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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

REVIEW: RAB Men’s Exodus Soft-shell Jacket: UPDATE

Back in June I took delivery of a free Rab Soft-shell jacket from Go Outdoors. Rab is a brand I have bought and trusted for years – I have an excellent sleeping bag bought from them over fifteen years ago which is still doing sterling service. You can find more of Rab’s products by clicking on this link: Rab.

You can read my initial impressions of the Rab softshell HERE. I have now lived with the jacket for four months or so and so it’s time to have a closer look.

The jacket is quite robust; the material is strong, yet stretchy and so is comfortable to wear. It’s not totally windproof but it does gives reasonable protection from the wind. I suppose this is why I find the jacket very breathable when plugging away up hills. I wear the jacket a lot and it still repels water very well. It’s certainly good for short sharp showers but not for prolonged rain, when the weather seeps through. No surprises there though; that’s what you would expect. I wouldn't take a soft-shell jacket on a long backpacking trip in case it got soaked. It would be a devil to dry and it’s too heavy to carry in your pack. I think that these jackets excel for day walks.

It certainly looks quite smart and I have used it occasionally walking around town. It does look a bit ‘mountain man’ though for this use. But hey, maybe that’s okay with some.

As yet I have not found a use for the little pocket on the arm. I had thought that the front pockets were great, but after a bit more use I find that they do actually clash with my rucksack hip-belt a little but not enough to be annoying as they are quite large and so only a small amount of pocket volume is affected. I wonder if the pit-zips are strictly necessary. I have not yet had to use them as if it is a bit warm then i unzip the front zip and loosen the cuffs. They do work well and all the zips are of excellent quality. A minor niggle is that when zipping up the front zip it always seems to get caught on the thin backing fabric behind the zip that acts a weather proofing. This needs to be beefed up so it doesn’t get caught in the zip.

I still like the cuff detail: a thin rubberised Velcro tab. The only thing I would say is that there does seem to be a lot of spare loop on the sleeve that you don’t need. I have thin girly wrists and even I can’t use the last inch and a half of Velcro. You need to either have the cuffs fully open or tightly shut. Leaving them loosely done up means that there is a thick fold of material (remember it is quite a thick material used) that digs in slightly to your wrists. by fastening them up tight it flattens the fold out to be more comfortable.

My major gripe with this jacket is with the hood. When I first looked at it I thought it was splendid, but over time i have found a major niggle:

Why oh why do gear manufacturers believe that all wearers of their jackets will be going about their business wearing climbing helmets? Because they obviously do think this is the case, the hood is very large. Remember that the jacket is made of substantial material. This means that the hood is very bulky and very heavy. This is fine when it is windy and raining and you are wearing the jacket with the hood up. It offers excellent protection from the elements. So that the hood doesn’t flap in the wind, you can reduce the volume of the hood with a pull-cord at the back of the hood. But when the sun comes out again and you unzip the jacket you are left with a big heavy hood hanging on your back that tries to pull the jacket off your shoulders. It is really, really irritating.

Rolling the hood away does not really work either as you are left with a big bulky heavy collar that sags and feels very awkward.

In hindsight, I would prefer a jacket with either a smaller hood or no hood at all. If you are expecting to walk in the rain all day you would be wearing a waterproof shell rather than a soft-shell. A waterproof shell jacket will come with a hood. I would choose to wear a soft-shell when I am not expecting really crappy weather, so in these conditions I would wear a mountain cap and a soft-shell with no hood.

The million dollar question is “would I buy this jacket for myself, having lived with it all this time?”

The answer, is probably not. I would choose a soft-shell without a hood.

29 comments:

  1. Soft shells...I don't understand the concept, never have. Besides, I thought you were a no-hoodie all the way.

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  2. Hi Alan,
    Good review.
    I have the Rab Cioch softshell that is very very similar and i agree with everything that you state.
    It’s not a complete windproof and when it’s wet it stays wet for quite a while.
    On the other hand i love wearing it, like you say, on day trips. I would not take it on a backpack trip, ever.
    Like Mark, i too struggle with the concept. It’s not particularly good at anything except in certain conditions and i am not sure what those conditions are.

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  3. I'm surprised you've been able to use it very much, Alan. I'd have thought it would be too warm, and that it will only now come into its own as a comfy jacket for winter day walks, when you may be very pleased to have the hood.

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  4. I've recently bought the ME Astron Hooded jacket which is about 300gm lighter than the Rab, has a good hood (suits me at any rate and you don't know it's there) and pocket use isn't affected by a hip belt or climbing harness. The fabric is Polartec Power Shield which, it's claimed, stops 98% of the wind and is shower proof. So far I couldn't argue with that.

    I've never bought Soft-Shell before but I reckon I'll get a lot of use from it Spring to the end of Autumn. It's all a matter of personal preference I suppose, although like you I probably wouldn't take it on a long backpacking trip - but I might.

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  5. I tend to agree with the your findings Alan, I have a Montane "Dyno," no hood but I rarely use it for "proper walking". Surely Paramo is the ultimate "SoftShell." Liking the mellow yellow by the way!!

