RAB Microlight Alpine Jacket Review
RAB have an excellent heritage where insulated jackets are concerned and the Microlight Alpine Jacket is no exception. It’s a highly specified but functional insulation layer and all the better for it in my opinion.
Over the years the sale of insulated or down jackets has increased exponentially, which is perhaps in part due to outsourcing of manufacture and the subsequent reduction of cost to you and me.
I can remember a time whereby these specialist items were a) hard to source and b) hugely expensive. The juxtaposition now being they’re extremely fashionable and as such you’re as likely to see them on the high street, if not more so, as you are in the mountains. Consequently demand equates to a relatively expensive investment.
Choice and application is equally bewildering, with all manner of fills, weights, outer face fabrics, vests and more commonly now Hydrophobic down!
So, where to start…
The Microlight Alpine Jacket is a very lightweight jacket which uses narrow channels filled with down all wrapped up in a weather resistant outer Pertex fabric. Utilising 750 fill Hydrophobic European goose down (phew!) provides an excellent weight to warmth ratio.
It’s a quite fitted jacket with few features which actually works in its favour as it’s ideal for layering, packable and as we’ve already learnt light.
- 140g 750 fill power Hydrophobic European goose down (Large)
- Mini stitch-through baffle construction
- Down-filled hood with wired peak
- YKK front zip with internal insulated zip baffle and chin guard
- 2 YKK zipped hand warmer pockets
- 1 YKK zipped chest pocket, doubles as integrated stuff sack
- Lycra® bound cuffs
- Hem drawcord
- Fit: Slim
Microlight is well balanced and offers weight reduction whilst maintaining good strength and abrasion resistance.
- Composition – 100% Polyamide (Nylon)
- Weight – < 60g/m2
- Air permeability – 1.0cc (max)
- Warp: 30d
- Weft: 30d
- DWR/Spray: 80/20
- HH: n/a
- Air Perm: 1cc
- Weight: 50g/m²
- Composition: 100% nylon 6
- Warp: 20d
- Weft: 20d
- DWR/Spray: calendered
- HH: n/a
- Air Perm: 2CFM
- Weight: 35g/m²
- Composition: 100% nylon ripstop
Summary of benefits…
If you’re a year round walker or even enjoy a spot of wild camping you’ll have no doubt encountered the challenge of remaining warm without having to carry a heavy pack full of “Just in case” items. Indeed, being warm and dry can be the difference between an enjoyable trip and actually putting your safety at risk.
If you’re going to be walking or climbing in cold weather, especially during the winter months, you need to think in terms of climate from your start point all the way up to the summit and everything in between. This is when layering and kit flexibility is of the utmost importance.
So where does the Microlight Alpine jacket from RAB fit into all of this? Well, it’s essentially a very lightweight, hooded insulation layer with built in weather resistance. The face fabric will also act as a windproof thereby improving your core temperature immensely. The jacket is fitted, light and possesses an excellent weight to warmth ratio; benefiting from the 750 fill power European down.
On the down fill scale, anything from 750 – 750+ is considered to be very good to excellent, therefore note this is a serious piece of kit, offering excellent insulation and weather resistant qualities. Down still remains unrivalled in terms of warmth however it’s always lost out to synthetic equivalents which, unlike down, provide some warmth when wet.
Down also compresses to such an extent the difference between jacket volume and stuff sack is huge. So much so, there’s little reason not to carry one of these things in your pack. Add to that the new guard of Hydrophobic down jackets; they’re fast becoming a much more flexible option for damp conditions.
Following on from that point, for me the main benefit would be its ability to operate in spindrift, light rain or indeed the ongoing battle against condensation when wearing a hardshell over the top.
Whilst the Pertex fabric is durable, it is the lighter version without any reinforcement in obvious areas. Therefore, don’t expect this jacket to stand-up to every knock and bang without some fallout. That said, I do regularly wear feather light Pertex wind shirts that have surprised me with just how durable they are.
The RAB Microlight Alpine jacket is an excellent piece of kit that’s likely to get regular use from most people. The fit is superb and the addition of a helmet compatible hood and hand warmer pockets a great bonus. It isn’t a hugely feature rich item, however it has all the elements you’d expect or could possible want.
