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.