FOX FLEXAIR NEOSHELL WATER JACKET REVIEW
Review by Nic Hall | Photos by Dusten Ryen
When it comes to hard mountain biking in wet conditions, there’s often the decision to be made whether to run a waterproof jacket. Conventionally a performance waterproof jacket will do a stellar job at keeping the rain out, but at the expense of increasing heat and humidity inside and leading to increased sweat levels that result in the rider getting wet from within. Fox Racing partnered with Polartec for their new top of the line riding jacket in the hopes of changing this, releasing the Flexair Neoshell Water jacket. Fox claims this to be the most advanced mountain bike rain shell on the market, and after some recent successes with other Fox gear we were stoked to put it to the test. After a few months of waiting eagerly for some proper rain to give it a good testing, it finally poured, and we feel like we can finally give it a fair shake down.
Fox Racing enlisted the services of Polartec for the material of their top-tier Flexair Water jacket, using their advanced Neoshell material to offer the best performance out on the trail. Traditional waterproof material technology has severe limitations in breathability to focus on waterproofing. If you have ever worn a hard shell while pedaling, you know how important pit zips are to prevent soaking out the interior of the jacket. Even the highest rated waterproof membranes on the market right now only offer approximately 20g of water evaporation per meter squared per 24hrs. Polartec doesn’t publish an official figure for their Neoshell material, but independent testing has shown it to be right around 30g/m2/24hrs which is better than even the highest end Gore-Tex membranes available. Neoshell is designed to actively exchange air without the need for a high pressure build up, enhancing natural thermoregulation without sacrificing the weather protection. The waterproof rating on the Neoshell is 10,000mm which is right in the middle of the pack in waterproof membranes, falling short of the likes of Gore-Tex pro with its 28,000mm rating, but still offering a considerable level of protection from the elements. The material has a natural stretch to aid mobility, is soft to the touch and quiet in use, and is rugged enough to withstand the rigors of mountain bike abuse.
To ensure the jacket performs well out on the trail, Fox took this unique material and added a fairly tailored fit with a large 2-way adjustable hood that is helmet compatible, a draw cord on the lower hem and hook and loop closures on the cuffs. Further to this, they added large underarm vents, two waterproof hand pockets and a waterproof chest pocket which all feature waterproof zips. An exhaust vent on the back further bolsters the breathing characteristics of the jacket. The Fox Flexair Neoshell Water jacket is available exclusively in a very stealthy blacked out color in sizes XS-2XL, and retails for $399/£380.
We took the Flexair Neoshell Water jacket out for several days deep in the PNW forests on both the mountain bike and moto to put all these claims to the test.
I am 5’11” and 165lbs and the large is just big enough to fit over light armor and an underlayer with enough room to move around on the bike. The arms are long enough to cover the cuff of your gloves without having a gaper gap when riding, and the rear of the jacket has a drop panel for water protection while seated and pedaling. The chest is large enough to provide the essential air space between your body and shell to utilize the Flexair Neoshell’s breathable membrane. All round this is a well fitted size large, fitting quite true to size and with the necessary tailored fit to excel on the bike. The hood is enormous and fits over a helmet easily with the 2-way adjust keeping it firmly secured, however this does mean it’s on the bulky side when it’s not needed.
In heavy rain, the DWR coating did a stellar job at shedding water for quite a while, but we did notice the shoulders start to wet out after wearing a pack for several hours. We never got wet through the jacket but the membrane on the shoulders stopped breathing once it became saturated. The rest of the jacket continued to shed water and mud from the trail through continued heavy use.
Breathability is seriously impressive. I specifically refrained from using the underarm zips to see how well the Neoshell material breathed on long climbs on the bike. Contrary to the “plastic bag” feeling of some waterproof jackets, the Flexair Neoshell Water jacket gave the feeling of a slight breeze through the jacket thanks to the level of air permeability instead of a full windproof membrane. I found this to be truly game changing in internal temperature management, never sweating through the material, and my base layers stayed dry throughout some moderate rain and a 60-70% sustained effort. Even on warmer, wet summer days, I was able to keep the Flexair Neoshell on thanks to the high level of breathability – it’s that good. While I did feel airflow coming through the jacket, I never felt cold in a strong wind, with just enough wind resistance to keep things comfortable. The design touches Fox incorporated such as the chest pocket and adjustable elastic waist cord make the Flexair user friendly and able to adapt to any use. There’s no getting away from that eye-watering price tag, which will put the jacket out of the reach of many riders, but for a serious all-weather rider with pockets deep enough, it’s one hell of a piece of kit.
The Wolf’s Last Word
After testing several shells over the past years, I think Fox’s Flexair Neoshell is the most breathable shell I have worn to date, keeping me dry and comfortable on rides even in warmer temperatures. Being able to keep a shell on during the entire climb and descent is a game changer and kept me on the trail longer than other jackets. At $399, you are definitely paying for cutting edge technology, but it may be the only shell you need from now on.
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