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RAB Vapour-Rise Smock: REVIEWED

RAB Vapourise Smock Long-Term Test

I’m a fan of RAB gear and certainly the Vapour-Rise top is one of their greats.

For those in the know the Vapour-Rise Stretch Top has long being a stalwart of the RAB range, but never seems to receive the attention it deserves.  Almost what you would describe as a “mountain shirt” the Stretch Top has been through numerous iterations and improvements over the years, but the basic design has remained.

RAB Vapour Rise Stretch Top

RAB Vapour-Rise Stretch Top

The RAB Vapour-Rise Stretch Top is classed as a lightweight Pertex Equilibrium mid layer that doubles as a base layer in cold conditions.

RAB say “The Vapour-rise Stretch Top is a tried and tested piece and is much loved by Mountaineers, walkers, climbers and bikers as an incredibly versatile base/mid layer for year round use.”

Here we provide a long-term review and put that statement to the test.

  • Pertex® Equilibrium® outer fabric
  • Wicking micro fleece drop liner
  • Polartec® Power Stretch® Pro on side, underarm and cuff panels
  • YKK deep venting chest 2-way zip with internal storm flap
  • Chin guard
  • 1 YKK zipped chest pocket
  • Collar drawcord
  • Lycra® bound cuffs and thumb loops

Pertex® Equilibrium is the result of the extensive development work in the laboratory and field and balances high wind resistance with fast wicking and drying.

Pertex® Equilibrium applies capillary action technology conventionally used on base layer products. This means that during high aerobic activity, moisture is transported away from the skin to the outside of the fabric where it evaporates, hence creating body temperature ‘Equilibrium’.

Pertex Equalibrium

Pertex® Equilibrium has a unique ‘denier gradient’ structure. It combines two different yarns with different properties. On the inside you’ll find a yarn with larger filaments, on the outside a yarn with smaller filaments. You can actually see the different yarns when comparing the inside and outside of the fabric. Following the laws of capillary action, moisture will move from larger filaments to smaller filaments.

Pertex® Equilibrium 3-dimensionally wicks the moisture away from the body. The engine behind this process is your own body heat. On the outside the smaller filaments have a relatively high surface area which causes the excessive moisture to evaporate quickly. Through evaporative heat loss Equilibrium reduces overheating, which in return reduces excessive sweating. This process creates body temperature ‘Equilibrium’. The raised yarns on the inside of the Equilibrium fabrics create a micro-climate between the skin and fabric. This prevents the fabrics from sticking to the skin during intense activity. It also supports the moisture movement process.

 Summary of benefits…

  • Extremely breathable, fast wicking and quick drying
  • Highly wind and weather resistant
  • High durability/abrasion resistance for its weight
  • Comfortable, lightweight and packable

Full Review

When I look at my kit, the litmus test for quality and versatility is how often it gets used.  These are the items we take for granted, probably don’t look after too well but return to time and time again. A bit like turning the key in your car every morning; whatever the weather we don’t expect there to be any problems, it just works.

The Vapour-Rise Stretch Top has been around for some years now; however the design hasn’t actually changed a great deal during that time.  It’s had a few face lifts, utilises slightly different fabrics but the basic shape and features have remained.  Testament not only the top itself but also to RAB who’ve followed that well-trodden path of “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.”

I can’t remember exactly when or where I bought my RAB Vapour-Rise Stretch Top, however I’d estimate it’s provided well in excess of five years reliable service.  In fact there aren’t many applications for which it hasn’t been used (and abused), taken in its stride and come up smelling of roses.  Everything from nipping down to the shops for a pint of milk, to forming part of my layering system in the worst of weather, to keeping me warm and dry whilst mountain biking in the peak district.

That ladies and gentlemen is its true strength, genuine flexibility and performance.  I shudder to think of the spills I’ve taken whilst riding in the Stretch Top, yet aside from normal signs of wear it remains unscathed.  It’s remarkably good at shrugging off the weather too, having kept me warm and dry in all but the heaviest of downpours.  I’d suggest this is due not only to the face fabric but also the micro fleece lining which wicks moisture away from the body extremely effectively.  This seems to work best when worn directly in contact with your skin; however even with the addition of a baselayer the difference is barely perceptible.

