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Rab Vital Windshell Review

Best-in-class storage in a lightweight, ripstop-nylon shell, all at an affordable price
Rab Vital Windshell
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 treatment
Manufacturer:   Rab
By Chris McNamara, Andy Wellman, & Aaron Rice  ⋅  Jan 8, 2020
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74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 13
  • 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

As a jacket that doesn't sacrifice wind resistance or weight for added functionality, the Rab Vital is an easy choice for overall value. Our top choice for functionality 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.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Rab Vital Windshell
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award  
Price $99 List
$98.95 at Amazon
Check Price at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$118.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
Check Price at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$40 List
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Lots of zippered pockets, ease of packing, elastic brimLow price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coatingAbrasion resistant, ample room for layering, underarm ventilationAffordable, mesh-backed ventilation, large zippered hand pocketsAffordable, large hand pockets and hood
Cons Goofy looking brimmed hood, swampy, lack of DWR treatmentNo feature to stow-away hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activityPoor water resistance, lack of articulationRelatively heavy, lack of water resistance, oversized stuff sackBillows in anything more than a breeze, lack of features
Bottom Line Best-in-class storage in a lightweight, ripstop-nylon shell, all at an affordable priceThe best overall value and performance in a lightweight package that sets the category standardDespite its flashy appearance, this is a technical windbreaker and is further reinforced with abrasion-resistant fabricA price-point option that balances wind resistance and breathability, but lacks in terms of weather proofingHolding it down for the classic windbreaker, in style and function
Rating Categories Rab Vital Windshell Patagonia Houdini Outdoor Research He... The North Face Flyw... Columbia Flashback
Wind Resistance (30%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
5.0
Breathability And Venting (30%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
9.0
6.0
Weight And Packability (20%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
4.0
5.0
Fit And Functionality (10%)
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Water Resistance (10%)
6.0
8.0
5.0
3.0
5.0
Specs Rab Vital Windshell Patagonia Houdini Outdoor Research He... The North Face Flyw... Columbia Flashback
Measured Weight (size M) 4.7 oz 3.9 oz (size L) 5.0 oz 7.6 oz 5.7 oz
Material Hyperlite nylon 100% nylon ripstop, DWR finish 100% Pertex Diamond Fuse (100% nylon ripstop) WindWall: 100% Recycled Polyester woven with DWR finish Water-repellent polyester
Pockets 3 zip (2 external hand, 1 internal) 1 zip (chest) 1 zip chest 2 hand 2 hand
Safety Reflective Material? Yes, reflective logo on chest and back No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible) Yes, reflective logo No No
Stowable Pocket? Yes: internal pocket Yes: chest pocket Yes: chest pocket Yes: hand pocket No
Cuff Style Half Elastic Half Elastic Half Elastic Elastic Elastic
Hood Fits Over Helmet? 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...
Designed for the harsh climbing conditions of the Scottish highlands and loaded with pockets, the Rab Vital is more than capable in a variety of environments.
Photo: Jill Rice

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 backed 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 effectively 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...
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.
Photo: Jill Rice

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, 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...
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.
Photo: Jill Rice

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

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 saddlebag.

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

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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

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 raincoat 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. Our laboratory shower test supported these field findings.

A little goofy looking, but a stiffened hood brim keeps water out of...
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.
Photo: Jill Rice

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...
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.
Photo: Jill Rice

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 gain the top spot, it earns our nod as a Top Pick on account of how it blends value and functionality.

Chris McNamara, Andy Wellman, & Aaron Rice

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