In past years' testing, the Rab Windveil Jacket was easily one of the top scorers, and one of our favorite windbreakers for nearly any purpose. For reasons unknown, Rab stopped making that jacket and replaced it with the Vital Windshell. The Vital Windshell is made out of 20 denier solid nylon that is very tightly woven to resist wind, but isn't at all stretchy like the old Windveil material, or the Outdoor Research Tantrum II's stretch nylon.
This jacket is the second highest scoring one in our review and provides a fantastic alternative to the lighter Houdini if you enjoy having a few extra quality features. Besides the unique features, its best attribute is its wind resistance. It is particularly suited to those who need something to cut the wind, and who aren't as concerned about how well it breathes or sheds off some light raindrops.
The Vital Windshell is a top pick for its awesome pockets and affordability. Here we're testing it in the spray pouring off one of the many marvelous waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park, OR.
This is one of the more wind resistant jackets we tested. On fast bike descents on cold mornings, we stayed relatively warm. It scored at the top for this metric. The old Windveil was not quite as wind resistant due to its stretchy material.
We back up our chilly morning bike commute findings by taking all of these windbreakers to the top of a high pass in the Rockies and tested them in a chilling, biting wind. Beyond a tight weave that keeps the air from flowing through the jacket, we also appreciated how effective the hem drawcords closed. The hood's elastic cinch for its face opening also sealed up nicely. Together, these seal you off from the wind very effectively. For non-insulated windbreakers, only The North Face Flyweight Hoodie could match the performance of this one.
The snap across the neck allows the jacket to stay in place, even when fully unzipped.
Breathability and Venting
This is where the Vital comes up a bit short. In side-by-side tests, while hiking and biking uphill, the Rab held more moisture in than the Houdini. It's also significantly hotter when fully zipped up. This is due to the material and the fact there are so many pockets. It's predecessor, the Windveil, had mesh pockets and stretchy material. If you unzipped the pockets, air could pass in and out. And there was just one layer of nylon. The Vital's pockets are lined with nylon. This keeps your sweat from getting to the pocket contents, but it also reduces your venting options.
One cool venting feature it has is a snap button across the chest. This allows you to keep the jacket in place, even when fully unzipped. We like this because it lets you run or bike in a strong breeze without the jacket flapping like a cape behind you.
At 4.7 oz for size large, this was one of the lighter jackets in the review.
Weight and Packability
Our men's size large jacket weighed in at 4.7 ounces, which may seem light, but in reality is about 40 percent heavier than the Houdini.
You can see how the size compares with the Houdini above. The Houdini is about half the size. For some people, this is not a big deal. However, if you are trying to get the Vital in a bike bag or other tight space, the Houdini has a clear advantage.
Rab Vital (left), Houdini (center) and sunglasses for scale.
It conveniently packs into its own pocket that lives on the inside of the jacket, making it the only one we tested that doesn't simply stuff into its chest or hand pocket. Worth noting is that it also has a secure clip loop. For most people, this is plenty small.
The unique "extra visor" on the hood looks a little goofy but keeps water out.
Fit and Functionality
We tested a men's size large jacket and found that the fit is in line with its purpose. In contrast to some other tighter fitting jackets such as the Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Sport Hoody, this one is long enough in both the sleeves and hem. It also provides enough space underneath for a layer or two on colder days, proving that it works well as an outer shell.
This jacket has three large pockets — two large hand pockets and a big internal pocket that also serves as the stuff pocket if you choose to stow it. This allows more storage than just about any other wind jacket available. You can easily fit gloves, a hat, your wallet and more. This is a key distinction with the Vital — you can easily integrate it into your everyday life. With the Houdini or other jackets with just one pocket, you're always on the hunt for a place to put energy bars or extra stuff.
Besides the pockets, a few other notable features are worth pointing out. Already mentioned is the snap button across the upper chest, but we also loved that a simple velcro tab adjusts the hood. This tab has the double purpose of allowing you to roll the hood up and velcro it tight if you choose not to use the hood on a windy day. Flapping hoods are annoying, and this simple feature helps with that. While it doesn't have the same number of features as the Arc'teryx Squamish Hoody, it is a sure second best.
Water beads on the Houdini (right) but soaks into the Vital (left).
We're not super impressed with the DWR coating. Above you can see how the water beads on the Patagonia Houdini but starts to soak in on the Vital.
We recommend looking at ways to enhance the DWR coating with third-party products if you plan to encounter much rain. Or check out the North Face Flyweight Hoodie, which has many of the same features found on this jacket (pockets!), while offering pretty decent rain resistance.
Water beads on the Houdini (right) but soaks into the Rab Vital.
This is a great everyday jacket. All the pocket space allows plenty of storage. If hiking, you can keep everything you need handy, whether it's a map or energy bar. We found this contender better for hikers than for runners or bikers.
The Vital was our Top Pick for hugging trees, or doing anything in the outdoors that will inspire you to hug a tree...
Retail price for this jacket is $99, making it the same price as the Houdini, but still a bit more expensive than our Best Bang for the Buck award winner, the North Face Flyweight. That said, as one of the highest scorers, we think it provides good value.
The Rab Vital Windshell is a very durable and wind resistant jacket that has some of the best features to be found in this test group. While it did not win Editors' Choice, it still may be the best option for you if you want the extra pocket space.
Over or under? Your choice! Wearing the Vital on the high route on a forested trail run in Oregon.