Fit is athletic / performance or in laymen’s terms snug, which doesn’t affect comfort or mobility due to the Polartec Powerstretch panels strategically used throughout.  Indeed the fit and comfort is superb and has never been a problem, even when worn under a hardshell.  Which brings me to my next point.  On the occasions I’ve not worn the Stretch Top, layering has been a slightly more complex affair of baselayers, midlayers, maybe even a lightweight pertex top to keep the wind at bay.  Conspicuous by its absence you might say!  Certainly for higher octane activities you appear to be able to dispense with various layers and fly solo with the Stretch Top.

By now you’ll have realised that this is a tough piece of kit, however another test of its resilience is how often it’s been through the wash and never lost any of its qualities.  On the odd occasion I’ve refreshed the DWR finish but it has (I hate to admit) been mixed up with general items and even washed in normal detergent.  If it were a biscuit you’d burn your fingers dunking it before it broke off into your brew.

I could literally wax lyrical about the Vapour-Rise Stretch Top from RAB all day long, it really is that good.  Suffice to say if I lost mine or it was eaten by wolves I wouldn’t hesitate to replace it.

In Detail

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For me the smock version with the central 3/4 zip is the original and the best.  There are now several versions of the Vapour-Rise Top available, however I feel the pull-over top is the most versatile having also owned a full-zip version also.  The fit of the pull-over top is far better than it’s jacket counterpart and once it’s on I rarely take it off.  The front view reveals the two-way 3/4 zip with a (very) deep Napoleon pocket, both of which have zip tags for ease of operation, cold or gloved hands.

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The main two-way zip allows for on the move temperature control.  There’s also a storm flap underneath which help keeps the elements on the outside and warmth on the inside.  One point I’d make is this, as the bottom zip has no tag AND is hidden by a zip kennel, trying to operate it whilst on the move is very difficult and with gloves nearly impossible.  The addition of a simple tag would make venting a much simpler process.  That said, it’s not a show stopper and doesn’t detract from the overall package.

The face fabric, Pertex Equilibrium, provides great protection from the wind whilst also shrugging off light showers.  As Yoda would say, waterproof it is not, however it’s good enough for all but the worst of weather conditions and it drys remarkable quickly.  Great for high energy activities.  Another great strength is how robust the fabric is, I’ve taken some quite serious tumbles whilst wearing this top fully expecting, once I’ve dusted myself down, to find a gaping hole something.  After 5yrs of use and abuse it’s still going strong and all things considered looks great!

Again, on this example, there’s a strip of reflective piping which has all but worn away and I’ve noted on the latest incarnations this is no longer used.  It’s not a bad idea and I can’t recall now exactly when or over what period of time it started to degrade.  The fact it’s no longer there suggests to me it’s superfluous.  These days a number of manufacturers, including RAB, use reflective markings elsewhere or as part of the wording on the sleeve for example.

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Beneath the zipper lurks the microfleece lining, which in combination with the outer Pertex layer creates a formidable piece of kit.  The microfleece lining is comfortable, especially next the skin, surprising warm and wicks sweat and moisture away from the body very efficiently.  These wicking properties are what also add to it’s thermal properties.  If you’re dryer you’re warmer.  Having worn this for some serious bouts of cross-country MTB’ing I can vouch for those credentials wholeheartedly.

Another small point to highlight is that this top excels when worn next to the skin but can also be used in conjunction with a thin baselayer.  A word of warning however…  The secret to this piece of kit is that it needs to be fitted in order to work at its best.  I have found when putting it on or removing with a baselayer is a little more difficult as the microfleece lining catches.  It then requires a little reshaping once you’ve got it on and again isn’t of huge concern but it’s something you need to be aware of.  I wonder whether that’s why RAB introduced the full-zip of jacket versions to make that process easier.

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Strategically placed use of Polartech Powerstretch Pro links the Pertex sections together whilst improving comfort and breathability greatly.  On the version I own, these panels are also to be found across the shoulder blades.  The configuration of the current offerings is subtly different, however it would be safe to assume for good reason.  The stretch panels are a great innovation and can be found on many tops from numerous manufacturers.  They stop you overheating without compromising warmth and ensure that the close fitting nature of top remains comfortable and doesn’t hamper movement.

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At the rear of the jacket you’ll find a drawcord in the upper part of the collar.  You’ll notice the collar is quite high which protects the neck and is another great way of regulating your temperature.  This feels great against the skin, doesn’t chafe or cause irritation.  This quite innocuous feature is hugely important in my opinion.  You loose a huge amount of heat from your neck so synching it up on a downhill section or during a stop off whilst hiking makes a big difference.  Equally during periods of higher exertion slackening it off provides welcome  relief.

