The Big Test: Fleece jackets reviewed (2019)

For decades the mainstay of a hillwalker’s wardrobe has been the humble fleece jacket, so we’ve selected six to see how they perform in the mountains.

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The runners up


Berghaus Spectrum Micro FZ 2.0 £55

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Material Micro fleece (100% polyester inc 50% recycled material)

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-18

  • Weight 372g (size L) 

The Spectrum Micro FZ 2.0 is part of Berghaus’s Made Kind commitment, so it uses 50% recycled content in the fleece. It’s a soft fleece, and it allows a little more airflow than some, as well as good insulation for summer. Combined with other insulating layers it works well in winter too. 

There is a full-length zip, and you also get two map-sized pockets that are accessible above a rucksack belt. Flatlocked seams help to improve overall comfort. 

The hem and cuffs are elasticated without additional adjustment. On me both areas had a poor fit, so I’d have benefited from drawcords at the hem and Velcro cuff adjusters to prevent unwanted draughts around the waist and wrists. There is no zip housing at the top either. But at this price it is great for general walking.   

Pros

Price, weight, pockets, insulation, easily worn with other layers such as fleeces or waterproofs

Cons

No hem or cuff adjustment and these two areas did not fit me well enough, no zip housing on the main zip, higher-priced fleeces have harder face fabric for even less pilling 

Buy it if

You want a low-priced hillwalking fleece with good pockets and find the fit acceptable


Rab Nucleus Jacket £60

Tester: Anna Humphries

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  • Material Thermic Stretch mid-weight fleece with oval grid back (92% polyester 8% elastane)

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Weight 312g (size 12)

This mid-weight fleece material allows for good airflow but it also resists the wind a little. It’s nice and stretchy too, so is great for scrambling over rocks. 

There is a full-length zip to allow ventilation and two zipped pockets that are large enough to take OS maps. The pockets are placed slightly higher on the body than some other designs, so you can access them more easily while wearing a rucksack with a hipbelt. It has a reasonably good general fit too. 

But unfortunately this Rab fleece lacks some ‘nice to have’ details. There are no drawcords on the hem or cuffs, with only elastication helping the fit in both areas. There is no hood either, and the fleece is not quite warm enough to wear on its own in winter. 

It works well with an additional fleece layer on the top though, so makes a great year-round option to wear with other layers. 

Pros

Price, weight, pockets, general features, insulation, stretchy fit, easily worn with other layers 

Cons

Not the warmest so in winter an additional warm layer is needed, no hem or cuff adjustment 

Buy it if

You want a good hillwalking fleece or your budget is limited but you still want good pockets and good general performance


Haglöfs Heron Jacket £110

Tester: Jon Bennett

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  • Material Pontetorto Techno Stretch fleece (93% recycled polyester, 7% elastane)

  • Men’s XS-XXL

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Weight 342g (size M) 

This is the non-hooded version of the popular Heron Hood Jacket (£120) that won a Trail Approved award in March 2018. It uses the same 4-way fabric and is made from recycled materials so is good for the planet. 

The seams are well-placed and have a flatlock design to improve comfort. Although the Heron is not windproof it is noticeably more wind-resistant than some other fleeces. The two zipped hand pockets are accessible when wearing a rucksack. The full-length front zip has a baffle to prevent snagging and housing at the neck to prevent chafing.  

Something I don’t need but others may miss is a drawcord at the hem. The fabric has a good abrasion-resistant finish on the outside, while inside it is fluffier to add warmth. However, it is quite a lightweight fleece, so is more suited to summer or for layering in colder conditions. 

Pros

Price, weight, pockets, recycled material, insulation level and slightly more wind-resistant, stretchy fit, easily worn with layers 

Cons

Not warm enough for cold days so extra layers will be required, no chest pocket and no drawcord on the hem so check fit to prevent draughts 

Buy it if

You want an excellent fleece jacket, as a non-hooded or hooded design, when active and as part of a layering system on the coldest days 



The Top Three


Mountain Equipment Diablo £90

Tester: Graham Thompson

The Diablo provides all the basic needs of a hillwalker, so is there any reason to pay more?