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  6. Mark, AlanR & Martin:
    I like the idea of soft-shells - because of all the ghastly drugs I take, I always run pretty cold. I have been known to wear Paramo and merino on warm sunny days when everyone else is in t-shirts. I like the fact that they are warm and breathable and not rustley like Gore-Tex.

    In Autumnal conditions I much prefer just to wear hats to keep drizzle off - a hood is constricting, but I was willing to try a soft-shell hood as it might have been more flexible.

    But it isn't - it is a complete pain in the bottom!

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  7. Gibson: That sounds like a useful piece of kit. The hood though... I just can't get away from not liking hoods in a jacket for spring & Autumn use.

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  8. Alan - I know what you mean re hoods but I've already used it 3 or 4 times, once over my mountain cap and was glad of it. It rolls away nicley into a collar too. I think Patagonia make something similar without a hood.

    By contrast the hood on my Rab Primaloft Hoodie is a poor design.

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  9. Al (Al's Outdoor World Al! - there are a lot of Als around, aren't there?

    I adore my Paramo Adventure Velez (It's my third), But it has to be said, it won't win any style prizes! I quite like the Softshell alternative for autumn & spring days and cool summer days. I also think it would be very good in snowy crisp days. It's also a bit smarter than P
    Paramo for general everyday wear!

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  10. Gibson: That ME Astron of yours sounds just the ticket. I might just go and seek one out on your recommendation. Thanks, fella.

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  11. Hi Alan .
    I love my Montane Dynamo and I'm glad it doesn't have a hood, it would be a pain! You're quite right, if it's raining, you wear a waterproof, with hood if wanted. I use my Montane Quattro, hoodless with Tilley usually, although on the Challenge I had the hood up to make absolutely sure the hat stayed put!
    Ofcourse, despite my love, things have changed, now I too have a Paramo Adventure Velez. I have still to see how it will change my layering habits.
    I know, us women, fickle creatures, but it's the same with all 'gear', some will love, some will hate.
    (word: ingoriac
    Ooo, that really ought to mean something!)

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  12. Louise - I don't just use a hood when it's raining though, and I wouldn't want my waterproof to be my *only* jacket with a hood on it.

    I can think of many, many occasions when I've popped up a hood in cold and windy, but dry weather.

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  13. I bought a soft shell without a hood, on similar logic, from Mountain Warehouse. Sadly it has no breathability, making it pretty much unwearable. I walked up Snowdon in it, suffered from overheating, and took 3 days to dry it out :(

    I can see how a decent softshell would be miles better than a windproof fleece, but (certainly at the bottom end of the market) they're not really there yet.
    For me, a fleece with a DWR treated windproof such as a Paramo Fuera is preferable.

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  14. Hi Alan,
    Just thought i would pass this on if you were interested.
    The ME jacket less hood is available at the link below at a good price. £89
    http://www.joe-brown.com/outdoor-equipment/mountain-equipment/mens-clothing/mountain-equipment-astron-jacket.html

    Gibson, If you read this. How does the material cope with constant rubbing from the rucksack and hip belt?

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  15. Hi Si_G

    The Astron is probably at the top end of the market although I must admit at £160 it is expensive, arguably too expensive. (I paid less than this).

    Gear is such a personal thing and, in truth, we all could make do with a lot, lot less of it. Days in the hills would be no less enjoyable - but then what would we argue about?!

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  16. Hi Afootinthehills (sorry, I don't know your first name!) I agree it's always good to have a hood about your person, but I wouldn't find it comfortable on my own soft shell. I usually have my Tilley on which I have been known to wear with or without a hood and on occasion a buff underneath to keep the wind out of my ears!

    My Paramo is the one with integrated hood, (unlike The Trusty Sidekick who has a detachable hood) and I'm sure I will find it both useful and comfortable as it doesn't have the bulk a soft shell hood would. Gear is, as you say, a very personal thing.

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  17. Alan R - I can't say how it will cope with constant rubbing since I've only used it four times. The Powershield fabric is said to be tough, but we'll see. As you'd expect (and hope) there is no sign of any wear at the moment.

    I'll certainly let you know, but since I doubt I'll use it much during winter up here, that won't be until next year. I bought it 'out of season' as it were, because it was reduced in price (but not enough to justify buying it Lynne would say!)

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  18. Hi Louise

    I love Paramo and have used it since it first appeared on the market, but I find it too warm after April, even though I tend to run cold. Some things do irritate me about Paramo products, but that's not for here!

    I didn't realise so many folk felt so strongly about hoods though!!

    Gibson

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  19. Alan, Re my previous comment. Sorry Joe Brown’s have now taken it off site.

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  20. Now I'm even more confused. I thought I was one of the last people not (yet) gone down the softshell route. I usually wear a base layer, then a 100 or 200 fleece, with a windshirt added when it gets windy; adding my jacket (Goretex) when the rain starts. My 200 fleece is looking ratty after years of us, so I had been thinking of going for a softshell to give the extra bit of 'showerproof-ness' of the water-resistant layer. I'd thought for a softshell to be useful, it should have a hood. (It's usually too windy for my Tilley hat in the Scottish hills). But now I'm not so sure. It's not helped by the fact that the jacket I want, and which I know is a nice fit, is about twice the price of a good fleece.

