I’ve been using the RAB Vapour Rise Lite Alpine Jacket (purchased from our friends at Facewest – thanks guys) all summer for guiding in the Alps and through the autumn in the Uk for running, biking and climbing – so time now for a review.
Product: Hooded Softshell Jacket
Weight: 343g (size large)
Used For: Alpinism, Rock Climbing, Ski Touring, Fell Running, Hill Walking, Mountain Biking
First off, I need to declare a bit of history here; I was involved in the development and testing of the very first Vapour Rise jackets back in the late 90’s – my job was to test Rab garments to destruction in as many and varied conditions as possible – so the original Vapour Rise jacket I had was abused for over 1000 days on the hill before anything broke – and that was just a zipper! I took it on several trips to the Alps in winter, to Scotland every weekend, I went fell running and rock climbing in it practically daily and took it on several expeditions – it just seemed to work well for everything. By the end, that first jacket was totally UVed and faded through constant abuse, but it just would not die…
Things moved on and our company became testing and brand ambassadors for another well-known company for several years (think broken fossils..) – so I got to wear and test a lot of other top quality kit. Currently however, I’m not tied to exclusively wearing a single brand and having now used the very best softshell jackets on the market, I chose to buy a Rab Vapour Rise Lite Alpine as my everyday guiding jacket.
Why? – well, I needed a light and versatile top that was durable enough for large amounts of alpinism and ski touring. Ideally, it needed to be very lightweight, windproof and breathable, offer some light insulation and also work well as a layering piece. Additionally, it needed to give good protection against the weather, have a decent (preferably stowable) hood and a good sized chest pocket – oh, and it needed to be really well cut in order to be smart enough for guiding in and be available in a nice bright colour for photos – so not too much to ask then!
Currently, there simply isn’t any other jacket available that weighs under 350 grams and covers all of these bases – and even more remarkably, nearly 20 years since it was launched, I still think Vapour Rise beats all of the other fabric technologies I’ve tried, in terms of weight versus comfort, versatility and performance on the hill. (NB Prior to buying the Lite Alpine, I used very a lightweight Marmot Ether Driclime Jacket for a year: it looked good, but the outer fabric wasn’t really durable enough for climbing and it didn’t breath particularly well in hot weather – the hood was too basic as well – so now I use it for running.)
Ok – so why did I choose the Lite Alpine jacket in particular? Well, firstly it’s light (obviously!) and not too hot, which makes it good for ski touring, summer alpinism and a broad range of activities (I’m planning to buy the even lighter Vapour Rise Flex Jacket too – for hotter weather and high output activities, as well as layering in cooler weather, for which it would be ideal – currently I use a Rab Ventus Pull On for such situations, but the Flex Jacket would be even more versatile). For winter use, you may be tempted to go for one of the heavier weight Vapour Rise jackets instead – but personally, I think the Lite Alpine is a more versatile choice – as on colder days, I simply wear an extra layer underneath (see notes about layering with Vapour Rise below) – this makes for a lighter, warmer, more versatile system than owning a single heavier weight jacket.
Secondly, it’s extremely well designed – ie it’s got a great climbing cut that never rides up out of your harness, an excellent wired hood that really protects you well when the weather closes in, two good sized chest pockets for sunglasses, map, compass etc and adjustable cuffs that deal with different glove combinations. All of these features don’t just look good on paper, they actually work really well on the hill, which where it counts.
Thirdly, Vapour Rise is highly windproof, but also wicks and breaths better than other softshells that I’ve used. In real world conditions, most softshell fabrics are either really breathable and not very windproof, or really windproof and not very breathable. If you need one characteristic more than he other, then fine – but if you need both at the same time, then it’s a problem. Vapour Rise somehow pulls off the trick of combining both of these properties very effectively at the same time, so it remains comfortable across a wider range of conditions and continues to function well as part of a layering system when you add further layers on top.
Finally, the hood on this jacket deserves a special mention, as it really makes the jacket stand out. In good weather, it stows away neatly and invisibly inside the collar. However, when the weather deteriorates, the hood is easily accessible and has a fully wired peak, plus excellent two way volume adjustment. It’s designed to go under a helmet rather than over the top, but you can still pull it on over a helmet temporarily, if you get caught by spindrift mid pitch etc. I found that it often made the difference between being able to continue moving along comfortably, versus having to stop and put on a full weight shell jacket, just to have a decent hood. For such a light jacket, having a hood this good is quite remarkable and it really is very effective.
The only thing I can think of that you have to be careful about with Vapour Rise, is what you wear underneath it. Most people just wear a t shirt, which is fine (Vapour Rise worn next-to-the-skin works really well too – this is how it was originally designed to be worn) – but if you choose to wear something long sleeved underneath, then you’ve got to make sure that the inner garment has a smooth outer face fabric – or the two garments will cling together and become very difficult to adjust. This is a small and avoidable issue however and certainly no reason to avoid buying Vapour Rise, which in all other respects is an excellent system.
As to my final requirement – how smart does it look? – this is an area where both myself and Rab have changed considerably since the launch of Vapour Rise back in the 90’s! Me, from full time climbing scumbag to respectable(ish…) mountain guide and Rab, from ‘function over form’ to well cut, flattering designs; the only thing that hasn’t changed over the intervening years is how well Vapour Rise actually performs on the hill.