New for 2010, Rab's Alpine Pull-on is either an ultra-lightweight soft shell top or a medium-weight highly wind resistant one depending on how you look at it. But what you really need to know is that it's one of the few mountain wind tops out there that is both lightweight and helmet compatible.
Don't be confused by the 'Pertex' label on the material, Equilibrium differs from the brands usual fully windproof fabrics in that it's designed to wick moisture thanks to a denier gradient structure which moves moistures outwards across the material.
It's not completely windproof, more highly wind resistant, but the pay off is better breathability than fully windproof Pertex. It's actually the same fabric that Rab uses on the outside of its renowned Vapour-rise clothing. Essentially you're giving up a little windproofing in exchange for improved wicking and breathability. The fabric also has a DWR to cope with light rain and snow.
The other stand-out feature is the full helmet hood which has an unusual wire/foam peak plus an exoskeleton adjustment cord to save weight and reduced manufacturing complexity.
Most windproof tops tend to be ultra-lightweight things aimed at runners and cyclists, the Alpine Pull-on differs by being a full technical mountain top that weighs just 250 grammes for a medium. Cut is slim, maybe too slim in the shoulders – in common with other Rab pull-ons we've tried, it seems quite narrow in the shoulder/chest area with high cut arm holes that verged on being restrictive for us, definitely one to try before buying.
From there on in though, it's good news, the top is cut reasonably long for decent protection and has a drop tail and, as we've come to expect, the Equilibrium fabric offers a great balance between protection and comfort. It's not completely windproof, but 90% of the time it's windproof enough, which is what matters, and wicking and breathing qualities are great making it ideal for storming up hills on windy days. The DWR copes with light showers as well.
You can also use the double-ended, deep zip for some added venting if needed and roll the sleeves up to expose heat-radiating forearms.
The helmet hood is a boon if you're using a helmet and also works fine without, though you need to position the external cord above rather than below your ears for comfort. The peak is minimalist, but adequate and the foam/wire construction seems to work well enough. Mind the draw cords which verge on being lash length – you may want to trim them.
You also get big, harness happy pockets, elasticated wrists that may be a little loose for the slim boned user and an adjustable hem with just one puller.
Overall it's a much more breathable alternative to membrane-based soft-shells and waterproof hardshells and at just 250 grammes, it's light enough to stash in your pack when not needed.
So far, so good. Our only quibble is with the shoulder/chest cut, but we are slightly wide in the shoulder regions, so more linear bodies may work just fine. Otherwise this is a light but really effective mountain windshirt with few competitors. It breathes really well and wicks far better than full windproof fabrics we've used and is significantly lighter than comparable non-membrane equivalents.
Buy if... you want a lightweight technical mountain pull-on that offers adequate weather protection coupled with excellent overall comfort.