For me, the basic design is a plus as in its default form it works without any faffing around. It’s also lighter and more compressible as a result, so smiles all round! In terms of fit, it doesn’t feel cumbersome when worn, is exceptionally comfortable benefiting from the horizontal down filled baffles and overall won’t overwhelm the wearer. The baffles ensure the down is spread evenly, doesn’t shift greatly and provides great overall warmth.
I do own much heavier weight down jackets which don’t get an outing quite as often as this one. All of my shell jackets fit over the top of the Microlight Alpine jacket again making it a firm favourite of mine. This is a very important point to consider if you’re buying a down jacket for the express purpose of layering. It has to fit over your base / mid-layers and subsequently your shell has to be sized accordingly to fit over the top of it.
I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I don’t also use this day-to-day in colder weather. What I like about it is the fact I can wear just a t-shirt underneath and still feel warm and cosy without overheating or having trouble moving around due to volume.
It’s a fantastic jacket and something that is well worth the investment if you find yourself out and about during the colder months.
RAB have a great pedigree when it comes to down jackets and insulation layers in general; frequently copied but never outgunned. The Microlight Alpine jacket is no exception, it’s a fast and light functional down jacket which you can put on and forget about. Something akin to a down fleece in effect. I’d class the Microlight Jacket as 3-Season, however I have personally worn this in some pretty cold (well below zero) conditions throughout winter without a problem. Obviously this isn’t aimed at the extreme end of the market, RAB have numerous offerings to cover that neck of the woods, but it will easily cope in most conditions.
Let’s go over its main points in a little more detail…
The first thing you notice with the Microlight Alpine jacket are the horizontal baffles which contain the 750 fill power European (Hydrophobic) down. It’s quite a striking design which looks great as well as providing a very tangible benefit; namely it concentrates the lofting abilities of the down thereby maximising warmth. If you have down pillows you’ll go through the ritual of plumping them up everyday day when you make your bed. Similarly you’ll also notice that down duvets have segmented sections to improve warmth and loft. There is a tendency with down to ‘creep’ leaving areas unprotected which is addressed by creating smaller sections or pockets.
Now is probably a good point to talk about the down or fill itself. European down is considered to be amongst the best in terms of its quality and properties. Down does not mean feathers, as feathers are not as light nor do they provide anywhere near the same level of insulation. The down itself is actually harvested as a moulted product as opposed to being physically removed. So yes, there are thousands of little pixies that pick it all up by hand before it’s sprinkled with magic dust; a time consuming and expensive process!
Hydrophobic down is pre-treated and reputedly increases loft or fill power capabilities. As a result you have a down which is far more resistant to moisture, meaning it’ll provide warmth and protection beyond ‘normal’ down and in fact dries much quicker too.
Back at the ranch, when you actually try the jacket on you immediately noticed how light and comfortable it is, as well as being phenomenally warm for its size and weight. It has a full-length main zip (YKK) as well as a zipped Napoleon pocket and zipped hand warmer pockets.
The hand warmer pockets themselves are ideally placed and have an easy grab tag, as does the main zipper, if you’re wearing gloves as well as a zip kennel to prevent the zip mechanism from being clogged with snow or ice.
The cuffs are elasticated and provide a snug fit, keeping out the elements and ensuring no heat leaches out. They are also great in that that accommodate gloves without having to worry about synching up tabs.
Maintaining the minimalist approach, the hood has an in-built volume adjustment in the form an elasticated section as the rear. This actually works very well and the hood itself it very comfortable. Again you’ll notice the down fill and baffles run up into the hood so it’s extremely snug when in use.
Inside of the hood there are drawcords to adjust the hood around your face depending upon how extreme the conditions are. I don’t find these that easy to use or adjust whilst on the move, especially when you’re wearing gloves; it’s a good idea to have these set to the position you find most comfortable, rather than worry about changing them en route. Drawcords can also be found in the hem should you want to regulate body temperature or prevent the jacket riding up when wear a pack.
The wired peak is a nice feature but for me not an essential one, however hats off to RAB for providing a very functional hood rather than a passing fancy.
The Napoleon pocket, as with many of RAB’s line-up, doubles as a stuff sac including a hanging loop. It’s remarkable just how small these things will compress down.
