Why is Rab so expensive? One of Britain’s best-loved outdoor brands is a global success, with a reputation for quality gear that’s at home in the mountains. From humble beginnings in the attic of a terraced house in Sheffield, in England’s hilly north, Rab has grown exponentially, giving outdoor lovers "kit that lasts".
It’s a brand that cares about high standards and the environmental impact of its kit, as well as its people and suppliers. Rab is attempting to "drive meaningful" change in the industry, ensuring its garments are responsibly manufactured by workers who get a fair deal. Its clothing contains a high percentage of recycled materials and Rab are on a mission to eradicate the use of harmful fluorocarbons. While this should all be applauded, it comes at a cost to you, the consumer.
Nevertheless, when you don a waterproof jacket crafted by Rab, you can wear it in the knowledge that no corners have been cut both from a quality and environmental standpoint. In the same way as with other industry leaders, like Patagonia, Rab represents a responsible choice.
Speaking of Patagonia, a place that had a hand in Rab’s story, let’s delve into the origins of the brand, before going into more detail about why Rab is so expensive.
Meet the expert
Alex is a qualified Mountain Leader and the President of the London Mountaineering Club. As one of our gear experts, he's well aware of the importance of quality and sustainability. He's an advocate of the idea that the best hiking gear is what you already own and applauds Rab’s Second Stitch initiative (more on this later) and its ethos of creating “honest, hard-working pieces that you’d rather repair than replace".
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- Rab was founded by mountaineer Rab Carrington in 1981
- Carrington was one of the great British mountaineers of the 1970s
- He gained sleeping bag expertise while working in Argentina in 1973
- In the 2000s, Rab was sold to Equip Outdoor Technologies, who also own Lowe Alpine
Rab is named after its founder, Scottish mountaineer Rab Carrington, who was born in Glasgow in 1947. Carrington developed a passion for climbing and moved south to Sheffield, England in 1973. He quickly become a part of a burgeoning mountaineering scene and formed a highly successful partnership with the legendary Alan Rouse. They climbed together throughout the world, taking alpine-style tactics to the Greater Ranges.
However, Rouse was vying with the likes of Alex MacIntyre, Joe Tasker and Pete Boardman for the distinction of being Britain’s greatest mountaineer of the time. In his ambition, Rouse was taking risks that Carrington had lost his appetite for. Their final expedition together was on Kangtega in the Himalaya, in 1979. While Carrington went on to buy a house, start a family and found his business, Rouse continued to pursue big projects in the Himalaya, sadly passing away on K2, the world’s second highest mountain, in August 1986.
In 1981, Carrington and his wife Sue had a daughter, Liz, and he started his business, sewing sleeping bags together in an attic in Sheffield. Carrington had learned his craft on a trip with Rouse to Argentina in 1973. Their climbing gear had become stranded in Liverpool due to a dock strike and they ended up spending much of their time partying rather than ascending Patagonian mountains, which had been the original plan. However, Carrington also put himself to work making sleeping bags in Buenos Aires for his friend Hector Vieytes, learning the skills that would spark Rab into life in the early 1980s.
As well as this, mountaineering kit was nowhere near as advanced back then. During his alpine exploits in the 1970s, Carrington and Rouse would often find themselves modifying the available kit to make it fit for purpose. There was no doubt that Carrington had identified a need for higher performing outdoor gear that was more thoughtfully designed with mountain conditions in mind.
By the time the 1980s rolled around, likeminded British mountaineers, like Paul Braithwaite, Nick Estcourt and Joe Brown, had set up independent climbing shops. Rab’s sleeping bags, designed and hand stitched by an expert in outdoor apparel, had a place on their shelves. Demand for the products grew and Carrington moved operations to a factory in Sheffield and the business went from strength to strength. Carrington retired in 2007 and sold Rab to Equip Outdoor Technologies, who also acquired Colorado-based Lowe Alpine.
Ethos of quality
- Rab uses premium materials in its garments
- Rab pay to use technologies and components from third party companies
The first reason Rab kit is relatively expensive is down to the quality of the cutting-edge and time-tested materials it uses in its gear, such as the premium quality European down used in its down jackets and sleeping bags. All the goose and duck down used is Responsible Down Standard certified, which means the welfare of the animals involved was treated with respect.
Of course, quality design, materials and components aren’t cheap, which goes some way to explaining why Rab’s kit can be a little on the pricey side. There’s also collaborations with third parties, such as Gore-Tex, Pertex Shield, Nikwax or YKK, who provide exceptional technologies, membranes and components for Rab’s clothing. The brand have to pay for the pleasure of using them, the cost of which is then forwarded to the consumer.
Commitment to people
- Rab treats both its employees and the workers in the factories it uses well
- The brand is a Fair Wear Foundation "Leader"
Rab has worked hard on its responsibility to its workers, both the 238 people directly employed by the business and the workers in the garment factories it uses. As well as good pay, its employees enjoy benefits like life assurance and discounts on Rab and Lowe Alpine gear and other sports equipment.
Rab is one of the 140 Fair Wear Foundation member brands and has achieved “Leader” status after just two years of membership. The Fair Wear Foundation strive to protect the human rights of garment factory workers. So, while a fleece jacket from Rab may cost a little more than some, you can wear it safe in the knowledge that the people who stitched it together got a fair deal.
Focus on sustainability
- Rab has been a climate neutral company since 2020and it aims for NetZero by 2030
- 60% of materials bought by Rab in 2022 were recycled
- Rab offer repair services to keep garments in play for longer
Rab strives to be as sustainable as possible. It’s been a Climate Neutral Company for four years, 80% of its products are fluorocarbon-free and it’s transparent about the emissions involved to create each item of clothing. Rab has set targets for all its packaging to be renewable or recycled by 2025 and to be a NetZero business by 2030.
60% of all the fabric Rab purchased in 2022 was recycled and they also began purchasing recycled down in 2021. However, obtaining and processing recycled materials is more expensive than using new fabrics, which pushes the price up for the consumer.
One of the ways Rab is transparent about what goes into its gear is its Material Facts initiative, which gives the consumer visibility of how much recycled content it contains, the item’s fluorocarbon content and where it was manufactured.
Rab's Service Centre boasts initiatives such as "Second Stitch" repair, where customers can send in their damaged apparel and have it restored using end-of-life roll ends, re-used and offcut materials, thus reducing manufacturing waste. This is the brand's lowest impact repair service. When the customer receives their rejuvenated garment, it'll be a unique piece of kit and come with an exclusive badge. Keeping gear in play in this way is a real step towards true sustainability.
Yes, Rab’s clothing is a little more expensive than your average outdoor brand. However, it’s worth thinking about any Rab purchase, whether a waterproof or a hat, as an investment in durable, quality kit that’s also kinder to the planet and the people that made it. Plus, Rab’s repair services mean that, years down the line, you can send any damaged gear to be restored back to its former glory. After all, the best outdoor kit is the kit you already own.
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Alex is a freelance adventure writer and mountain leader with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He is currently President of the London Mountaineering Club, training to become a winter mountain leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and hoping to scale more Alpine 4000ers when circumstances allow. Find out more at www.alexfoxfield.com