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  21. I am still slightly confused myself about softshells. My Paramo does everything a softshell aspires to do and also has the benefit of being storm resistant. (Note; resistant, not waterproof!)

    I think, if I am honest, one of the reasons for owning a softshell is that it is a very useful "out and about" jacket for everyday use: It looks okay, whereas a Paramo jacket would never win any marks for style!

    Another downside for the softshell jacket is that it is really, really difficult to put on and take off if you are wearing a fleece. Your fleece sleeves get caught by the rough inside of the sleeves of the softshell.

    This is actually quite irritating, surely it would be not too difficult to make the inside of the sleeves more 'slipppery'?

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  22. Good post and some sound comments. I agree that a soft shell (not Paramo)is ideal for day walks. I don't think I would not take on a backpacking trip as you say too heavy. I use a fleece and a Montane Lite Speed windshirt. I have been given another manafacturer's softshell to test and review. So I will be interested to see how mine compares with yours !

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  23. I don't believe I'm actually contributing to a gear review but...

    ...last winter I wore my (slightly oversized) Mountain softshell over my...um Mountain Hardwear (thinner/lighter softshell) over my Icebreaker base layer. If it got a wee bit windy I pulled my Paramo windproof over the top. It was cold last winter.

    Must stress that I walked in the base layer and the thin Mountain Hardwear softshell until I started the more serious ascent when I slowed down and started to feel the chill...then on went the 3rd layer.

    Wouldn't have minded a hood on the softshell though. I don't do rain so maybe that's why the softshells work for me.

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  24. Mark's WB: Kit reviews: A rare beast on this blog. Unless, of course, any gear company wants to send me some new snazzy over-trousers to review as my present pair are well past their sell-by date!

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  25. Ken: I expect you feel dirty now. Go and have a lie down in a room with scented candles.

    A quick rub down with an old copy of TGO should help.

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  26. Really, really interesting stuff. The soft shell idea has been peddled and peddled at us for years now, yet very few walkers I know are convinced.

    I have a standard type that I wear round town and a lightweight one I own and am testing at the moment - I'll put my findings on my blog in due course.

    But hoods is an issue - not only on soft shells but many hard shells too. They're just too big. Helmet compatible may be fine for some, but I would expect most buyers/users would rarely, if ever, use a helmet as probably the vast majority are bought by walkers, not climbers.

    Love the discussion and the comments. Cheers, Jules

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  27. Jules: I'm not against the idea of soft shells in principle. The idea of having a jacket that is stretchy, shower resistant, breathable and warm-ish is pretty good for spring / autumn & winter. I fell the cold quite a bit, so the idea suits me quite well.

    My biggest gripe, like you, is with the hoods - why, oh why do they have to be helmet compatible? What percentage of people who buy these jackets are going to be wearing climbing helmets?

    This, combined with the heavier material makes for a clumsy cumbersome jacket. I would like to try a softshell without a hood.

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  28. To be fair, Rab claim that the Exodus is aimed at ski tourers - who will be wearing helmets. Likewise climbers.

    I find softshells excellent, as long as you stay within their limitations. They offer fleece warmth with better wind and rain resistance at only a small hit to breathability (especially non-membrane fabrics, such as on the Exodus).

    They are excellent for 3-season use. They absolutely excel in cold, dry conditions as in deep winter. They are unbeatable for alpine climbing, and again here the hood is brilliant - over a helmet the hood will keep out wind, snow and spindrift and keep in warmth. I find they are best used as an outer layer, with an ultralight hardshell stuffed away in case conditions get really gnarly.

    Now, you are not a climber. Or a cross-country skier. I do honestly wonder about the usefulness of softshells outside of these applications - I think the old layering system of fleece and hardshell is probably better for UK conditions, especially for hillwalkers. That said, if it works for you, great!

    But the Exodus may not have been the best option for you. It has a big helmet-compatible hood because its target audience require one and it has pit-zips that are likewise requested because skinning or front-pointing uphill is really hot work. It's unfair to criticize the jacket for not fitting your expectations but it was also perhaps unfair of GO to give you this jacket, specifically, to try!

    Go try some others. There are plenty of non-hooded softshells out there (which for me, personally, are of limited use - go figure!). And there are plenty of jackets with smaller hoods too - even Rab make them, like the excellent Bergen hardshell which is squarely aimed at UK hillwalkers. You just might struggle to find a softshell with one because it's really a climber-dominated market! :)

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  29. Nice review. Can't grumble at a free jacket although can grumble at the retail price as always of RAB stuff. I have the equivalent jacket Quechua Bionnassay Softshell Jacket from Decathlon for £60 and can't fault it for anything from ice climbing to winter walking.In relation the Mark Alvarez's post it's Softshell all the way for me as often find that a slightly heavier windstopper material is a little too warm for activities.

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