Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Very light, very warm for its weight, compresses compactly into its own chest pocket.
Cons: No hood cinch, expensive.
Best Uses: General outdoor use. Alpine, ice and rock climbing. Mountaineering, skiing.
Throughout our extensive testing the Xenon was our favorite synthetic insulated jacket, and wins our Editor's Choice Award. The Xenon offers very high quality insulation, an excellent warmth to weight ratio, smart construction, and the ability to pack into its own pocket for ease of transport and compatibility with multi-pitch climbing. In Fall 2013 Rab is releasing a new version - the Xenon X, which has an updated outer fabric that increases abrasion and tear resistance and adding about 2 ounces. Although some may be disappointed with the weight gain, we feel the newer fabric will increase long-term durability. We have heavily used the Xenon and Xenon X and find both jackets to be spectacular. In this review the weight and fabric specs are for the newer, Xenon X. If you want the lighter Xenon, get it now before it disappears!!
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Xenon is quite warm for its weight. To maximize warmth and the warmth/weight ratio Rab uses 60g/m2 PrimaLoft ONE. Like down, not all synthetic insulations are equal, so it's important to note both the amount of insulation (in this case the fairly standard 60g/m2) and the type. PrimaLoft makes the most common synthetic insulators you'll see, with PrimaLoft ONE being widely regarded as the industry's best. It is warmer and more compressible than PrimaLoft's other offerings such as "ECO" and "SPORT".
Overall, with 60g/m2 of insulation the Xenon is a very versatile jacket. This amount of insulation is common among synthetic insulated jackets because it allows for a garment that layers well, that can be worn during activity and have good ease of movement. Jackets with heavier insulation weights, such as 100g/m2 or up to the180g/m2 weight of the very warm Patagonia DAS Parka are generally intended for winter use, or backcountry use is cold climates like Alaska. Jackets with 60g/m2 of insulation however, like the Xenon will be your go-to synthetic insulating layer year-round. The lower bulk also allows for better layering options - taking for example: two different 60g/m2 jackets, one with a hood, the other perhaps without. One can be worn in moderate activity, and when need be you can layer the second on top. One pairing that we've employed is the Xenon, with a Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover. The warmth of the Xenon makes it perfect for evening walks in town, camping, or as your main insulating layer on big summer rock climbs.
Beyond using the best synthetic insulation around, the Xenon keeps you warm in other ways as well. The outer shell fabric is a Pertex Quantum, a very popular fabric in the outdoor world that offers good water and wind resistance at a very low weight. Importantly the Xenon has a non-quilted construction, which allows for better wind and water resistance than the quilted constructions more commonly seen on lightweight synthetic jackets like the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket. With this construction there are far fewer seams for wind and water to sneak through. It also gives the jacket and sleek, simple, streamlined look.
Weight / Compressibility
There is a fistful of quality lightweight synthetic jackets on the market (and indeed this review can attest to that). In our testing however, the Xenon out-shined the competition largely by offering the best insulation, in a well thought out construction that optimizes wind and water resistance while also remaining very light - despite being well featured and hooded. The total weight for the Xenon X in size Large is 13.3oz. There are several jackets in this review that come in lighter, such as the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket, the MontBell UL Thermawrap Jacket, and the REI Revelcloud Jacket, but these don't offer the significant warmth of a hood. A good comparison is to the Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody or Haglofs Barrier Pro Hood - both of which are a similar weight, but lack the ability to pack into their own pocket and are less weather resistant.
The Fall 2013 version, the Xenon X, is the version we're referencing here. If you're looking for minimizing weight consider purchasing the older Xenon, which uses a lightweight outer fabric and thus weighs less, as soon as possible before it is no longer offered by Rab. despite the added 2 ounces of the new version due to the fabric change, the Xenon X is still a remarkably light jacket.
In terms of functionality, the Xenon has exactly the features you need. There are 2 hand pockets, and a single chest pocket that doubles as the stuffsack. The ability to stuff the jacket into its own pocket certainly increases its desirability for longer rock and ice climbs since it can be easily stuffed and clipped to your harness for use at chilly belays. in day to day use, this can also be useful for packing. The hood is fixed and non-adjustable. This style of hood fits snug around the head always, and is very warm, but a bit goofy looking. More and more manufactures are designing hoods in this way and it's looking less silly season after season. In our experience the hood fits better under a helmet than over. it may not look as cool, but its certainly warm, and clears your peripheral vision a bit better when climbing. in general, it is a similar hood design to the more widely known Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody.
Another significant feature of the Xenon is the construction. Instead of the more common "quilted" style of insulated jacket construction, the Xenon's face fabric is non-quilted, and simply used in singular pieces, uninterrupted by quilt stitching. The result is a more wind and water resistant (and lighter) outer shell.
As far as style goes, the Xenon is a bit "techie" looking. This is mainly because of the high sheen of the face fabric. The new version, the Xenon X, has a less shiny fabric. As one tester noticed "When I went to buy groceries in the Xenon, the cashiers always commented on my jacket. but this hasn't happen with the Xenon X."
The new Xenon X (released Fall 2013) uses a more abrasion and tear resistant outer fabric than the standard Xenon available now. This fabric change will increase the durability of the jacket of the longer term. Overall we feel that the new fabric is likely an asset, despite the gain in weight, for it's improved durability. That being said, we used our Xenon -extensively- and didn't find it to be particularly fragile. The Xenon X has held up well also. The Xenon is an great climbing jacket however, and the added abrasion resistance will be welcome if you plan on using your jacket as an outer layer while climbing in colder climates. If you mainly use the jacket as an insulating mid-layer, than durability is much less important. in that case - you would be better served by a jacket like the Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody which has a outer fabric more suited to mid-layer use, and is overall a more breathable jacket. In the end, the new fabric increases the versatility of an already highly versatile jacket.
Overall the Xenon offer great weather protection for being such a light jacket. See second paragraph under "Features" for a more detailed explanation concerning the Xenon's ability to resistant wind and water.
Like most lightweight synthetics the Xenon allows for good mobility. it is designed to be moved in, be it hiking, climbing, etc. That being said, it doesn't have the breathability of some other light synthetics like the Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody, Mountain Hardware Zonal, or Rab Strata. This relative lack of breathability however translates to the Xenon being a warmer, more weather resistant jacket overall for its weight.
Considering the superior quality of the Xenon we find it to be a good value. It will give you the best synthetic insulation, useful features, and a winning design. There are cheaper competitors, but they generally have lower quality insulation, lack the warmth of a hood, or some other drawback.
Xenon X - to be released Fall 2013
— Chris Simrell
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Most recent review: April 13, 2013
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