Saturday, March 10, 2012

Marmot Zion (Neoshell) Jacket Review

My friend, main climbing partner, and fellow gear addict Phil graciously agreed to write a review on his Marmot Zion Jacket.  I have eyed this jacket all winter with envy and was anxious to get an in-depth summary of his thoughts.  Here they are:

Marmot Zion Jacket
Phil ice climbing in his Marmot Zion Jacket

Size Large

Catalog weight:  18oz (probably a medium, maybe a small)

Scale weight: 28oz (large); Really, Marmot? Really?  10oz difference?  I guess maybe if they measured a small.

W.L. Gore and Associates patented their first WPB fabric circa 1976 and revolutionized the outdoor clothing industry. Many companies since then have worked to improve the waterproof-breathable category with some nominal improvements (mostly in the total weight of the membrane/treatment and the face fabric that they match it to), but you and I both know that waterproof AND breathable usually aren’t on speaking terms when you’re out huffing it up some canyon. Sure some fabrics will lose that clammy feeling within a few minutes or they may have some pit zips that alleviate the symptoms but unless temps are really low and/or you are not sweating, feeling clammy comes with adding a shell.

Well. . . that’s not exactly the case anymore. Polartec’s new Neoshell membrane has come a long way from our old and beloved Gore-tex partners.
Hiking uphill, 20 degree weather, comfortable in t-shirt and Zion Jacket

For disclosure purposes, I sweat. I sweat a lot! When hiking up to our usual ice cragging area with temps in the 20’s and only wearing a t-shirt, I drip sweat from my brow, my back, my legs, and usually have some beading up on my forearms. I know that is gross. I understand; my wife tells me about it occasionally. However, you need to know that in order to understand how great Neoshell is. This past winter I have used Marmot’s Zion Jacket (featuring neoshell) almost exclusively (I have dabbled in dry-Q elite). With the Zion Jacket I make that same approach wearing my usual silkweight long-sleeve tee, plus the Zion! The results? I still sweat a ton…. But now it gets moved outside the jacket like I’ve been promised it would by so many other fabrics for so long! I dump my pack to get racked up and I’m already dry. Literally.

But enough about the fabric (which is awesome), the jacket as a whole deserves some consideration.
6'3", 185lbs, Zion Jacket in size Large

Hood is a little tight across the mouth/lips with helmet on

I am 6’3” 185lbs. and I have the Zion in a large. The medium fit well, ridiculously well in fact, but had one drawback: on the official harness/jacket untuck meter it was a 9 (totally un-tucked from the harness within 2 ice moves and moving over my gearloops). So I compromised by going with the large that bellows out a little above a harness or hipbelt because of the additional volume (not too much of a compromise in my opinion). Dave Searle's un-tuck meter:

Marmot paired the neoshell membrane with a super comfy liner fabric (think brushed suede or butter-jersey) and a burly shell fabric that will probably hurt the rock more than the rock will hurt it. It is a soft-shell format that most other companies aren’t doing with neoshell. At first I was a little disappointed with the heavy-handed construction, but have found solace in a few key facts:

First and foremost, the Zion has impressive insulative properties. Good enough in fact to help eliminate a mid layer piece in your layering system. This helps compensate for the heavier nature of this shell without sacrificing too much versatility (more layers can usually handle a broader temperature range) because of how breathable it is – it acts like your midlayer, with the benefit of being stormproof. For example, a normal layering system could be MHW’s wicked lite long tee (5.6oz), Patagucci’s R1 Hoody (12.8oz), and Arcteryx’s Alpha Lt (super sick and 12.9oz); total weight 31.3oz. A layering system with the Zion that will easily handle upper teens and low 20’s while climbing is as follows: MHW’s wicked lite long tee (5.6oz), and the Zion (28oz). That’s it. Simple, and with a total weight of 33.6oz. I figure for 2oz more I have a broader range of comfort without having to stop and remove or add layers. That's pretty sweet. The best part is, when the jacket is on, I really don't notice the extra weight; and this jacket rarely comes off.  If you are venturing into colder climes take the R1 and the Zion (40.8oz for an action suit that will take you to around 0˚ F).

Second, the face fabric has and will continue to stand up to my abuse. I have scuffed this jacket against Ogden quartzite and SLC granite without any sign of wear.

Lastly, the combination of fabrics is exceptionally stormproof and doesn’t make that awful hardshell noise. ‘Nuf said.