In The Field
We’ve already explored all finer points the RAB Microlight Alpine Jacket has to offer, so let’s examine how those can be applied in the real world.
I tend to wear in Alpine Jacket in three main scenarios, the first and most obvious being as a day-to-day Jacket. I don’t like feeling overly warm and like to either add / remove layers based upon what the weather’s doing at the time and indeed whether I’m sedentary or on the move. The Alpine Jacket excels in all these situations, day-to-day it’s a really versatile piece of clothing. I find I don’t overheat and can get away with just wearing a short sleeved shirt / t-shirt underneath without feeling the cold. The addition of a hood makes it that bit more versatile it the temperature really plummets or if you stationary for any period of time. The hand warmer pockets are great for the obvious role of keeping your hands warm, but also for keys, gloves, change or whatever you may need to carry. The fact they’re zipped (not forgetting the easy use grab tag) adds an extra level of security and stops the jacket billowing and remaining form fitting.
I personally am a fan of Napoleon pockets as I feel they’re much more secure for things like a GPS, compass, wallet or cash and you don’t have to unzip the jacket to access any internal pockets. Hand held devices are easily accessible and somewhat protected between the down and your body.
As the outer face fabric is water resistant it’ll withstand the odd shower without any issues as well as being able to dry very rapidly; Pertex does a great job of distributing sweat and moisture over a wider surface area, via capillary action, thereby accelerating the drying process . In cold, damp and windy weather it’s great and something I wear often.
Secondly and probably the main application for me is as an insulating layer for cold winter climbs and walks. At this it’s truly great being immensely warm for its weight equating to fewer layers and less pack weight. I can recall a particular day back in January during a regular outing in The Glyders, as some of you may know is test laboratory for WalkHikeClimb, when the weather was particularly grim. Even in the car park it felt very cold and damp made worse by a biting wind.
Not wanting to start off cold I decided to wear the Alpine Jacket from the get-go. Even wearing a rucksack the Microlight Alpine Jacket feels comfortable and it performs well; it does have an alpine cut, shorter at the front with a slight scalloped tail which just about covers your backside; just. This never causes a problem for me in terms of riding up especially as the newer versions have hem draw cords.
Even in colder weather when working hard the jacket can start to feel warm, but a quick adjustment of the main zip or even releasing the hem cord allows air to flow more freely without compromising core warmth.
The higher we climbed the colder it became and indeed wetter with the driving wind and rain. This is where the layering abilities come into play; the addition of a shell creates another barrier against the elements increasing the insulating properties of the Alpine Jacket. If the weather takes turn for the worst I like to be in a position to quickly add a layer, before you get too wet or too cold without having to mess around in your pack. Within a few seconds you’ve added the necessary protection to keep you moving with the minimum of fuss. Thanks to its minimal pack size and volume you don’t have to buy a tent like shell, however it’s worthwhile verifying everything fits comfortably before parting with your cash.
The third of the main applications is keeping warm at a basecamp, especially if you’re traveling light. Again, as the Alpine Light packs down so small and won’t take up valuable space in your pack it’s flexibility means you’ll reap the rewards by carrying less anyway.
The Microlight Alpine Jacket from RAB is an excellent insulation layer offering good flexibility across and number of applications and conditions. All in all a great buy and unless you find yourself in truly extreme conditions a better option for most people.
- High quality 750 fill power Hydrophobic European goose down
- Baffle construction reduces creep and maintains insulation, even in the hood
- Down-filled hood with wired peak
- Weather resistant Pertex outer offering good abrasion resistance
- YKK Zips throughout
- Integrated stuff sac
- Tiny pack size
- Good control over temperature thanks to full zip and hem drawcord
- It isn’t cheap but that’s offset by its flexibility
- Down jackets are the easiest of garments to care for in terms of washing / drying
- Down when saturated doesn’t provide good insulation, although with the addition of Hydrophobic down this can be managed
- Not the most feature rich of jackets
RAB have an excellent heritage where insulated jackets are concerned and the Microlight Jacket is no exception. It’s a highly specified but functional insulation layer and all the better for it in my opinion.
- Sizes available in XS – XXL
- Colours now available in Mars Red, Storm and Tempest
- Average weight equates to 445g in a large
- RRP £175