The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

Rab Vital Windshell Review

Best-in-class storage in a lightweight, ripstop-nylon shell
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $99 List | $98.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Lots of zippered pockets, ease of packing, elastic brim
Cons:  Goofy looking brimmed hood, swampy, lack of DWR
Manufacturer:   Rab
By Chris McNamara, Andy Wellman and Aaron Rice  ⋅  Jan 8, 2020
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74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 12
  • Wind Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability and Venting - 30% 7
  • Weight and Packability - 20% 7
  • Fit and Functionality - 10% 9
  • Water Resistance - 10% 6

Our Verdict

We gave the Rab Vital a Top Pick award because it is packed with pockets, but doesn't sacrifice wind resistance or weight for added functionality. It has, by far, the most pocket space — with two zippered hand pockets, and a zippered internal pouch — and sports some sweet, innovative features. There is a brim for keeping water out of your face and a snap across the chest to keep the jacket in place, even when it's fully unzipped. While this jacket is not finished with a DWR coating, it does a solid job of keeping you dry through quick-passing showers. Not quite as breathable as others in this line-up, we recommend this for more downhill-focused activities, like mountain biking.


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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award   
Price $98.95 at Amazon$74.99 at Backcountry
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$84.50 at Patagonia
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$97.86 at Backcountry
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$69.99 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Lots of zippered pockets, ease of packing, elastic brimLow price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coatingUltimate breathability, next-to-skin softnessLightest in the category, tiny packed size, larger chest pocketWell-ventilated, body-mapped Merino panels
Cons Goofy looking brimmed hood, swampy, lack of DWRNo feature to stow-away hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activityCold in a strong wind, expensiveSee-through material, under-performing DWR fabricLack of drawcords, billowy
Bottom Line If you love pockets and still want solid wind protection, this jacket is hard to beat.Our Editor’s Choice for its simplicity, price, and solid performance in a lightweight packageA breathable shell that works equally well as a midlayer for fast-and-light missionsMade for the mountains, this ultralight jacket will help you push your limitsPerfect for adventure runners looking for packable weather protection
Rating Categories Rab Vital Windshell Patagonia Houdini Patagonia Houdini Air Distance Wind Shell Merino Sport Ultra Light
Wind Resistance (30%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
7
Breathability And Venting (30%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
9
Weight And Packability (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
Fit And Functionality (10%)
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
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6
Water Resistance (10%)
10
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6
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
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4
10
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7
Specs Rab Vital Windshell Patagonia Houdini Patagonia Houdini... Distance Wind Shell Merino Sport Ultra...
Measured Weight, size M 4.7oz 3.9 oz (size L) 4.0 oz 3.5 oz 4.8 oz
Material Hyperlite nylon 100% nylon ripstop, DWR finish 90% nylon (51% recycled) / 10% polyester double weave, DWR finish 100% nylon ripstop, woven w/ DWR treatment (Green Theme Technology) 100% nylon outer, 54% Merino wool / 46% polyester liner, DWR coating
Pockets 3 zip (2 external hand, 1 internal) 1 zip (chest) 1 zip (chest) 1 chest zip 1 zip (chest)
Safety Reflective Material? Yes, reflective logo on chest and back No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible) No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible) No Yes reflective logos on chest, back, right arm; stripes on cuffs and seat hem
Stuffs into itself? Yes, stows in internal pocket Yes, stows in chest pocket Yes, stows in chest pocket Yes, stows in chest pocket Yes, stows in chest pocket
Adjustable Cuffs? Half Elastic Half Elastic Half Elastic Elastic Half Elastic
Hood? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

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. For all of its additional features, this jacket is still one of the lightest in our review. Particularly, it is a fantastic alternative to jackets that don't provide as much storage space. Besides the unique features, its best attribute is wind resistance. It is particularly suited to those who need something to cut the wind but aren't as concerned about how well it breathes or sheds light precipitation.

Performance Comparison


Designed for the harsh climbing conditions of the Scottish highlands and loaded with pockets  we loved this jacket on grey days  as long as the forecast didn't call for heavy precipitation.
Designed for the harsh climbing conditions of the Scottish highlands and loaded with pockets, we loved this jacket on grey days, as long as the forecast didn't call for heavy precipitation.

Wind Resistance


This is one of the more wind resistant jackets we tested. On fast bike descents on cold mornings, we stayed relatively warm. Zipping around on bikes, we particularly appreciated how the Vital employs a number of features to block the wind. A storm flap behind the zipper helps block a piercing wind, and a fully-elastic collar both keeps wind from running down your chest and the hood from flapping around.