The Zion includes 5 pockets: 2 handwarmer pockets, 1 napoleon pocket, 1 sleeve pocket, and 1 internal pocket. All are fleece lined and very comfortable. The two handwarmers are spacious enough for keeping your lead gloves warm and dry and to stash your skins in, while the napoleon is big enough to hold a 12oz drink along with your lip balm and has a headphone portal. I have found that the sleeve pocket works great to hold GU packets or chomps and the internal pocket never gets used. The Velcro adjustment at the cuff works very well for the wrap-around tab configuration they used.  The hood is helmet compatible, and has two adjustments: the usual hood aperture pulls and a rear circumference pull cord help you batten down the hatches and take out volume.

Harness/Hipbelt-compatible pockets with water-resistant zips

One internal zip pocket and soft brushed lining

Now for everyone’s favorite part…the nitpicking!

The two handwarmer pockets that are purported to be hipbelt compatible have a problem I find happens a lot among climbing jackets. The upper portion of the pocket is visible and usable above a harness; still, the lower offending portion is cut off – effectively making the pocket opening smaller. Such is the case with the Zion’s pockets. Though to be fair, the zipper pull is at the top in the closed position so the pockets really are usable with a harness on.

 In my opinion, and for my head, the hood is a little low on volume. With the hood up over a helmet and fully zipped, my chin and lips abut the zipper area forcefully enough for me to usually keep the zipper slightly undone. If it were a perfect hood, it would fit over my helmet, fully zipped, with some room inside to make adjustments or at least offer some more stretch in the fabric.

The last thing is the fit. Like I said, the medium offered a much more trim fit which I usually look for, but the angel-wing technology failed a bit and it would come untucked. The large has extra volume in strange areas that l notice when I’m at home critiquing the jacket, but actually really don't notice when I’m out using it. However, the angel-wing mumbo-jumbo still fails compared to my standard - the Arcteryx Alpha. The Alpha's hem moves about 3" from arms down to arms up. In contrast the Zion moves at least 5". When pinned under a harness the stretch of the fabric helps in this area. In Marmot's defense (I really like their products), many of their other jackets that I own don't move nearly as much as the Zion.

At least 5" of lift in the hem when arms are raised.  I guess they forgot the angel-wing on this one.

All in all this is a very nice jacket. As with all pieces of gear, it could be improved upon. Anyone can take their favorite piece of kit and say, "if this small problem was fixed, this would be perfect." This jacket falls under that category. Yet, even the way it is made right now, it does what I want all gear to do: go unnoticed. I don’t ever have to think, “I’m starting to overheat I’d better fiddle with my pit zips/take off a layer,” or “this is way more wet than I expected, I wish I had brought my hardshell.” And that is well worth its few short comings.

Overall I would give the jacket 4 stars out of 5.  I love everything about this jacket except the minor hood issue and that I had to get a large to keep it tucked into my harness.  It easily establishes itself among the best winter ice and alpine climbing jackets available.


  1. Thanks for the review!

  2. I think Marmot fails with the design of this jacket. Neoshell is awesome but the way Marmot designed this jacket is horrible. I am 5'10 175 lbs and the medium has a really strange fit. Not only are the sleeves too long but the taped seams are so bulky that they get in the way. You cant compare marmot to Arcteryx. In fact, Arcteryx just makes perfect shells and mid layers with the Alpha LT being the best!

  3. Thanks Anon for reading and sharing your opinion. I wouldn't argue with you that Arc'teryx's fit is better than Marmot (for me), but I know other people that really like the Marmot fit. I definitely have my complaints with the fit, as does Phil who wrote this review, but none of our experiences with this jacket seem to be as bad as you make it sound. In fact, this jacket is still a go-to piece for almost all winter outings. I am happy to announce that the Zion jacket for next winter (not this winter, sorry) has a better hood (that is actually comfortable with a helmet, I was told). We'll see.

  4. I'm very tempted with this jacket, but to use for cold-weather cycling and not climbing... and when off the bike in wetter conditions too. The waterproof-breatheable dilemma affects cycling clothing just as much and so far as I know, no-one has used Polartec NeoShell for this yet. The other dilemma is that I'm cyclist build on the top half - 5'7" with 35.5" chest. So usually end up buying technical/race clothing not only for comfort but also for fit - so material doesn't flap about or 'poke' around the chest, is long enough in the tail and doesn't have short arms. Cut matters a lot with a jacket like this because you're only likely to wear a thin base under it. Can anyone comment on the cut and sizing of the Small Zion jacket ? They don't make an X-Small so a Small is my only hope in this particular model.

