2/sec = 2CFM) for a controlled two-way air exchange that significantly improves moisture transport over softshells that do not allow airflow. At the same time, Polartec Power Shield Pro holds a water column of 5000mm, offering superior water resistance.

Polartec Power Shield Pro is a laminate that can offer a combination of poly or nylon woven face fabrics with excellent DWR and durability characteristics, paired with lightweight to high loft backs. Sandwiched in between is a proprietary new hydrophobic, microporous polyurethane membrane that allows actual airflow through the entire fabric package but stops water from penetrating. The combination of the new membrane and lamination techniques delivers groundbreaking performance through air channels that flow through the fabric from the inside to the outer surface.

“The backcountry just got a lot drier and packs will be a little lighter next fall,” states Nate Simmons, global director of marketing for Polartec. “Polartec Power Shield Pro spans a wider range of weather and activity levels than any softshell on the market — it’ll get you home dry even in a heavy wet snow, light rain or high output activity.”

Polartec Power Shield Pro will be launched at the January 2010 Outdoor Retailer and ISPO trade shows by multiple brands including 66 North, Eider, Lowe Alpine, Millet, Montura, The North Face, Norrona, and Trangoworld.


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21 Responses to “Polartec Softshell Fabric Tech — “Powershield Pro” may be a leap forward”

  1. Nick January 5th, 2010 11:32 am

    Sounds like a nice fabric, Lou. I too have been annoyed at having to bring both a hardshell and a softshell, though I usually only bring the hardshell along in spring or if I know I’ll be in extremely windy/snowy conditions.

    Interesting that you could wear a down jacket under and not get soaked, that sounds promising. Did you try it with only a single long underwear layer? It would be interesting to know how much moisture builds up on the inside of the jacket and how quickly it dries out.

    One other thing: since it says it has a membrane, can we actually call it a softshell?

  2. Lou January 5th, 2010 11:39 am


  3. Ryan January 5th, 2010 4:53 pm

    We probably should have quit calling softshells “softshells” a long time ago. Many are essentially “hardshells” that are soft on the outside. The idea of a waterproof softshell sort of defeats the purpose doesn’t it?

    It is funny how ultralight shells get thrown in the pack with more breathable softshells as an “Oh $hit!” piece. We went from one shell to one lighter shell and a softshell.

    I’m psyched about the Powershield Pro. Most softshells with membranes are so geared towards grocery shopping that it’s nice to see things built with a little more breathability in mind and more of a BC ski feature set.

  4. Lou January 5th, 2010 5:26 pm

    Ryan, yeah, I think this stuff might possibly be the ticket. I did notice it felt more clammy inside than my full-on Scholler Serendipity, but hey, it would be impossible to duplicate the CFM of that fabric in a membrane fabric, so no harm no foul. My question is going to be just how waterproof the PowerShield Pro is, and I can’t really test that till I have a “real” jacket that’s seam taped, rather than the non seam taped sample I was testing. So I’ll eventually update this review — If I have to I’ll stand in the shower for 45 minutes, like we do to test backpacking raingear.

  5. Mark January 5th, 2010 9:27 pm

    I’ve got a Polartec Powershield shell from Arc’Teryx. That fabric is frighteningly great for touring. Hope the new stuff is even better.

  6. rich January 6th, 2010 12:28 am

    Lou- Have you had a chance to test some of the e-Vent shells out there?
    Think they might be similar to the polartec powershield shells?
    love the idea of a soft/hard shell.. with hood & without insulation… jacket!
    That has pockets that are truly above the waist belt of my harness & backpack!
    They seem hard to find….

  7. Lou January 6th, 2010 8:44 am

    Whoever designs the pockets for most jackets these days is obviously more concerned about the streets of New York City than they are the slopes of Mount Shasta. The old style Cloudveil Serendipity with just two huge Napoleon pockets and nothing else was the ticket, most everything else is somewhat of a joke when it comes to pockets — especially the ones the end up under your pack waistbelt. I’ve gotten over it, and just accept the inevitability of poor pocket design.

    I did test some e-Vent at one time, and Dostie wrote a review a while back — it does work pretty well but I’m suspecting Powershield Pro might breath even better. Above review is of course a first-look, not a comparative evaluation.


  8. RandoSwede January 6th, 2010 9:56 am

    Pocket design?!?! You hit the nail on the head there, Lou. THE ONLY jacket to get pocket design right in the last 20 years is the Serendipity.

    It’s quite funny how much the makers plug their pocket designs and 99.999% of the pockets out there are covered up or rendered totally useless by pack straps. However, without a pack those clean jacket lines “create a thoughtful silhouette that invokes a mysterious sense of adventure while perusing The Times and waiting for an espresso.”

    So, if there are any big brand designers lurking around here, please take note.

  9. Lou January 6th, 2010 10:47 am


  10. rich January 6th, 2010 11:27 am

    Thanks Lou,
    I thought there was a review on that Shuksan Jacket awhile back…. Forgot where I read it. It was probably part of the reason I took a Shuksan jacket down to Ecuador this December for use on the volcanos…. it worked well (loved the pocket set up). It might just make it into my starting line up this season….

  11. rod georgiu January 6th, 2010 11:31 am

    A couple of years ago I swithced from a softshell (older Cloudveil) to:

    1. a 3 oz winshirt and
    2. A hardshell for emergencies (now a North Face Triumph) which weighs 5.5 ozs.

    I find that I don’t miss the softshell.

  12. Lou January 6th, 2010 11:43 am

    Rod, that’s basically the system I used for about 25 years. Works.

  13. Jack January 8th, 2010 10:45 am

    Did the napolean pockets get down-sized on the latest model Serendipity?

    I’m another Serendipity-loving two planker. Best pockets, excellent breathability, and durable. Thinking about replacement after hundreds of days of hard use.

  14. Jeremy Cleaveland January 12th, 2010 1:38 pm

    Have you tried Paramo jackets? I have the Aspira jacket and love it for winter.

  15. Lou January 12th, 2010 2:53 pm

    Jack, fair warning, that they’re calling the “Serendipity” is the same jacket in name only.

  16. BeOutdoors.co.uk March 31st, 2010 2:35 am

    I am a real fan of Polartec® Powershield I especially like the womens RAB Baltoro lite we women need great kit too!

  17. Bart December 20th, 2010 6:48 pm

    I’m a fan of Powershield Pro as well…wearing it happily in this current spate of SoCal storms.

    But can we all agree from here on out that “breathe” and “breath” are two different words? “Breathe” being the verb. Makes things clearer.

  18. Lou December 20th, 2010 6:54 pm

    Good catch there Bart, I’ll look for that issue and edit. Thanks, Lou

  19. Lou December 20th, 2010 7:35 pm

    Okay, getting past spelling, I’m using that Powershield Pro jacket as my versitle do it all shell. For warmer more predictable days I still prefer my Schoeller Cloudveil soft shell, but for European traveling and such it’s nice to have something that’ll keep me dry in the rain or slush snow.

  20. Justin March 23rd, 2013 9:21 pm

    Whats become of this fabric? It sounds so promising, water proof enough for skiing, and even far more breathable than neoshell from what I’ve read. Sounds like the perfect fabric for ski touring pants, how come there aren’t any?

  21. Tjaard September 12th, 2014 4:00 pm

    Yes Lou,
    Here is another plug to try some Nikwax Analogy fabric garments(Paramo).
    It really does give you the breathability of the non-membrane softshells with true waterproofness.
    I love mine!
    I know they are expensive as an experiment, but they really do work as advertised.

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