Retailing at a mere $290, affordability may be the Rab Firewall's best attribute. The relatively low price is a by-product of using the Pertex Shield+ 3L membrane and rejecting the added costs that come with the inclusion of a Gore-Tex membrane. While we found the performance of the Firewall's membrane to be comparable to Gore-Tex during our field testing, questions abound about its long-term durability, something which we didn't have the opportunity to test.
Pertex Shield+ is marketed as an exceptionally light three-layer polyurethane membrane, in evidence considering this jacket weighed only 1lb. 1.4 oz., despite the plethora of zippers included in its design. Even at this seemingly light weight, it was the third heaviest that we tested. More disappointingly, the DWR coating was so ineffective as to make us question whether it had been applied in the first place, compromising the overall performance of other aspects of the jacket. While we think there is a lot to like about this model, and the price alone makes it worth serious consideration, it was one of the lower scorers overall.
Fresh powder on the track and a hint of sun peaking through the clouds means hot going on the uphill. The Firewall has great ventilation capabilities and is super stretchy and mobile, making it a great choice for backcountry travel.
The Firewall that we tested for this review was a size large, and we found that the hem and sleeves were amongst the longest of any in this review, great attributes to keep one sheltered from the precipitation either on the ground or in the air. It also includes two small internal button straps that attach to the belt loops of your pants to hold the jacket in place, a much lower profile and lighter option for added powder skiing protection than the powder skirt included on the Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker.
Testing the hood with a helmet on in the shower, we found the collar to be perhaps a bit too wide open, while the wire brim of the hood wasn't quite wide enough. More disconcerting was how little effect the DWR coating on the Firewall had.
In our downpour simulating shower test, we were disappointed to find that the DWR application was very ineffective. Very little beading took place and water almost immediately soaked into the face fabric in all locations, and we aren't sure whether the DWR itself was not applied, was simply inadequate, or whether the permeability of the stretchy ripstop face fabric had a hand. Regardless, our jacket seemed ready for a re-application almost the moment we received it. We also found the wire-brimmed hood to be quite useful without a helmet on, but only barely large enough while wearing a helmet, as we were often getting splashed in the face. For weather protection we couldn't give this jacket better than a 5 out of 10, ranking it near the rear of the pack.
The Firewall proved to be a solid jacket for hiding in as the snow continued to fall all day in British Columbia. Here taking a break in the trees to transition to uphill skiing after another fantastic powder lap.
Our size men's large Firewall weighed 1 lb. 1.4 ounces on our independent scale. While this may sound fairly light, it was the third heaviest jacket in the review, and so received a score of only 4 out of 10. For reference, the lightest jacket we tested was the Outdoor Research Interstellar, which weighed in at 11.1 ounces for a size large, roughly six ounces lighter.
Mobility and Fit
Our head tester is 6'0" tall and weighs 160 lbs. He has broader shoulders but a skinny torso. We ordered him a size large for this review, and it fit well. It was perhaps the largest jacket in this entire review but was not excessively baggy in the chest like we found the Arc'teryx Beta AR to be. It had very long sleeves and a low hem. The fit in the collar was excellent no matter whether the hood was up or down.
The stretch material combined with a spacious and non-constricting fit means the Firewall was an optimal choice for activities like ice climbing that require a lot of mobility in an upper-body garment.
When it came to mobility, we loved how much the stretchy fabric did stretch, and the larger fit meant that we experienced no constrictions of any sort as we moved about. We also appreciated how quiet the fabric was as we moved, a nice contrast with the noisier Patagonia Pluma and Arc'teryx Alpha FL, which were both made using a Gore-Tex Pro membrane.
Venting and Breathability
In our controlled stationary bike breathability testing, we did not find the Pertex Shield+ membrane to be noticeably more breathable than the Gore-Tex Pro membranes found in the Patagonia Pluma or even The North Face Summit L5 FuseForm GTX. It was hot and sweaty in there until we opened up the vents. We loved the combination of the full-length arm vents, which Rab calls "Escape Artist" vents because having the sleeves fully unzipped makes them very easy to simply slip your arms out of for optimal ventilation and heat buildup relief.
That said, these vents also have the distinct downside of allowing one to get wet if it is precipitating, one of the primary reasons most vents hide in the arm-pits. The Firewall also has a two-way front zipper that used in conjunction with the metal snap button at the bottom can create a nice vertical opening for ventilation while also doing an effective job at keeping the rain and snow out. This jacket had the second best ventilation options, next to the Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker.
While we didn't find the Pertex Shield+ membrane to be remarkably more breathable than any other, the full length arm vents made it a favorite choice for sweaty skin tracks. Here skinning out the snowy ridge past rime trees in BC.
The Firewall has some unique features not found on any other jacket in this review. In addition to the full-length arm vents that work fantastic, we also liked how it has a Velcro tab at the back of the neck that enables you to roll up and stow the hood when not in use. It also has two low-profile buttons on tabs inside the jacket for fastening it to the belt loops on your pants, a great feature for preventing it from riding up while wearing a pack, or while skiing.
A great ventilation feature is the full length arm zips found on the Rab Firewall. Not only does this allow better ventilation than a pit zip, but makes it easy to slide your whole arm out to cool off and dry out when desired.
In addition to these unique features, we appreciated the generous amount of fuzzy fabric covering the inside of the collar and helping to prevent chafing on the chin and face. We also though the two high handwarmer pockets, and the single external cross-over chest pocket worked just fine. On the other hand, all the pull cords found on the hood and the hem use buckles that are a bit fiddly for releasing with fat gloves on, and are not as convenient and easy to use as the Cohaesive cord lock buckles found on the Arc'teryx Alpha FL or the Patagonia Pluma. As one of the better feature sets found on this selection of hardshells.
A feature unique to the Firewall is this velcro tab that allows one to roll up and stash the hood if its not in use, which is more convenient than having it blow around in the wind all day.
The Firewall is a good choice for cold weather activities like climbing or skiing in winter, where mobility is highly valued. It would not be our first choice for rainy days or climates because of the poor performance of the DWR coating, its relative lack of breathability, and the fact that its best ventilation options are in a location where they will let in rain.
Backcountry skiing is an excellent application for the mobile and stretchy Firewall, which is long enough to keep all the powder out. It is also a good budget choice for climbing as well.
This jacket retails for $290, which is a similar price to the $299 Best Bang for the Buck winner, the Outdoor Research Interstellar. There is a lot to love about this jacket, and at such a low price it is surely worthy of a look.
Skiing open powder in the Columbia Mountains of British Columbia while wearing the Firewall.
The Rab Firewall is notable for the affordability that accompanies the choice to use the Pertex Shield+ 3L membrane instead of a Gore-Tex product. It has unique features and very effective ventilation to go along with its stretch mobility. All of these attributes are worthy of recommendation, although it also comes with the downside of performing poorly compared to the competition in our weather protection tests.