  5. The cut of this jacket is definitely not as trim as most biking clothing. It is baggy enough to layer a few base layers or a fleece under. With just a thin base layer underneath, I think you'd find it to be a little baggy. Also, for biking, you may find it to be a little warm. It does breathe quite well, so even if you work up a sweat, you'll dry quickly, but I think the jacket is probably too warm to keep you from sweating, unless you're biking in really cold weather (15 degrees F or less). I hope this helps. I find that less warmth and a little more wind resistance (at least on the front of me) keeps me drier and more comfortable while biking than being too warm, sweating, and then having to dry off again. A great jacket for cold weather biking, in my opinion, is the OR Centrifuge. With a baselayer or two underneath, it's a great option. If you need more weather resistance for nasty weather, the Zion may work well, but I'm still concerned it would be too warm. Hope this helps.

  6. I'm confused. According to marmots website I fall under the size Large. 5"11 175lbs. I'm just using it for hiking. From reading comment above I should go medium??

    1. It totally depends on your build and how you like your jackets to fit. I like a trim fit and the large is a bit baggy on my. I have long legs and a short torso and not very wide shoulders, so I can often fit into medium tops when many of my friends who are about my same size prefer a large. For example, in Arc'teryx, I'm consistently medium (except in the Acto). In the Zion, a medium fits nice through the body with just a baselayer on (but I wouldn't have too much room for layering), but it does pull out of a harness when I'm climbing. If I want a Zion that I can layer under, I need a large. Unfortunately that means that it feels a little baggy when I'm only wearing a baselayer under it. Remember, I'm about 6'2" and 185-190 lbs, depending on the week.
      So, if I were to guess, I'd say you're probably a medium if you like a trim fit, a large if you'd like room to layer. I'm guessing most guys your size would prefer the large.

    2. Having said all that, the cut is not as trim as most running or cycling clothing. It's designed to be able to layer under it a bit.

  7. I just purchased a Zion in small. I'm 5'6", 145 lbs. It is cut full with room for layering. I also have an Arc'teryx softshell in small (no hood) which is a very trim fit (I like it but no room for layering underneath) and the fabric has more stretch than the Zion.

    The Zion sleeves are definitely long but the cuff closers work well. I like pockets. There's the Napoleon outside chest pocket with cable pass through, a comparable inside chest pocket and a small pocket on the sleeve, all useful. Unlike my hardshell there are not inside mesh pockets which I like to hold gloves and to keep water bottles from freezing. The lack of mesh pockets isn't a knock against the Zion, just understand what you don't get.

  8. Hi! Great review of the jacket! May I ask, is this a good replacement for a "mid layer plus hardshell" ? How does it performs on not so high intensity activities, like hiking at 5000msnm?
    I'm trying to decide whether to but this jacket, or to buy a hardshell plus insulation jacket combo.

    1. Hi Jorge,
      Thanks for reading. This jacket is a good replacement for a mid layer plus hardshell in cold weather. The down side, obviously, is that in warmer conditions you can't lose the midlayer. It performs great in high-intensity activities and in lower-intensity activities. Neoshell doesn't trap heat (and moisture) like gore-tex does. Any warmth that this jacket adds comes from the fleece lining. With a gore-tex and fleece combo, the gore-tex will add some warmth in addition to the fleece and will be warmer than the Zion, at least until the gore-tex causes you to soak your layers from sweat.

    2. I see.. still not sure about this. Mainly because i'm short of budget, and it's either a "hardshell plus mid layer/primaloft" or the zion. I read somewhere that neoshell fabric water resistance goes down after 24 washes or something similar, it goes down all the way from 10.000mm to 5.000mm ... have you experienced something like this during the time that you or phil have used this jacket?

    3. No, we haven't experienced that, but the jacket definitely hasn't been washed much yet either. I'm not sure why that would happen. Washing, especially with the right detergent, shouldn't affect water resistance of the membrane, but it will increase breathability (compared to a dirty jacket).

  9. Hi! Thanks for the great review!

    Being very tempted to buy this jacket I am still held back by one issue, and hope you can illuminate me upon it: I have had a Marmot Nabu for 2 weeks now and after just wearing a light daypack its water-shedding quality (DWR) is virtually gone in the shoulder area.
    As a result, no soaking through but the surface definitely sucks water and starts feeling clammy and really cold after seconds when cycling a rain.
    So my question is experience you made with Zion's DWR finish. Will it hurt the rock more than the rock will hurt it, too?

    Your advice is really really appreciated!
    Thanks in advance,


  10. Hi Juri,
    Thanks for the question. In my experience, no DWR works very well where pack straps rub the fabric. Some are better than others (I've been impressed with Arc'teryx's, Rab's, and Nanosphere on Schoeller products), but all of them eventually allow water to soak into the face fabric. The best way to remedy it is to retreat the fabric in those areas with a DWR spray. I prefer Grangers to most others, but McNett's stuff works pretty well too.

