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Spotlight: Rab Equipment

A history of design and durability built on surviving harsh conditions of Scotland.

By: Kyle Frost + Save to a List

Have you heard of Rab Equipment? If you’re in North America, maybe not. That's about to change. This UK-based brand has been producing the highest quality technical mountaineering clothing for over 20 years, and has only recently expanded it’s distribution and marketing efforts to North America. Think Arcteryx, but built for the harsh conditions of Scotland.

We had the opportunity to partner with Rab North America (they recently opened a store in Denver,CO!), and test out some of their latest gear while mountaineering in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. We put these jackets through the ringer, both in the wettest conditions I’ve ever been subject to, as well as climbing the tallest peak on the planet (by distance from the center of the earth). We needed gear that would perform in rainy, humid conditions, as well as at 20,000 ft, and Rab delivered.

My Kit (the ultralight): Muztag Hardshell, Continuum Hoodie, Vector Softshell pants

I tend to regulate heat pretty well, and lean towards the lighter side. My setup was definitely more focused on weight/warmth/usefulness ratio, whereas Sarah’s was more comfort/warmth focused. 

While trekking in Los Nevados National park, Colombia threw everything it had at us, mud, rain, hail, and more. My Rab Muztag sluffed it off with ease, and performed surprisingly well in the humid conditions. While it doesn’t include pit-zips, the e-vent construction provided some of the best breathability I’ve experienced in a waterproof jacket. However, the zipper isn't great. There's nothing more frustrating than needing to put a jacket on and having to fumble with the zipper for 2 minutes. In my mind, this is an obvious thing that shouldn't be overlooked, and it frustrated me to no end.

Staying dry in a torrential downpour at 14,000 ft

On the slopes of Antisana (18,714 ft) and Chimborazo (20,564 ft), I was perfectly comfortable wearing a mid-weight, the Rab Continuum Hoody, and the Rab Muztag Shell all the way up to 20,000ft. I never felt constrained with this combo, the arms provide excellent flexibility and the hood(s) fit well over a helmet. The hood cinches worked perfectly when I was wearing a hat or nothing, a lack of cinch is always an annoyance with helmet-compatible hoods. Plus, the electric blue and the orange look great in pictures. One of my few concerns is with the durability of the Continuum. I put it through some pretty serious conditions, but I'm beginning to see some wear w/the stitching that concerns me. I'll have to see how it develops, but overall I've been pretty happy.

I found the Vectors to be a perfectly serviceable softshell pant, but nothing amazing. They didn't wick water particularly well, though we were in extreme conditions that I doubt any non-waterproof pant would hold up to. They were a great pant for mountaineering when the weather was drier. If I could provide suggestions, I'd like a slimmer fit, the crotch and legs felt a little baggy for me. If I could test again, or was doing more mixed/ice climbing I’d definitely bring a pair of the men’s Calibre pants. I was salivating over Sarah’s pair all trip.

Sarah’s Kit: Firewall Hardshell, Electron Jacket, Calibre Pants

Unlike Kyle, I tend to not regulate my heat nearly as well. I heat up quickly while exerting a lot of energy, but other than that I tend to always be cold. Therefore I am constantly adding and subtracting layers throughout the day to assure I don’t sweat or get too cold. 

While battling the pouring rain in the Sacred Valley of Peru, I had already spent nearly three months in rain and hail storms. Yet, still after being soaked many times my Firewall hardshell kept the water off my core. This jacket is particularly unique for it’s pit zips. Rather than being equally distributed from the arm to the core, this ventilation is weight more along the arms. This allows on to easily and fully remove their arms from the sleeves. This served to be an excellent form of temperature regulation for myself as it provided a key way to cool down without having to strip many layers.

I could not speak more highly of the Rab Electron Jacket. Amongst other mid-weight down jackets I own this jacket is substantially warmer and does not have the bulk that often comes with such warmth.  The fit was perfect for myself, yet is certainly more of an active slender fit and may not be ideal for everyone. The arms specifically run a little on the snug side. Yet, even with a slender fit and minimal weight, Rab provided a sizable hood that fits nicely over a helmet and has a simple velcro adjustment and wired bill.

I was able to test this jacket in variable conditions and overall it surpassed my expectations. The Nikwax down definitely held its form and warmth in wet weather, but the water-resistant fabric quickly soaked through. However while it may have let water through, it did not let wind in. For a mid-weight down jacket this was a pleasant surprise and was hugely beneficial for high wind alpine conditions.  

The only thing I would critique on the Calibre pants is the fit, which is a challenging thing to fix as everyone is different. As a tall woman these pants run short while the crouch is very long. The long crouch would be ideal if they fit higher on the waist, yet the pant does not tapper in much and thus you are left with an awkward fit and have to rely on the belt. Again, there are likely woman out there that would love this fit, it just was not ideal for my body type.

Regarding the pant itself, it had all the features I would hope for in a technical cold weather climbing/mountaineering pant.  The water resistance held up in heavy rains and even walking through creeks.  With two main zipper pockets and two additional zipper pockets that double as a ventilation system, you never have to worry about losing your stuff. While I commonly used these pants in cold weather with a base layer beneath them, they are warm enough to wear without a base layer and have a soft fleece lining that is comfortable on the skin.  The ankles are wide with elastic, which is great for a mountaineering or alpine touring boot. I definitely had Kyle jealous with these pants, as their performance was a step above his more casual trekking pants.

The Verdict

Overall, we were both incredibly impressed with the gear we had. I'd like to consider myself a discerning buyer, and every piece made the grade. I like high-quality fast, light, gear, and won't hesitate to continue to wear Rab gear again.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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