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Rab Borealis Review

This is one of the lightest softshells out there, perfect for cool windy days at the crag
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Price:  $115 List | $114.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Incredibly light, very mobile
Cons:  Limited weather protection, few features
Manufacturer:   Rab
By Ryan Huetter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 30, 2020
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 11
  • Weather Protection - 30% 5
  • Breathability - 30% 8
  • Mobility - 25% 9
  • Weight - 10% 9
  • Versatility - 5% 5

Our Verdict

The Rab Borealis is the lightest weight offering from this UK-based apparel brand, and it is an excellent layer for active pursuits. This thin jacket provides limited protection from weather — it has a DWR treatment for unexpected wet conditions but is much better suited for breezy weather encountered while climbing, hiking, or biking. The Borealis offers above-average breathability and mobility, while also giving great durability when working your way up a difficult climbing route.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

This is one of the lightest softshells in our review, great for those days when you need a little something extra but don't want to add much heft to your bag.

Performance Comparison


Great for adding in some wind protection up on an exposed ridge  this layer is basically a windshirt on steroids.
Great for adding in some wind protection up on an exposed ridge, this layer is basically a windshirt on steroids.

Weather Protection


Rab utilizes an unlined, single weave Lightweight Matrix fabric as the body of the Borealis. This is further treated with a DWR to give it some additional protection from moisture. While it can shed light precipitation for a couple of minutes, wet weather really is not its strong suit. In comparison to other lightweight models, it certainly did not hold up as well in our shower test. Where it performs much better is in windy weather — we really appreciated having this layer on breezy days.

While it does offer some limited weatherproofness  this jacket wetted out within seconds of starting our shower test.
While it does offer some limited weatherproofness, this jacket wetted out within seconds of starting our shower test.

Lycra binding around the hood keeps the Borealis secure around a hat brim or a hood, but there are no other closures. The trim fit stays in place around the waist, and cinches on either side can further tighten the hem, but it's not long enough for use in winter weather without a more substantial layer on top.

Breathability


Breathability is something that the Rab Borealis has under control. We hiked, biked, and climbed our way through the mountains, and this thing can wick moisture as well as a running top. Even when layering a slightly thicker fleece base layer underneath on cooler days, we did not notice a dramatic decrease in breathability. This Is due to the lack of any lining or fleece backing — as only a single, thin layer of stretchy fabric, there is little to keep heat trapped in. However, the two large chest pockets are backed only by mesh, so if you are overheating, it is easy to open up your pockets (assuming your phone and lunch money are safe somewhere else) and dump all that excess warmth.

Highly breathable on its own  opening the pockets allows for even more ventilation.
Highly breathable on its own, opening the pockets allows for even more ventilation.

Mobility


The mobility offered up by the Borealis is excellent. The Lightweight Matrix fabric is undeniably stretchy, allowing for unrestricted range of motion. We had no feelings of constriction when stretching tall for hard to reach holds at the crag and certainly did not feel held back when sprinting uphill on a trail run. The fit is very trim, with little opportunity to layer much besides a light fleece underneath. The cut of the arms feel spot on, they do not slip down when reaching overhead, though those with longer arms may wish to size up. Similarly, the hem is cut rather high and might be difficult to fit well for a longer torso. Our only complaint in regards to mobility is when wearing a helmet — the tight-fitting hood makes it hard to pull over a climbing helmet, though you can also wear it underneath.

We do not love how tight the hood fits over a helmet.
We do not love how tight the hood fits over a helmet.

Weight


This jacket weighs next to nothing, coming in at 10.5 ounces. It is hard to even notice when you are wearing it, and it certainly does not take up much space in a bag when you don't need it, packing down to about the size of a softball.

Versatility


The Borealis is not very feature-rich. To achieve such a lightweight layer, Rab got rid of some heavier features like a three-way hood closure, wrist closures, or multiple pockets. Instead , they went with a Spartan look; two pockets and a hood and a cinch around the hem — no more, no less. The quality YKK zipper is, like all of Rab's jackets, left-handed.

With tight-fitting cuffs  it is hard to fit over gloves  but they do a good job at sealing around the wrist and can certainly slide under gauntlet-style gloves with no problem.
With tight-fitting cuffs, it is hard to fit over gloves, but they do a good job at sealing around the wrist and can certainly slide under gauntlet-style gloves with no problem.

This slim-fitting jacket has a nice clean look, though it's still easy to peg the wearer as an outdoor enthusiast. It looks good with a pair of jeans but does not have nearly the same cross-over appeal as some other jackets. The Borealis is meant for moving fast in the mountains.

Value


The savvy shell is quite a good deal. It falls just short of the Best Buy Award due to fewer available features, but with a nice trim fit and a much lighter weight, it should be considered the runner-up as a super mobile and breathable jacket at a very reasonable price.

Conclusion


If you find yourself up on a windy ridge or cliff wishing you had some extra protection, then the lightweight Rab Borealis is the jacket for you. Designed as a wind layer for climbers and other mountain athletes, this jacket stretches and breathes without holding you back. Highly recommended.

Ryan Huetter