    As far as the jacket's durability, the Nabu is quite durable, but not as durable as the Zion. I do think the Nabu will stand up to a lot of abuse from climbing, skiing, etc. A crash on the bike may damage the jacket though.

    Back to the DWR- You could try throwing the jacket in a drier on medium heat. That can help renew some of the DWR qualities, but it will not be as good as it was brand new. Using Grangers or some other similar product is really the best way to fix the DWR issue.

    Hope this helps!

  11. Huge thanks for that piece of advice, even so much later than the initial post!

    Guess I will indeed wash my Nabu with TexWash and then try Bluegard on it. Or, if Marmot is after all as kind as to accept the jacket back, go for JW's deviator, which seemingly also breathes.

    Thanks again and keep up the great work, guys! This helped me more than X conversations with X dealers :-)



  12. Just purchased the Zion after a recommendation after talking to one of the guys at the Gear:30 store over the phone (who was quite patient and helpful wish gear:30 was close to me), after finding this review however I'm curious how you think the Zion would fit me. I'm 6'4'' almost 6'5'' and around 195lbs. I'm like you where most of my height is in my legs, I ordered a large and intend on using this for hiking in strong winds / rains as well as snowshoeing. With that being said how much of a down pour can this jacket take and for how long. I checked the marmot site and the site that I purchased from and neither show a mm rating for water proof / or breathability rating.

  13. Glad the guys at Gear:30 were helpful. I think a large is the right size, based on your weight. Going to an xl just gets a little larger in the body (girth), not much larger in the arms or the length of the torso.
    Because this jacket is made of Neoshell, the water column rating (the way they rate waterproofness) is 10K mm. The industry standard for a waterproof rating is 10K mm. So, it's possible that you could get a little water through if you're being shot with a fire hose, but in the rain, even a heavy downpour, you shouldn't have a problem. As far as wetting out (the external face fabric soaking up water and therefore impeding breathability), that has more to do with the face fabric and DWR used than the membrane. In my experience, the DWR on the Zion is pretty good, but it will start to wet out under pack straps after a little bit of hiking. This is pretty normal. The only jacket I've used that has not wetted out under the packstraps shortly after use is the Rab Stretch Neo. Anyway, if the fabric starts wetting out, toss the jacket in the dryer for 15 min on medium heat. If that doesn't help, apply a new DWR (I like Grangers best).
    When it comes to breathability, I haven't ever seen a definite number for the breathability of Neoshell, I just know from personal use that it is WAY more breathable than any Gore-tex of eVent membrane I've used. I've used the Gore-tex Active stuff, and it is good, but it is no where near as breathable as Neoshell. Neoshell is great for active use, but it breathes so well that it doesn't really add much insulation. The Zion, with the light fleece liner, will add some insulation, but not as much as you might think for a waterproof jacket.
    For active use (hiking, snowshoeing) in colder weather, I think you'll love the Zion. For a slightly broader temperature range, the Nabu is worth looking into. Google "Marmot Nabu Jacket Review" and you'll probably find our review near the top.

    Hope all this helps.

    1. I just got the zion today ordered it online in a large. I have a few issues with it. First, if I zip the jacket up all the way I can't put the hood on I have to unzip it to put the hood on and off. The sleeves aren't that long as I had read like how they are looking on your buddy in the picture above. Not very much room imo to layer with a North Face windwall zip up fleece its very tight under the arms in the armpit area. Also thought it would have some stretch to it but not so much. Fits great though with just a t-shirt on but I think for when I'm just out and about in the city and its around 30 degrees or less I'd be freezing..Going to wear it around for a day but thinking its going to be sent back. When I purchased this it was this jacket or the Columbia Millennium Flash soft shell which fit great but Columbia said they didn't provide waterproof ratings and it looked like even though it had Omni Tech (there water proofing) it would wet out. Do you know of any reviews of this jacket can't find any online ( i know its new),

  14. Ended up returning the Marmot Zion just wasn't a good fit. In the end I found the Arc'teryx Kappa. While not completely waterproof it has taped seams and DWR with the Gore Windstopper and 140g Coroloft insulation. If you haven't tried it I suggest taking a look at it. Great jacket imo.

  15. Hi, I've been using the Zion jacket for last season, and the only problem was with the small hood, very unconfortable to use with a helmet. Do you know if Marmot has improved this (bigger hood) on its new 2013-14 Zion Jacket, or it's just new colours...? Thanks

    1. Yes, they have made the hood better. The have increased the volume around the chin so that there's some breathing room while wearing a helmet. I haven't used the new Zion, but I have tried it on with a helmet and it is a much better fit with a helmet.

      Hope this helps. Thanks for reading.