We back up our bike commute findings by taking the Vital to the top of a high pass in the southern Rockies and tested it in a strong, wintry wind. Beyond a tight weave that keeps the air from flowing through the jacket, we also appreciated how effective the hem drawcords closed. The half elastic cuff is easy to slide on over another layer, and keeps the sleeves in place. Together, these seal you off from the wind very effectively.

Superman? Not quite  but the chest closure is a nice feature if you need to adjust your midlayers without losing this shell to a strong gust.
Superman? Not quite, but the chest closure is a nice feature if you need to adjust your midlayers without losing this shell to a strong gust.

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 than other, similarly constructed windbreakers when fully zipped up. With no vents, or mesh backing on the pockets, even if you unzip it isn't possible to achieve a good airflow. Not only that, but the Vital's pockets are lined with an extra layer of nylon. This keeps your sweat from getting to the pocket contents — a thoughtful touch — but it also reduces your venting options.


One cool feature to help improve breathability is the snap closure across the chest. This allows you to keep the jacket in place, even when fully unzipped. Although it might look a bit like a cape, we like this feature because it allows you to dump a lot of heat all at once, without losing your jacket to a strong breeze.

Not our favorite for running due to a lack of vents  but did a solid job if temperatures were lower and we stuck to shady slopes.
Not our favorite for running due to a lack of vents, but did a solid job if temperatures were lower and we stuck to shady slopes.

Weight and Packability


At a weight of 4.7 ounces, our size medium is impressively light when compared to many other shells out there, but still is about 20% heavier than our lightest windbreakers in this review.


The Vital conveniently packs into a zippered pouch that lives on the inside of the jacket — 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 that keeps it from dangling as low as some other packed-jackets when hung off of a harness.

The internal storage pocket  with a zipper that isn't on the edge of the package  makes stuffing this jacket away a breeze.
The internal storage pocket, with a zipper that isn't on the edge of the package, makes stuffing this jacket away a breeze.

We really appreciated how the zipper is not right at the top of the parcel pocket, which makes it surprisingly much easier to pack. The Vital packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle, and for most people, this is plenty small. But it is comparably larger than some of the other, lighter jackets — this may make the difference if you are trying to stuff it into a small saddle bag.

Not quite the lightest in this review  but a far cry from the heavy side.
Not quite the lightest in this review, but a far cry from the heavy side.

Fit and Functionality


We tested a size medium, and found that the overall fit is right in-line with its purpose as a tech-hoody for alpine climbing or mountain biking. In contrast to some other tighter fitting jackets, this one is long enough in both the sleeves and hem. It also provides enough space underneath for a puffy layer 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.


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 addition — plus the fully elastic collar — helps keep the hood from slapping you in the face.

Water Resistance


This is one of the few jackets in our review that isn't supported by a DWR finish. While the ripstop nylon does a good job up to a point, we don't suggest subbing-out your lightweight rain coat for the Vital.

We recommend looking at ways to enhance the DWR coating with third-party products, such as Nikwax TX.Direct spray-on treatment, if you plan to wear this jacket out in more than a passing shower.


During the lightest of rains — some may call it heavy fog — the Vital did just fine in beading up rain droplets. But the face fabric holds onto these droplets for a long time, and eventually they begin to soak through in places. These field findings were supported by our laboratory shower test.

A little goofy looking  but a stiffened hood brim keeps water out of your face  and an elastic headband keeps both the hood and your hat in place.
A little goofy looking, but a stiffened hood brim keeps water out of your face, and an elastic headband keeps both the hood and your hat in place.

Value


When it comes to functionality, the Vital is more than worth the price tag. All things considered, this jacket strikes a price-point right down the middle of our best scorers — a valuable jacket for the athletically-inclined, just as long as you aren't consistently pushing hills while running or riding.

Slashing down is better than working uphill in this lightweight  but not super-breathable shell. Here  our friend Max is putting the Vital through some laps in the trees above Santa Fe.
Slashing down is better than working uphill in this lightweight, but not super-breathable shell. Here, our friend Max is putting the Vital through some laps in the trees above Santa Fe.

Conclusion


The Rab Vital Windshell is a very durable, impressively 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 is our Top Pick if you want the extra pocket space.


Chris McNamara, Andy Wellman and Aaron Rice