New lightweight, two-fabric softshell jacket from Rab looks spot on for summer mountain use.
We've just got out sticky paws on the new Rab Zephyr Jacket, a summer-friendly mountain soft shell that uses two grades of the brand's own Matrix fabric to give a mix of weather protection and durability, or at least that's the theory.
One Jacket, Two Fabrics
The light grey areas of our test sample, the body, hood and insides of the arms in short, are made from Matrix SWS, a super-stretchy, non-membrane fabric that gives a mix of some weather protection with decent breathability. It's the same fabric Rab used for last year's surprisingly brilliant Boreas Pull-on, a shell that became our default choice on days when you needed just a little more than a baselayer, but less than a full-on shell. Good in the sunshine too.
What makes the Zephyr and its women's equivalent, the Solar, different is that the shoulders and outsides of the sleeves use the tougher, more abrasion resistant, Matrix DWS fabric, which will add a little weight, but should make the Zephyr a more convincing prospect for pack use and for climbing something it does well thanks to prodigious stretchiness.
To be fair, our test Boreas survived a fair bit of pack use along with some cracking mountain bike crashes and the odd bit of scrambling mostly unscathed, but for serious use, the tougher fabric makes sense.
The other big fabric change is that this year's Matrix and the 2013 Boreas too is treated with permanent Polygiene Stay Fresh odour control treatment. Definitely a good call as the one downside of our Boreas was that it got a tad whiffy with extended use. the silver salt-based treatment is a lifelong thing and should put a stop to that.
Otherwise it's mostly more of the same, but refined. Fit is close and medium long in modern terms, there's a full-length zip, two zipped hand-warmer pockets just above harness level and a close-fitting hood designed to sit under a helmet. Seams are all flat-locked in a base-layer style
Where it does differ from the Boreas is that the cuffs are Lycra bound rather than just being hemmed and have unobtrusive thumb-loops to boot. All this and it's actually slightly lighter than our Boreas at 289g against 308g, but more expensive with a suggested retail price of £65 compared to £45 for the pull-on.
'Just Enough Protection'
Overall we reckon the Zephyr and the Solar should be cracking all-round summer soft shells at a decent price with a Goldilocks-style 'just enough' protection for those breezy spring and summer mountain days, enough breathability to hack it when the pace goes up and with the bonus of a full-zip for added venting and the reassurance of the tougher shoulder/sleeve fabric.
For non-pack use we'd be tempted to stick with the Boreas, but if you're contemplating a lot of backpacking and/or climbing/scrambling, that additional toughness with no weight penalty makes a lot of sense. It adds a little wind protection too.
Looking forward to giving it a good kicking over the coming months.
More information at www.rab.uk.com.