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  • Material Polartec Thermal Pro (100% polyester)

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 347g (size L)

It’s good

I’ve been wearing this fleece regularly for a year and it has proved its worth. It is made from a good fleece material that offers warmth for year-round use, although in winter I need an extra fleece layer under it to take off the chill. 

It is very breathable, so it also works well under a waterproof jacket without allowing condensation to build too easily. The two main pockets both take an OS map and can be accessed above rucksack hipbelts. The addition of a hood means I don’t need to find a hat when the temperature drops for short periods, and of course a hood cannot be dropped or blow away. 

The zip housing at the top of the main zip prevents scratches on my neck, while flatlocked seams also add a little more comfort. 

Overall I am happy with this fleece for hillwalking and trekking, and it’s also a good price for what you get compared to others.

However

While I like it and have worn it regularly over the last 12 months, including six weeks walking the Camino de Santiago (pilgrims’ way in Spain), the hem on this fleece is quite loose on me. I need the size L for body length, so I wished there was a drawcord I could cinch in to lock out draughts. 

The cuffs too are not as tight as I’d like for battling through wild weather. The hood would also be even better if it fitted just a little closer. But these are tiny niggles and will depend on your body shape… I am just quite skinny! 

There is no third chest pocket either, something I like for a GPS receiver, guidebook or map, so the main pockets can be used just for handwarming. Durability has not been an issue, but the higher-priced materials are undoubtedly more durable.

Verdict

A great all-round fleece for trekking and hillwalking if you want to control your budget limits, and don’t need the extra benefits that come with paying more.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 4/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 88%

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Montane Iridium Hoodie £120 / Hybrid Hoodie £100

Tester: John Bennett

The Iridium offers durability and a third chest pocket, but do you really need those features?

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  • Material Pontetorto Technostretch (88% polyester, 12% elastane)

  • Men’s S-XXL (Iridium Hoodie)

  • Women’s 8-16 (Iridium Hybrid Hoodie)

  • Weight 380g (size M) 

It’s good

The Iridium Hoodie is made from Pontetorto Technostretch fleece, and has an external ceramic print to enhance durability, while the lower-priced Hybrid Hoodie (for women) doesn’t use this fabric throughout, instead having a light stretch fleece on the sides. 

The Iridium is a very comfortable jacket to wear, with a fluffy inner and flatlocked seams. The stretchable hood moved well with my head, even though there is no drawcord to make further adjustments. 

There is a useful third GPS device-sized chest pocket, and both zipped hand pockets are sited high enough to be easily accessible while wearing a rucksack. 

The full-length zip has a baffle on the inside to prevent both cold spots and snagging, and there’s also a zip housing at the top to prevent chafing around the neck. 

In terms of warmth, the Iridium is ideal for general hillwalking, and can be worn with other insulating layers in winter, as I did when I wore two fleeces at once on our chilly photoshoot. 

However

Women only get the option of the Hybrid version of this jacket, which doesn’t benefit from the same amount of Pontetorto Technostretch fabric. Also, while the four-way stretch material fitted me well, there’s no option for adjustments as no drawcords are provided at the hem or the hood, and the cuffs only get elastication, so you need to check it fits your body shape. It also costs a little extra and weighs a bit more than other jackets on test.

Verdict

An excellent, well-designed, comfortable, mid-weight stretchable fleece with a useful chest pocket and hood for use when active on cooler days.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%

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Arc’teryx Kyanite £150

Tester: Anna Humphries

Does the higher price tag make the Kyanite the perfect option for the hillwalker?

