Gear Review: Alpkit Ranger Ventile Jacket

Recommended Price: £349.99
Weight: 720g (women’s size 10)

Originally developed in the late 1930s, clothing made of Ventile is said to have saved the lives of countless RAF pilots who ditched into the sea. A very tightly woven cotton, it was created to be cool and practical when worn in the cockpit but warm and impenetrable when it came into contact with water. Later used both during the first ascent of Everest in 1953 and by Sir Ranulph Fiennes to cross the Arctic, it has continued to be championed especially by polar travellers, but largely fell out of favour as other lightweight breathable waterproof fabrics were developed. Originally UK-owned, Ventile now belongs to the Swiss firm Stotz & Co.

Now Alpkit have developed a mass-market, all-weather, Ventile jacket in response to increasing demand for more environmentally friendly, more durable outer shells, in a move away from the fast fashion ethos and ‘forever’ chemicals associated with some outdoor gear.

The cut of the Ranger is generous (do remember you may be wearing this for decades!), slightly longer around the bum, with good freedom of movement in the arms for scrambling. The detachable hood is excellent with three points of adjustment and a peaked brim. The collar can be tightened with a drawcord, as can the hem, whilst the cuffs can be adjusted with two sets of poppers and a fabric tag. The Ventile fabric has a double layer across the shoulders, in the hood, at the front, and along the top side of the sleeves where rain and heavy wear is more likely.

There are two chest pockets, one internal and one external, both Ventile lined and large enough to easily take a phone or GPS. The two handwarmer pockets are quite large, just taking an OS map, but for me access is compromised by my rucksack hipbelt. The front zip is two way, with fabric tabs just about large enough to use with mitts, and protected by a large storm baffle on the inside. The outer fabric is treated with a PFC-free DWR coating – previously the use of PFCs used on some Ventile jackets negated their “eco” credentials. The fabric is very quiet, with none of the rustle of some waterproofs, so it’s a great option for wildlife watchers.

Although you notice the weight compared to lightweight waterproofs, I have found it comfortable to wear on long, wet days (thanks Mull!) and have found it extremely breathable. A good barrier against the wind, heading uphill I found I kept it on much longer than I would my normal waterproof once the rain had eased. Ventile is designed so that the cotton fibres contract when soaked, to keep out the wet. I had heard that Ventile could become stiff and less comfortable when wet, but I’ve found it to work well as a waterproof, not letting in any damp during a 7 hour day of almost constant rain and being more comfortable on a wet and cold mountain day than my regular jacket due to the higher breathability. I’m interested to see how the jacket performs longer term when the water repellent coating starts to wear off. The fabric didn’t stiffen as it got wet and the weight gain from soaking up water on the outside was much less I feared. It also dried quickly between showers, although I found the cuff and tabs remained wet for longer, which was slightly uncomfortable in cold conditions.

Alpkit say that the Ranger has been designed to be easily repairable in the future, with no membrane to get punctured, recycled brass poppers, fabric tabs rather than plastic, and double stitched seams. Certainly it feels like a very robust jacket and there are no signs of abrasion despite scraping against rocks. Small amounts of dirt can be sponged off and the jacket can be occasionally machine-washed. The cotton used is 100% organic, which uses less water than traditional cotton and the zips and polyester labels are also made from recycled materials. The fabric is made in Switzerland but the jacket is manufactured in China.

Overall I was impressed with the Ranger; I liked the robust yet soft feel. It would be a great choice for snowy, showery and windy days as well as very wet conditions. I didn’t find the additional weight a problem; for me this is a jacket I would plan to wear most of the day as it doesn’t get sweaty when the rain stops, so I won’t be planning on carrying it in my pack very much. For multi-day backpacks where continuous rain and weight might be an issue, or for hotter weather, I’d probably choose a different material. Considering how long this jacket should last and it’s environmental credentials, it’s a very good option particularly for the Scottish climate, and the price actually looks good value as it should outlive membrane alternatives.

The Ranger is available in 2 colours (khaki and navy) for both men’s and women’s, 6 women’s sizes 8-18 and 5 men’s S-XXL. Alpkit say that the weight of the men’s M jacket is 833g with hood.

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