Gear Review: Rab Microlight Alpine down jacket

Price: £190 (currently on offer for less with various retailers)
Weight: 420g (women’s 10)

I’ve worn a Microlight Alpine down jacket both on the hills and in town for the past 3 winters. It’s a versatile jacket that has proved harder wearing than I expected and I anticipate having several more years wear out of it. The jacket has had a redesign for its 10th anniversary so I was keen to check out the new version as well as giving my long-term verdict on the original design.

The jacket is made from an outer of water resistant Pertex Quantum material filled with NikWax treated hydrophobic 750 fill-power goose down. Fill-power relates to the quality of the down (ie, poorer quality down will be less insulating for the same weight). 750 fill-power (US rather than EU measurement) represents a high quality down. One fairly recent change is that the down is now ethically-sourced and meets the Responsible Down Standard – an independent standard certifying the birds the down comes from have not been subjected to unnecessary harm; it’s probably a standard we should all be looking for when choosing down products. In addition to the fill-power it’s also useful to know how much down is in the jacket. The Alpine has 135g in the women’s size 10 and I’ve found this to provide a good level of warmth for its weight. I tend to use down for breaks on the hill and insulation when camping, but I have walked in this jacket all day in very cold conditions and found it more than adequately warm and very breathable. The slim fit design allows for with room for two thinner-style, base- and mid-layers underneath. If you intend to use it as an extra insulating layer over bulky mid layers you may need to to go one size up. The new version also comes in a longer length; the scooped back on the standard length just covers my bum, I’m 5’3″.

The baffles are sewn though and there is a baffle behind the main front zip. I haven’t experienced any cold spots or reduction in insulation over time and lofting has remained good with no clumping or long term compression under rucksack straps although comparing the new version I can see that the new jacket has a fluffiness the 3 year old is lacking. I’ve machine washed my jacket twice in 3 years using down wash and despite not tumble drying there has been no clumping and insulation properties have remained very good. Whilst I tend not to wear the jacket if its raining, it withstands a short shower very well and I have deliberately soaked it a few times and it did seem to retain most of its insulating qualities although water came in through the baffle seams, it certainly shouldn’t be regarded as waterproof. It packs easily into a separate stuffsack, rather than its own pocket (another stuffsack for you to lose around the house); it’s approximately 18x14cm which isn’t the smallest for this level of insulation but it’s fairly neat.

The Pertex outer is now a slightly tighter weave than on the original jacket but I’ve found that one to be remarkably robust – no signs of wear from rucksack straps or snagging despite it having had a lot of tough use. The outer has proved resilient to stains and spillages and is waterproof enough to be spot cleaned. There has been some slight permanent discolouring of the inner so I’d choose a colour option with a dark coloured lining. It’s worth noting that Rab does offer a down washing service which, while expensive, would be a good option to ensure the jacket maintains its performance for longer.

The fixed helmet-compatible hood is excellent with a wired peak that hasn’t distorted over time and is adjustable with two, slightly fiddly, drawcords on both sides of the face. These allow you to get a really good fit as well as drawing the hood tight around the face in very bad weather. Two elasticated strips at the back of the head help with volume adjusting; this means there’s no annoying toggle digging into the back of your head if wearing it when sleeping or with a waterproof hood over the top. The hood moves well with head and provides good visibility. The new version has a much larger fleecy chin guard and a more ergonomically-designed neck area; I didn’t have a problem with the old version, but the new one is even more comfortable when zipped right up.

The pockets are also well designed, two large hand warmer that can, at a push, accommodate an OS map. A napolean chest pocket is accessible from the outside but keeps phone or other items under the insulation. Zips are all YKK brand, run well, although the grips are a little too small to use with large mitts. There’s a drawcord at the hem (adjustable in 2 places) and Rab has responded to previous grumbles that when pulled tight the spare cord could hang down and get snagged in equipment – it is now held out the way inside the jacket. The cuffs are lycra and I’ve not found them too tight and they’ve maintained their elasticity over time.

Rab is a British brand, having been founded in the 1980s by mountaineer Rab Carrington, but the jacket itself is manufactured in Indonesia. Available in a wide variety of colours (6 for women and 7 for men) and women’s sizes 8 to 16 and men’s XS to XXL. The price is on a par with comparable jackets; if on a budget the option to pick up last year’s model at discounted price may be a good one.

Pros: Great warmth for weight, durability, water resistant
Cons: Sewn-through baffle design limits usage slightly

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