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  • Material Polartec Power Stretch Pro (53% polyester, 38% nylon, 9% elastane)

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Men’s XS-XXL

  • Weight 355g (size M)

It’s good

The Kyanite is made from Polartec Power Stretch Pro, a well-proven fabric that has a more elastic and body-hugging feel than others. It also feels really tough thanks to its tight durable outer face, as well as all that nylon, which other fleeces just don’t have. This benefit makes it better for mountaineering and harder use than some other fleeces. 

On the inside it is fluffier, and overall it feels slightly warmer and more windproof than the others here, making it ideal for year-round use; but it is also breathable enough to wear under a waterproof without becoming clammy. I was also able to wear it over the other fleece I was using on this photoshoot and together they were ideal for the cold winter day we experienced. 

The two good-sized pockets can be easily accessed while wearing a rucksack, and the hood is stretchy and fitted well. The hem and cuffs are elasticated and also fitted me fine. 

The Kyanite comes in fantastic colours, rather than just the usual pinks and purples for women! 

However

With only elastication to manage the fit of the hood, hem and cuffs, it’s worth making sure this jacket fits as it cannot be adjusted to lock out draughts. Also there is no third chest pocket on the outside, only an internal valuables pocket. 

The price is probably the biggest challenge here, and it is certainly one to make you think when you compare it with others. The most likely cause of the price hike is the use of Polartec Power Stretch Pro, as adding nylon to the polyester will crank up the price, and also the fabric is far more stretchy too. So you need to decide if this fabric is worth the extra cash. Certainly for regular hill use, I love this jacket more than the others – but the price does make me wince!

Verdict

A durable fleece that is very stretchy and body-hugging, making it ideal for regular users, particularly while mountaineering or scrambling, but the price does chill the dream a little.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 3/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%


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5 Of The Best... Soft Shell jackets Reviewed (2018)

Soft shell jackets provide more wind- and water-resistance than fleece, as well as more breathability and comfort than a waterproof ‘hard shell’ jacket. This makes them ideal for windy and misty mountaintop use...


DESIGN

Soft shell jackets are designed to be more comfortable than waterproof jackets, so they tend to be short and made from softer, more comfortable fabrics that are stretchy and more durable than many waterproof fabrics. Good movement in the sleeves will ensure the cuffs don’t ride up your arms when scrambling or even climbing over stiles.

HOOD

The hood should fit snugly, but it should also move with your head so you can see where you are going. The hooded peak may become bent when the jacket is stashed in a rucksack, so look for a wired peak that can be easily reshaped to allow good vision. Many models featured here are also available in non-hooded versions with a small price reduction.

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VENTILATION

Even the best breathable fabrics allow condensation to form, so it is important that you can increase ventilation of the jacket. A front zip can be used for venting, as can underarm zips (also called pit zips) while mesh linings in pockets can increase air flow. Side zips and more breathable panels on the sides are also used to increase breathability.

INSULATION

Some soft shell jackets have a polyester pile or fleece finish on the inside for extra warmth and comfort. Others do not have this, so they won’t be so warm. However, you can of course wear them all over other thinner insulating layers, such as a fleece or thick base layer. If you want a soft shell just for colder conditions, then an insulated one is ideal. If you want a year-round soft shell, then a less well-insulated design that can be worn over other layers will be ideal.

MATERIAL

It’s all about the material with soft shell jackets. Some materials have a more wind- and water-resistant membrane sandwiched between the inner and outer layer of the fabric, but this will be less breathable than an open weave construction, which in turn won’t be as wind- or water- resistant. You need to balance the pros and cons of the material against your needs.

POCKETS

Big pockets are great for storing maps, guidebooks and gloves, but they can also be used to protect your hands from wind and light rain. Rucksack belts obscure access to some pockets, so make sure they are well positioned to avoid this problem.


Berghaus Ghlas £100

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  • Material Polyester

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s n/a 

  • Weight 524g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The Ghlas is a non-hooded design that uses Bluesign environmentally-approved fabric. The main fabric has a tightly woven outer to resist abrasion, wind and moisture while the front and rear sections of the inside have a more open weave for warmth and comfort. Also there are three pockets, two of which take maps easily while the third is okay for a compass, phone or GPS receiver. The cuffs have Velcro adjustment, which many jackets lack, and the sleeve movement is superb without the hem or cuffs riding up. The price is great for what you get.

