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EMS Helix Jacket – Polartec Neoshell Upgrade

I’ve been testing the new EMS Helix Jacket made out of Polartec Neoshell for the past 6 weeks and like it although there are significant changes between this version and the one I reviewed last year. (Don’t confuse this jacket with the previous year’s model which is also called the EMS Helix Jacket and is still listed on the EMS web site at a much lower price.)

The biggest change is the use of Polartec Neoshell instead of EMS’s proprietary System 3 waterproof/breathable fabric. While less waterproof (but not enough that you’d get wet in rain), Neoshell is twice as breathable than System 3 or Gore-tex, making it better for cold weather sports where you’re probably sweating more than the rest of the year.

Polartec Neoshell

Polartec Neoshell combines the breathable properties of a softshell, with the water-proofness of a hardshell, making it an ideal fabric for a winter shell layer. Neoshell also has a bit of stretch in it, making it good for activities such as ice climbing where wiggling is required.

In testing this jacket, I have to say that I am impressed with the breathability of the fabric which keeps me noticeably drier than the other Gore-tex or eVent shells I’ve owned. When wearing this coat, I need to stop far less frequently to de-layer in order to prevent my mid-layer from being overwhelmed with sweat. It’s quite a noticeable difference.


Like the previous version of this coat, this year’s Helix Jacket also has two front napoleon pockets over the chest so that it’s usable when wearing a backpack or a sit harness. I love pockets like this and won’t use a shell jacket without them: having to have to stop and rifle though my pack every time I want to change hats or gloves or munch on a Cliff Bar, would wreck my hiking pace and slow me down.

The new Helix also comes with the same ski or climbing helmet compatible hood – sized small enough that you can use the jacket even if you’re just a hiker and not wearing a ski helmet or a climbing helmet. This is something to watch out for when you buy winter shells, especially ones really intended for skiers, with impossibly large hoods.

In addition, the Helix Jacket comes with:

  • Elastic cord lock adjustments on the back and sides of the hood
  • Front hood bill to keep rain out of your eyes (great for eye-glass wearers like myself)
  • Velcro tabs on the wrist cuffs to eliminate drafts
  • Two large internal mesh pockets
  • Internal zippered pocket the size of a cell phone
  • Hem cinch cord to keep out drafts
  • Lined chin guard for comfort
  • Seam-taped interior seams
  • Excellent DWR coating that beads and repels rain
  • YKK Vislon urethane coated zippers
In order words, it’s basically identical to the previous version of this coat, with one very notable exception: no pit-zips


Dropping the pit zips from the Helix Jacket is too bad because, let’s face it, venting is a heck of a lot more effective than any breathable fabric. I guess EMS removed them to signify confidence in the breathable wonders of Polartec Neoshell, but I think removing them diminishes the value of the coat. The new Helix is still a nice shell, but it’s now on par – although somewhat less expensive – with all of the other Neoshell jackets you can buy that don’t have pit-zips.


While I’m admittedly grumpy about the loss of the pit zips on the new version of the Helix Jacket, this winter shell still has a lot going for it. The hood, the large zippered pockets, and the internal zippered cell phone/cliff bar pocket make this a very functional hard shell for four season use.

I also like the fabric upgrade to Polartec Neoshell because it is more breathable than EMS’s proprietary fabric. All in all, this is a nice winter shell jacket and the one I plan on using extensively for hiking and mountaineering this winter.

Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) received a complementary Helix Jacket from Eastern Mountain Sports but was under no obligation to review this coat. 

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  1. Keith – in answer to your questions:

    Wind resistance: While Neoshell is somewhat less wind resistant that Gore-tex and other ‘hard’ shells, it’s imperceptibly so, especially because you’ll be wearing at least a base and mid-layer above treeline. It’s not something I’m worried about at all and I usually do above treeline hikes.

    Sizing: If you’re a 42, I’d order a large instead of an XL. I’m a 45-46 and the XL is still slightly big on me even though I have several layers underneath,

    If you’re tempted to get last years model with the pit zips, check the zippers first. If they don’t see YKK on them, don’t buy the jacket. The older riri zippers that EMS used to use on this coat are far less reliable than the new YKK ones, but they may have old stock sitting around, so you need to check.

    • Thanks Phil…..I greatly appreciate the in depth analysis and recommendations. Enjoyed the Mountain Hardware gaiter review as well….I’ll be taking advantage of that!

  2. Hi Philip,

    Nice review.

    Would be interested to hear how durable the Helix jacket it and how you find the sizing compared to other hard shell you have used.



  3. I ordered it in XL as the size chart put me between Large and XL.

    I can always send it back and get a smaller size.

  4. How has the durability been so far? Thank you!

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