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The cuffs have thumb loops which I have to say wouldn’t be miss by me personally, however should you enjoy running I can see how that would stop the sleeves riding up as well as keep the tops of your hands a little warmer.  Being there doesn’t affect the performance of the top, it just not something that I utilise a great deal, if at all.  The cuffs themselves utilise a Lycra trim which provides a snug fit around the wrist or over gloves.

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I’m always impressed by anything that packs down into it’s own pouch.  The generous chest (or Napoleon) pocket I mention earlier doubles up as a storage pouch for the top itself.  There’s also a hanging loop for storage or attaching to a rucksack / harness.  The Pertex and Polartec fabric is highly compressible which means it isn’t going to take up acres of space in your pack or kit.  Another bonus point!

In The Field

Over the mountain and across the stream excetera…

Having spent the festive period eating  and drinking as much as is humanly possible, a cleansing ride in Peak District was in order to blow away the cobwebs as well as starting the process of winter training.  As you would expect for the time of year, weather is always a challenge and with snow on the higher ground, temperatures of -6 were forecast making kit selection critical.

The initial tracks and terrain culminating in the summit of Chinley Churn are relatively challenging so I’d opted to wear my RAB Vapour-Rise Top next to my skin without a baselayer.  In colder windy conditions this top excels, drawing that moisture away from the body on the way up and keeping you insulated on the way down.  I’ve worn this top from Autumn to early Spring thanks to it’s clever design without any issues; even colder evenings in Summer have seen it being dusted off and reporting for duty.  On this occasion it was battling against cold temperatures and biting winds.

One caveat I’d make is that you should always be prepared AND get to know how your own body reacts in certain conditions.  If you’re going out and it’s likely you’ll experience heavy downpours for hours on end, then a waterproof shell would also be called for.  Equally, if you plan to stop for periods to take on food or simply admire the view it’s worth packing additional items to ensure your core temperature doesn’t drop.  I say this not to diminish the performance of the Vapour-Rise top, but to highlight the fact putting all your eggs in one basket is not a good idea.  Weather conditions in the UK are very unpredictable, especially in the hills and mountains.  Plan for every eventuality!

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After a very quick break at the top we set off again.  I stuck with the Vapour-Rise top throughout, even after a light shower and as usual it performed admirably.  It’s so comfortable to wear and added to this the flexibility of temperature control you forget what you’re wearing or what the weather’s doing and get on with riding and avoiding falling off!  Many tops or jackets I’ve owned over the years seem to sacrifice comfort for the sake of looks perhaps.  It’s only when you wear something for a prolonged period of time you get a feel for how it really performs.  Having worn this top literally all day on many an occasion I can hand on heart say it doesn’t disappoint even when wearing a rucksack.

It’s not the most compressible of items and at just shy of 500g not the lightest either.  Thanks to it’s performance, flexibility and comfort it could weigh half that amount.  I’ve used this jacket for cycling, hiking, climbing, even travel and it’s superb.  Whether you’re just milling around town or even in the pub after a day on the hills, thanks to it’s subtle design you don’t look like a wannabee hero but are smug in the knowledge you made a sound investment.  At less than £90 (and considerably less than that if you look hard enough) it won’t break the bank but provides a great return.

Pros

  • Excellent quality and construction
  • Tough and robust
  • All day comfort with flexible temperature control
  • True multipurpose top
  • Great value for money

Cons

  • Works and feels better next to the skin
  • Compressible but not exactly the size of an orange
  • Not the lightest of tops
  • The two way zip is a little fiddle, especially with cold or gloved hands

I really do love this top and use it a great deal.  It’s repaid a modest outlay with years of reliable service and is still going strong as we speak.  It doesn’t require tender or specialist aftercare and always performs superbly.  I’m a fan of RAB gear and certainly the Vapour-Rise top is one of their greats.  You don’t tend to see them in a lot of the outdoor clothing shops which is a great pity.  I sincerely hope they don’t stop making them and if you’re in the market for something along these lines I’d wholehearted endorse it as a great addition to anyone’s wardrobe, especially mine!

  • Sizing : Available is S – XXL
  • Weight: Average weight equates to 430g (Large)
  • Colour: Available in Black, Mars Red and Vivid Blue
  • Price: RRP £100, however it easy to source one at around the £80 mark

 

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