HOWEVER

Get it on and this jacket feels a little stiffer than others, as the fabric is not as light or as stretchy as it could be. The polyester material means it won’t be as durable as those using nylon, although this probably only effects very hard users, mountaineers or those wearing harnesses regularly. The main drawback for the walker is that the main pockets are quite low, so access to them is easily obscured by a rucksack hipbelt. Also it’s quite a heavy jacket, particularly considering it does not include a hood. There’s no women’s option available either. So lots of drawbacks to weigh up.

VERDICT

Relatively low-priced soft shell jacket that is good for walkers needing to fend off wind and soaking mist.

  • Features 3/5

  • Weatherproof 4/5

  • Breathability 5/5

  • In use 3/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 80%


Mountain Equipment Echo Hooded £120

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  • Material Exolite 125 stretch double weave (nylon)

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 327g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The price and weight is more attractive than some others on test, and for that you get a nylon weave fabric that is more durable and more wind- and water-resistant than a polyester fleece jacket. It is also more durable and more stretchy than a standard windshirt. Once on there is not much insulation provided, but even with its snug fit you can still easily wear it over insulating layers. The two main pockets are great, and there is a third smaller chest pocket for a GPS receiver, phone or compass. The hood and cuffs are elasticated and while not perfect, they are acceptable on the hill.

HOWEVER

As there is no adjustment in the cuffs and hood apart from elastication, they either fit or they don’t – so it’s worth trying before buying. The hood does not turn with my head as well as the higher- priced jackets, nor does it hug my head close enough. This is not as warm as higher-priced jackets, and it does have a slightly close fit, so while it can be worn over other layers for warmth, again it is worth trying before buying to make sure it fits over your layers.

VERDICT

Stretchy, durable and wind- and water-resistant with good features for mild weather – but the fit’s not ideal and it’s not the warmest.

  • Features 4/5

  • Weatherproof 4/5

  • Breathability 4/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 80%


Haglofs Boa Hood £140

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  • Material FlexAble stretch double weave (nylon face, polyester fleece back) 

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Weight 517g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The fabric used in this jacket is very stretchy, and its nylon content increases durability and weather- resistance, while the polyester on the inside adds warmth and comfort. It’s also Bluesign-approved for its environmental credentials. Overall this is a good level of protection for autumnal windy and misty mountains. The two main pockets are easily accessed while wearing a pack. There is a hem drawcord, but the cuffs and hood are only elasticated. The hood fits me okay though, and moves well with my head. The weight and price tag both make this jacket a little more attractive than those with more features.

HOWEVER

Others are warmer for the depths of winter, but you could wear extra insulation underneath. The hood and cuffs fitted me okay, but those with more adjustment will potentially fit closer. The two pockets you get are good, but other jackets offer a third smaller pocket that some may find useful. You can spend less and get a lighter jacket too. But the Boa Hood offers more than the lower-priced and lighter jackets, and for damp and windy mountain use is really good.

VERDICT

Very good combination of features for damp, windy conditions, but both hood and cuff adjustment is limited.

  • Features 4/5

  • Weatherproof 4/5

  • Breathability 4/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%


Rab Salvo £145

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  • Material Matrix AP 2-layer stretch (nylon face, polyester fleece back)

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 631g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The rough nylon outer of this jacket makes it ideal for rubbing up against crags on a scramble. It doesn’t soak up water too easily either, making it great for misty mountain tops. The polyester fleece lining has a grid pattern, so it is warm and would be ideal in winter. The hood has face and rear drawcord adjustment, as well as a wired peak, which results in the hood fitting and moving exceptionally well. The three pockets are perfectly accessible above a rucksack belt, and you get Velcro cuff adjustment and a drawcord on the hem.

