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Rab Borealis Jacket Review

Rab Borealis Carter Dome Full

The Rab Borealis Jacket is a lightweight windproof softshell jacket that’s great for winter hiking but lightweight enough that it can be used year-round.  It has an under the helmet hood, a full length zipper, and two zippered Napoleon chest pockets that are great for holding your Smatphone, a map and compass, or snacks. The chest pockets are mesh backed so they can be used as chest vents to bleed off extra body heat when you start to perspire. Made with 85% nylon and 15% elastane, the Borealis has plenty of stretch for use in highly dynamic sports from climbing and skiing to mountaineering. It’s definitely a keeper!

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: men’s (women’s model available)
  • Hood: Under-the-helmet
  • Materials: Nylon 85% and Elastane 15%
  • Wind resistance: 10 cfm (highly wind resistant)
  • DWR: C6
  • Weight: 300g / 10.5oz (size medium)
  • Sizing: True to size

The Rab Borealis Hooded Jacket has become my goto breathable windproof layer this winter when layered over a warm baselayer like the Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody Baselayer with or without a fleece midlayer. It has very little insulation for a softshell jacket and I use it more like a thin, highly breathable, and lightweight wind shirt for hiking in the alpine.

The chest zips are mesh backed, so they can be used to release body heat or store snacks.
The chest zips are mesh backed, so they can be used to release body heat or store snacks.

The things that sets the Borealis apart from other softshell jackets and windshirts are its Napolean pockets. There are two pockets situated on the chest which are mesh backed, so you can unzip them to shed extra body heat. The Borealis Jacket replaces the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody I’ve used for many years for winter hiking which is also a softshell jacket but lacks handy ventilation features like these chest pockets.

Those chest pockets also provide a convenient location to store snacks or navigation gear since, unlike side pockets, you don’t have to undo your hipbelt to access their contents. This is a big plus in winter when you need to keep your gloves on all day and can’t take them off to fuss with a hipbelt buckle or adjustment straps.

The under-the-helmet hood fits snugly around your head and face.
The under-the-helmet hood fits snugly around your head and face.

The Borealis has a low volume under-the-helmet hood with Lyrca edging to keep it snug around your face and head. This is important when it is used as a wind jacket to help prevent the fabric from flapping loudly next to your ears. Stretch cuffs at the wrist keep the wind from blowing up your sleeves and the adjustable hem keep winds from chilling you from below.

The Borealis Jacket has a wind resistance rating of 10 cfm, which means it’s highly wind resistant, but not completely wind proof. This is desirable because you want some air to get through to keep you cool during highly dynamic activities when you’ll be generating lots of body heat. While the jacket does ship with a factory DWR coating, it’s intended to repel snowdrift or light flurries and not liquid precipitation like a hardshell jacket.

Recommendation

The Rab Borealis Hoody is a softshell jacket intended for hiking, climbing, or mountaineering in alpine conditions. The thing that sets it apart from other softshell jackets and wind shirts are its mesh0backed Napoleon chest pockets, which can help shed extra body heat or be used for food and gear storage. Best used as part of a layering system, it complements warm baselayer or midlayer insulation by providing a highly wind resistant outer barrier to keep the wind from stripping away your body heat. Made with a blend of nylon and elastane, its stretchy exterior is comfortable to wear for highly dynamic winter activities although it’s lightweight enough to wear in warmer weather, particularly shoulder season weather, as well. Highly recommended!

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5 comments

  1. How does it compare to the REI Flash jacket?

  2. Works well with Montbell’s UL thermawrap parka.

  3. Also a great compliment to a Polartec Alpha hoody for most moderate southern winter hiking, upper20+F.

    • I’ve had a borealis for a couple of years, this is exactly how I use it.

      Versatile and, for only a very little added bulk, both more protective and more breathable than an old-school windshirt.

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