This super-lightweight, perfectly packable windproof hoody has been designed specifically for climbers, but it’s fully functional (and more than passably fashionable) for all types of outdoor adventurer. A trim-fitting softshell, the Borealis boasts a hood and two zipped Napoleon pockets that remain reachable when you have a harness on. And I love the fact that it stuffs into one of its own pockets.
Harness and helmet compatible
No thumb hooks
Minimal thermal protection
Trim fit won’t suit everyone
Small amount of recycled content
Rear reflector only visible when the hood is up
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Rab Borealis Softshell: first impressions
Thei Rab Borealis is a very good-looking, lightweight softshell jacket that has quite obviously been conceptualized and designed with rock climbing in mind – with the positioning of the pockets clearly intended to make them accessible when you have a harness on, and the hood kept deliberately low profile so it can fit comfortably under a helmet.
• List price: $120 (US) / £95 (UK)
• Gender specification: Men’s / Women’s
• Sizes: Men’s: XS-XXL; Women’s: XXS-XL
• Materials: Matrix - Polyamide (85%) and Elastane (15%); 2 YKK zips
• Weight: 300g / 10.5oz
• Center back length (medium): 71.5cm / 28.1in
• Colors: Men’s: Aspen Green / Ink / Beluga / Deep Ink / Firecracker / Graphene / Light Khaki / Sahara; Women’s: Beluga / Citadel / Eucalyptus / Marina Blue / Marmalade / Patriot blue
• Compatibility: Climbing, hiking, trekking, walking
That said, beyond catering for rope-dangling rock monkeys, the Borealis also works really well as an easy-to-carry, long-sleeved, wind-blocking layer for hikers, bikers, ramblers, amblers and scramblers.
The material used in this jacket is Rab’s ‘Matrix’, a mix of Polyamide and Elastane. The relatively high percentage of the latter means the Borealis boasts a very trim fit, which is ideal for a breeze-blocking jacket, because you don’t want loads of loose material flapping around in the wind. Not everyone will appreciate the tight and clingy design, though, and if you generally prefer a looser fit, you’ll need to either upsize considerably, or look at an alternative garment.
Some recycled content has been used, but as Rab admit, it’s a very modest amount (2%). While not waterproof, the Borealis offers some water repellency and the DWR treatment used is fluorocarbon free.
Rab Borealis Softshell: on the trails
I’ve been busting out the Borealis jacket for use in a wide range of outdoor scenarios over the last year. Although this is a technical garment, and the design makes it ideal for all sorts of adventure pursuits, it’s a very versatile bit of clobber too, and I’ve been wearing it while hiking, mountain biking, climbing, fastpacking, walking the dog, mooching around with the family and going to the pub.
I’ve been testing the Borealis jacket in a size large. As mentioned, the fit is fairly snug, but for the style of garment this is, I think it works well as a body-hugging softshell. Just be aware that you won’t be able to fit much more than a base layer underneath it.
There are no thumb hooks on the sleeves – which isn’t such an oversight on a garment that’s primarily designed as a wind-blocking outer layer – but the Lycra-bound cuffs are tight-fitting enough to keep breezes at bay. The DWR effectively keeps light rain and mist from soaking through, but you definitely can wear a waterproof outer-shell jacket over the top of the Borealis during heavier downpours.
There is a half-hem drawcord, and between that and a longish back panel, the Borealis stays in place nicely, keeps drafts out and doesn’t ride up even when you’re wearing a backpack. The hood is less than flattering, it has to be said, but that’s pretty standard on lightweight softshells, and this one fits under a helmet nicely and keeps your ears warm when you need it to.
The Borealis can be stuffed into its own right chest pocket, which then zips shut, making a very neat little package. This, combined with its low weight, makes the Rab Borealis ideal for throwing into a pack as a just-in-case option on days that start warm but threaten to get chilly, especially when you’re climbing. It’s perfect for popping on while you’re belaying at the crag, and I have also had good reason to be thankful to the Borealis while scrambling around on exposed peaks.
There are two mesh-lined Napoleon chest pockets on the men’s Borealis (they’re positioned to the side for the women’s version), which zip shut and can be accessed even when you’re wearing a harness. All the zips have pull cords to make them easy to operate with cold hands or with gloves on.
Additional features include reflective flourishes (albeit pretty small ones) for times when you’re out and about on lanes and roads in the dark with motorized traffic. However, the rear reflector is only visible when the hood is up, which feels like an error.
Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and instagram here.