HOWEVER

This is a heavier and more bulky option, so is best worn rather than stowed in a rucksack. It is warm, but for milder conditions it will actually be toowarm, so while great in colder conditions such as snow, for warmer damp scrambles a lighter and less warm jacket would be better. This is not the absolute best for keeping out the wind and rain, which may or may not be a drawback. Consider your needs before splashing out, as the price tag of this jacket is above that of many others.

VERDICT

Ideal cold weather soft shell jacket, but could be too warm for milder damp conditions. The weight and price tag are drawbacks too.

  • Features 5/5

  • Weatherproof 4/5

  • Breathability 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%


Mammut Ultimate V SO Hooded £219

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  • Material 3-layer stretch Gore Windstopper

  • Men’s S-XXXL

  • Women’s XXS-XL

  • Weight 452g (size L)

IT'S GOOD

The stretchy, premium Gore Windstopper fabric provides maximum wind- and water-resistance, while the inner open 3D-structured polyester backer improves comfort on the inside. The material is far softer and more supple than lower-priced jackets, so this is very comfortable when worn. Zipped side vents are provided for ventilation too. The hood has face drawcords, and fits and moves with the head pretty well. The pockets are particularly good, being large and easily accessible while wearing a rucksack. Overall, this is a great soft shell for mixed weather conditions.

HOWEVER

The cuffs are elasticated but there is no other adjustment, while the hood doesn’t get a rear volume adjuster and its peak is not stiffened. The two main pockets are OS map-sized, but some jackets have slightly larger pockets that are placed a little higher for even better access. This is not as warm as some others, but you can wear it over an insulating layer. Some may prefer other jackets for extremely cold conditions. The main drawback here is that challenging price tag though.

VERDICT

Ideal general mountain soft shell jacket, but its hood would benefit from a little more adjustment to justify the price tag.

  • Features 5/5

  • Weatherproof 5/5

  • Breathability 3/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 3/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%


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Rab Summit

The Summit is in a league above most other duvet jackets. It packs 250g of down insulation into a box wall construction for ultimate efficiency, minimal cold spots and oodles of insulation. In short if you feel the cold, go for this as it is warm as it gets. There is also a detachable down hood to make this a more versatile garment. There are two external pockets, two internal pockets and you get a stuffsack, features that are common among most jackets. The shoulders, sleeves and waist are also reinforced for hard use. If you want a little extra warmth and superb practical features this is the best down jacket we’ve seen. Ideal for regularly winter campers, Alpine use and those who feel the cold a little more. Considering what you get, the price is okay. But at 980g this is a heavy option (that said, it is warmer than most and better featured too with a hood and reinforcement). All that extra warmth may be too much unless you’re heading for the coldest corners of the British mountains or you simply feel the cold a great deal. The higher price tag and weight are also drawbacks unless you really need the higher level of performance.

 

Outer: Pertex Endurance
Inner: Pertex
Insulation: 250g of 660 fill power goose down
Sizes: S-XXL (men’s); 8-16 (women’s)
Weight: 980g (men’s size L)
Made in China
Stores in UK: England 56; Wales 12; Scotland 14; Ireland 2

Verdict: Buy it if you want real warmth and performance for regular cold winter mountain use, rather than a lighter-weight and therefore less warm option.


Rab Ghost

This fleece mid layer makes use of Polartec Wind Pro stretch fabric, which has a little more wind resistance than more open-knit fabrics, so you don’t have to don a windproof quite as often. It also feels a little more durable and a little warmer than some other mid layers. Yet it is still very breathable, making it ideal for use under other tops. Powerstretch side panels provide a closer fit without restricting movement and this makes it feel ideal for mountaineering and scrambling. You get a useful chest pocket and two map-sized hip pockets. The fabric is what sets this apart. But the main pocket access is easily obscured with rucksack belts, which is a major drawback of this jacket. A collar and hem drawcord would be a good addition. There is no hood either, but that is not unusual. It is also not a very lightweight option.

