We’re changing the way that we do gear reviews at Walkhighlands – there’s a comprehensive back catalogue of comparative reviews here but we reckon it’s time for a change. This autumn and winter we’ll be looking at an eclectic selection of the very latest releases in a bit more detail than we could before. So – first up are two synthetic insulated hooded jackets from Rab – ideal for Scottish winter.
They may look remarkably similar, and externally they are, but it’s the insulation that divides them into two very distinct categories. The Xenon X (pictured on the right) uses 60g/m² PrimaLoft ONE – a premium, fluffy synthetic fill that is as close to down as you’ll get without, um, using down, but it dries quickly and retains functionality when wet. The Strata on the left uses Polartec’s new 80g/m² Alpha insulation, a totally different kind of sythetic insulation which resembles a kind of high loft laminate and forms a slab of insulation rather than the usual loose fibre wadding. So, what does this mean in the real world? Read on.
Rab Xenon X Hoodie
This is a classic synthetic hooded jacket, suitable for use in spring and autumn as a ‘throw over everything’ outer layer (but check the sizing – you might need to size up to accomodate bulky outer layers) and by using 60g/m² PrimaLoft ONE and a close cut it can be used under a hardshell. The inner and outer shell provide weather protection in the form of 20 denier Pertex Quantum – a thin and packable ripstop nylon treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating. A benefit of a synthetic insulation like PrimaLoft ONE over down is that no through-stitching or baffles are required – not only does this reduce weight and bulk, but it reduces the opportunites for wind and water to find their way into the jacket through all that stitching.Hoods are great – this one is fixed and lacks any form of adjustment but is Lycra-hemmed and remains snug around the head. It won’t fit over a helmet that easily but is a delight underneath one. The waist hem is adjustable though, via one-handed cordlocks at either side which form a nice seal. The cuffs are simply elasticated but can be pushed over the elbox if required. Both handwarmer pockets are protected by reversed zips and the chest pocket is cavernous and OS map friendly. There’s a simple insulated baffle behind the main zip, a good cord zip pull and microfleece lined protective collar. The resulting jacket is compressible enough to pack into the chest pocket and weighs 390g – the warmth to weight is hard to beat.
Rab Strata Hoodie
Possessing many of the external characteristics of the Xenon X it might be hard to see why Rab would have both garments in their range. But it’s all about the Polartec Alpha. This brand new insulation (designed for US special forces) is marketed as “puffy insulation”, but in fact it feels more like an open-weave high loft fleece. Unlike loose fibre insulation this construction doesn’t require a densely-woven, less breathable shell fabric to contain the microfibres, meaning the finished garment is particularly breathable.
The Strata Hoodie uses Pertex Microlight for the outer shell which has a similar level of weather protection to Quantum but is significantly more air permeable. The inner fabric is zoned with large areas of mesh for increased ventilation along with the more familiar Pertex at non-sweaty parts. Features are almost identical to the Xenon X – a fixed, non-adjustable hood (though it can be rolled down and clipped under a webbing tab), waist drawcord, elasticated cuffs and the same three pocket arrangement. While the Strata also packs into the chest pocket it’s a bit bulkier than the Xenon X and weighs a touch more at 430g. The resulting jacket is definitely not as cosy as the Xenon X, but that’s not really the point – most synthetic insulated jackets are designed to be worn as a belay jacket – donned when stationary and removed when moving. The Strata is different and has made me reassess how I use synthetic insulation in the outdoors – it’s a bit like a windproof fleece or a thick softshell or something, and whereas the Xenon X can be worn under a hardshell, the breathability of the Strata means I can continue to move around without overheating.
See also Phil’s comparison review of synthetic insulated jackets.
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