Rab Xenair Alpine Light Insulated Jacket Review

Rab Xenair Alpine Light Jacket Review

The Rab Xenair Alpine Light Insulated Jacket is a synthetic insulated jacket with a hood, chest pocket, and hand warmer pockets. It has body-mapped insulation: more on the torso and less along the sides for better thermo-regulation when active. I’ve been using this jacket as an outer warmth layer in very cold exposed conditions. While I’ve always used down jackets for this function in the past I rather like this Xenair Alpine Light Insulated Jacket which compresses surprisingly well and is more amenable for use under a shell if required.

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Men’s (women’s available)
  • External fabric: 20-denier Pertex Quantum Air nylon
  • Hood: Designed for under-helmet use.
  • Pockets: 3
  • Windproof: Yes
  • Weight: 11.9 oz (337g) in men’s xl
  • Insulation Type: Synthetic
  • Insulation: PrimaLoft Gold Active+
  • Packable: Chest Pocket
  • Back length: 28.1 inches (hip length)

The Rab Xenair Alpine Light Insulated Jacket is a very warm synthetic jacket that’s designed with breathability and active use in mind. It’s insulated with 60 g PrimaLoft Gold Active+ insulation in front, back, top of sleeves, and collar for warmth and comfort, while the sides, underarms, spine, and top of the hood have 40 g insulation. This insulation together with its Pertex Quantum Air nylon exterior fabric enhances the jacket’s ability to vent water vapor in use, particularly in drier and colder conditions when you’re less likely to overheat and perspire.

Well-Fitting Hood

The thing that makes the Rab Xenair Alpine Light Insulated Jacket markedly different from other synthetic insulated jackets is the hood. Most lighter-weight synthetic and down jackets have non-adjustable hoods that are often designed for use with climbing or skiing helmets and are grotesquely too large to keep your head warm unless you have an enormous Godzilla-sized head.

This jacket has a well-fitting hood, despite the fact that its not adjustable.
This jacket has a well-fitting hood, despite the fact that it’s not adjustable. (My mustache is growing back nicely)

But Rab did something a little different with this jacket to keep it lighter weight. Instead of instrumenting the hood with neck controls to make the face opening adjustable or putting a volume adjuster on the rear, they “gather” the hood with a piece of elastic on the rear which maintains human proportions, but can expand to accommodate different head sizes. This makes the hood self-adjusting which makes it much simpler and more effective when wearing gloves while making the jacket lighter weight and easier to manufacture. If you use a helmet, you may not like the hood because it will retard your peripheral vision. But if you’re a winter hiker and don’t use a helmet, this hood is easy to like.

The Rab Xenair Alpine Light Insulated Jacket

Warmth
Weight
Compressibility
Moisture Resistence
Hood Adjustemnt
Features

Excellent Hood and Great Fit

The Rab Xenair Alpine Light Insulated Jacket is a very warm synthetic jacket that's best used as an outer insulation layer, but has a compact enough profile that it could be used under a shell jacket.

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Mid-Layer?

Rab positions this jacket as a mid-layer option, but I find it way too warm for that purpose when snowshoeing or hiking up mountains, even in very cold weather. I think it’ll be fine layered under a shell for sitting on a chair lift and zipping back downhill, but for self-propelled adventures with real elevation gain, you’ll soak the lining in no time. I do run a bit hot on winter hikes, so your mileage will vary, but I’ve never ever found a down or synthetic jacket like this one that can replace a fleece hoodie as a mid-layer.

The elastic gather at the back of the hood adapts to a wide range of head sizes.
The elastic gather at the back of the hood adapts to a wide range of head sizes.

Fit and Trim

The fit is “regular” and not too slim, so you can layer underneath the jacket. The elastic wrist cuffs are fairly snug so they work well under a shell, but they’re too tight to pull up your arms if you’re trying to regulate your warmth level by exposing skin. There’s an elastic hem adjuster, so you can prevent wind from blowing up your torso.

Finally, this jacket has three zippered pockets, including two large handwarmer pockets and a good-sized chest pocket inside the jacket. Plus, you can stuff the jacket into its chest pocket (there’s also a harness loop), although I never do that in winter because I use the jacket to insulate the hot water bottles inside my pack.

Recommendation

The Rab Xenair Alpine Light Insulated Jacket is a very warm synthetic jacket that’s best used as an outer insulation layer, but has a compact enough profile that it could be used under a shell jacket. It has a human-proportioned hood that fits under helmets, as opposed to over, making it suitable for winter hiking for those of us who don’t need to wear protective helmets. Lightweight and quite packable, this is a seriously nice insulated jacket that feels good to wear and can provide extra insulation for items in your pack that you don’t want to freeze.

Disclosure: The author purchased this garment.

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16 comments

  1. Any comments on the similarities to other active insulation pieces by Patagonia or Arc’teryx, for example? They seem to be the most prominant manufacturers of these kinds of jackets, but the price difference makes Rab piece intriguing.

    • Everyone on the planet makes a jacket like this – even Amazon Basics. But to be honest, they have so few features that the only real differentiators between them are hood controls/fit and the amount of insulation they have. How can you decide between them? It all boils down to fit and whether they fit your intended use.

  2. I have used this jacket for just over a year now. I really like it. in the summer it is in a SAR pack as a midlayer for overnight bivys or thrown on once we stop moving to fight the chill of the wind. I prefer it to down because we have consistent thunderstorms here in the Rocky Mountains almost daily and we know we will get wet.
    In the winter I take it ice climbing with me. On a warm day I’ll use it while I’m belaying my partner and on a cold day it goes up the route with me. I have layered traditional fleece under it, Alpha under it and also a Rab Kaon under it when it was way colder and blowing more than was forecasted and it was very warm. (Not all at the same time btw!)
    Only “con” would be durability of outer shell, but in a piece like this, you want a lighter shell to help vent and keep weight down in my opinion. If I have to bush wack I’ll throw on a Torque shell.
    As to how it compares to other brands, yes you can find something very similar from almost all other top clothing brands. I’d stay away from the Amazon stuff personally, because the Primaloft Gold is what makes this piece really shine for the insulation. You won’t get that in a cheap $50 coat. Also the cut of this allows you to climb in it if you have too without any restriction.
    Yes the hood is solid! Even though not designed to, I have gotten it over a climbing helmet.

  3. Philip, I, also, never listen to my helmet LOL! (last paragraph)

  4. This looks like a great synthetic jacket for winter. Thanks for your review!

  5. Phillip,
    What is your recommendation for a fleece hoodie?

  6. Interesting but pricey mid layer. Wish I had one. I have an old Thermolite insulated jacket (and pants) that I have found to be a very warm insulating layer under a WPB mountain parka. I add a down vest when in winter camp.

    Currently I’m using a KUIU Yukon mountain parka made with TORAY WPB membrane. Remarkably I find it is about as breathable as my older REI eVent parka!
    **In fact I would like you to do an article on that excellent Yukon parka. KUIU is mostly a hunting apparel company but most of their clothing line can be had in a few solid colors as well as their 3 proprietary camo patterns. BTW, their clothing is “athletic cut” which translates to “Buy one size larger than normal”.

  7. Hoods on jackets – whether it is on a shell or fleece — drive me crazy with their fit. Maybe the problem is my head, but the only combo that works for me is to wear a baseball cap under the hood. If this jacket solves the issue it could be worth the price for me.

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