 

Fabric: Polartec Wind Pro Stretch, Polartec Powerstretch
Sizes: S-XXL
Weight: 562g (size L)
Made in Poland
UK stores: England 26; Wales 3; Scotland 2; Ireland 0
 

Verdict: Buy it if you want a slightly closer-fitting, warm and slightly more wind-resistant mid layer as this is great except for the pockets.


Rab Belay Jacket

This insulated jacket is filled with Primaloft Sport, the currently popular fast-drying, lightweight and efficient synthetic insulator. A water-resistant Pertex Endurance outer fends off the damp. Weighing in at just 642g (including a16g stuffsack) for a size large, this is the sort of garment that you won’t mind carrying from autumn through winter and into spring, which is essential as to be honest these garments spend most of their lives packed in your rucksack. But when they are needed you want them to perform well. The Belay Jacket gets two chest and two above-the-hip map-sized zipped pockets plus an internal mesh pocket. This means you can wear it on the hill, with places to store gloves, compass and food bars, and have access too. You can also access all those pockets even when wearing your rucksack, a rare feature among insulated jackets. There is a hood too , which also of course means there are no cold draughts around the neck. The hood gets a volume adjuster for a great fit, and it even gets a wired peak, which is probably overkill to be honest. Better still, the hood can be neatly rolled to the collar. The cuffs are elasticated and fit quite well, while a hem drawcord prevents draughts from getting inside the jacket. All that performance is yours for only £130 – which is excellent value. But there is no cuff adjustment other than elastication, so make sure those cuffs fit reasonably snugly before relying on them to keep draughts out. There is no adjustment at the collar either, so again you need to make sure that this area fits closely to prevent draughts down the neck. Like most similar garments there are no reinforced areas, so don’t expect to be able to brush this against rocks and ropes too aggressively without it tearing. Not everyone will want a hood, even one rolled into the collar, and as you cannot zip it off this may be enough to deter a purchase. The hood’s wired peak and movement are not ideal, and the jacket is also a notch heavier than some, so if weight is your priority then this won’t be the best for you. Finally – shamefully – it doesn’t come  in a women‘s fit.

 

Outer: Pertex Endurance
Inner: Pertex
Insulation: 133g Primaloft Sport (body); 100g Primaloft Sport (sleeves); 60g Primaloft Sport (hood)
Colours: black
Sizes: S-XXL
Weight: 642g inc16g stuffsack (size L)
Made in China
Stores in UK: England 32; Wales 4; Scotland 7: Ireland 0

Verdict: Buy it if you want a hooded insulating layer with great pockets and reasonable warmth.


Rab Vapour Rise Smock

This soft shell weighs 574g; exceptionally breathable fabric; micro wicking lining adds comfort and insulation; good water repellency; rollaway hood; excellent sleeve movement; map-sized chest pocket; elasticated and Velcro cuffs. But waist pocket easily obstructed; not as durable or water-resistant as others; no stretch.

Verdict: Buy it if you want a mid layer that is more windproof than a fleece, rather than a water-resistant and durable soft shell 


Rab Vapour-Rise

This soft shell jacket from Rab is a good fit, with plenty of adjustment at the cuffs and hem, and has a rustle-free hood that is a delight to wear. The soft Pertex outer and fleecy pile lining make a very comfortable combination. Beyond criticism in cooler, nastier conditions, and would win a winter test hands down. But it’s a little warm, heavy and bulky for year-round use.

Verdict: The Vapour-Rise is windproof, shower resistant and incredibly breathable, and is a fantastic jacket for winter or higher altitude walking. A little too warm for summer though.

Colours: Blue, dark shark and petrol

Sizes: S-XXL

Fabric: Pertex Equilibrium with DWR outer/micro pile inner

Weight: 630g

Women’s version: Yes

Contact: 01773 601870; www.rab.uk.com