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

Rab Borealis - Women's Review

This smart and ultralight softshell is extremely easy to move in and highly breathable - an excellent pick for the movement-minded adventure seeker.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $115 List | $114.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Very lightweight, excellent mobility, highly breathable, great fit, affordable.
Cons:  Not warm, only two pockets
Manufacturer:   Rab Equipment
By Penney Garrett ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 20, 2018
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81
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 11
  • Weather Protection - 30% 5
  • Breathability - 30% 10
  • Mobility - 20% 10
  • Weight - 10% 10
  • Features - 5% 4
  • Style - 5% 8

Our Verdict

The Rab Borealis is a well-tailored and straightforward light shell that delivers top-notch mobility and breathability. It's geared toward climbers that need something packable and fitted, but anyone who is active and mobile outdoors will appreciate this layer. Weighing barely over half a pound, yet still able to provide a decent barrier against the elements, the Borealis impressed us across the board. It isn't going to keep you warm in severely cold or wet conditions, but the slim fit is perfect for layering under other pieces. And while it isn't particularly feature-heavy, all our bases were covered for most situations. Overall, this is a fantastic softshell and one we think the majority of climbers will find highly useful. On top of it all, this stylish jacket will only set you back $115 — a steal for a technical layer. We enthusiastically award it a Best Buy for Climbing award.

If you need something with better weather protection, we suggest taking a look at our Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody, which we found to be the best softshell for the most applications.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Borealis is a really well-conceived lightweight softshell that is ideal for anyone needing to keep weight and extraneous material to a minimum. This jacket earns a Best Buy for Climbing award because it's so well suited to being high on a rock face even when your bank account balance is way down low.

Performance Comparison


We reached for this simple jacket time and time again for all kinds of activities and outings.
We reached for this simple jacket time and time again for all kinds of activities and outings.

Weather Protection


As much as we enjoyed the Borealis, this isn't the category where it excelled. This layer is unlined and very thin — ideal for many things, but not particularly warm.


It's decently wind resistant and the material has a DWR-finish to help with water resistance. But the moment those gusts get too intense, or it starts raining in earnest, you will be cold and wet. If you're engaging in an activity that keeps your heart rate up, you will be fine. The jacket's fitted lines and minimalist wight make it ideal for layering under other things. Still, the Borealis prefers mild weather.

The Borealis was sufficient when hiking to a glacier on a cold November day as long as we kept moving. But as soon as we stopped we definitely got cold.
The Borealis was sufficient when hiking to a glacier on a cold November day as long as we kept moving. But as soon as we stopped we definitely got cold.

Breathability


This category is where the Borealis is in its element. We found this to be the most breathable jacket in our review.



Constructed from a lightweight single-weave fabric, this is the lightest softshell that Rab offers. Nothing about this layer feels stifling or suffocating, even when the sweat is pouring. From runs on chilly mornings to windy crag days to hoofing it up a mountain trail, we enjoyed excellent ventilation in this sweet little jacket.

Getting ready to sprint up some boulders in the breathable Borealis.
Getting ready to sprint up some boulders in the breathable Borealis.

Mobility


The Borealis achieves the perfect balance of being fitted without feeling constrictive. Jumping, running, climbing, and cartwheeling, all of it is easy and natural in this very mobile jacket. It has excellent stretch and the well-executed slim cut means that there isn't superfluous fabric bunching up or getting in the way of movement. It's a joy to wear when climbing, hiking, or playing.


The stretchy lycra-binding on the sleeve cuffs makes them really easy to push up and have them stay in place. And the fitted hood goes under a helmet instead of over it, which also aids in unrestricted movement. Of course, then it's a bit of a pain if you want to remove it as you have to take your helmet off to do so. We liked this design more when we weren't wearing a helmet because it never needed to be fussed with or adjusted — it just always fit. Almost everything about this jacket feels like a second skin.

We could throw on the Borealis and forget about it while it became one with our every movement.
We could throw on the Borealis and forget about it while it became one with our every movement.

Weight


Weight? What weight? We think the Borealis may be made out of feathers. Our size medium weighed in at just 8.3 ounces, the lightest in our review by over two ounces.


While this means that the jacket's weather protection isn't as robust, we feel that it's a fair tradeoff for the right activities. If you're up on a rock wall or climbing a 14'er, you will appreciate the ultra-lightness of this layer.

The featherweight and small pack size of the Borealis meant it was a great travel companion - especially to somewhere mild and windy like the Greek islands.
The featherweight and small pack size of the Borealis meant it was a great travel companion - especially to somewhere mild and windy like the Greek islands.

Features


The Borealis isn't a particularly feature-rich jacket, especially when stacked up against other models in our review. While there aren't a ton of features on this piece, the ones it does have are well-conceived.


The two zippered hand pockets are long and placed high enough to almost be considered chest pockets, making them easily accessible while wearing a harness. They are also mesh-lined to aid breathability. The lightweight single-weave fabric is wind resistant, DWR-treated, and UPF 50+. The drawcords on the hem are easy to use, and the fitted hood and chin guard provide great coverage around the face. The long slim fit is flattering and practical for all types of movement. Simple but smart, that's the Borealis.

The mesh-lined pockets  hem drawstrings  and harness-compatible pockets on the Borealis.
The mesh-lined pockets, hem drawstrings, and harness-compatible pockets on the Borealis.

Style


Obviously, style is highly subjective, but we think that this jacket is well-tailored and attractive on all kinds of bodies.


There's something magical about a stretchy fitted layer that both feels and looks great. It's almost like having a superpower. The Borealis definitely ticked all the right boxes for us in regards to style and fit. Yes, it's sporty, but sporty is in vogue, didn't you hear?

We can't decide what's prettier  the ocean or this jacket!
We can't decide what's prettier, the ocean or this jacket!

Best Application


This shell is best suited for mild weather objectives where unimpeded movement and breathability are paramount. Rab says this softshell was inspired by the demands of big wall climbing, and we can see why. It's lightweight, well-fitting, easy to move in, and durable. Best of all? It's only $115, perfect for the budget-minded outdoorswoman in need of an extra layer of protection.

The fitted hood of the Borealis nestled neatly below a helmet. This jacket is in its element on a rock face or hiking up a trail.
The fitted hood of the Borealis nestled neatly below a helmet. This jacket is in its element on a rock face or hiking up a trail.

Value


When you see a Best Buy award on one of our competitors it always means that we think the value is high, and this baby is no different. Great performance meets a friendly price tag on the Borealis, a true winner in our book.

Conclusion


The Borealis is a fantastically easy layer to fall in love with. It fits like a dream, has stellar mobility and breathability, barely registers on the scale, and won't break the bank. It's no wonder it warranted a Best Buy award, especially for climbers who need a mildly protective layer that won't weigh them down or get in the way. While it's not a champion in the weather protection department, we know this is an article of clothing that you will be happy to own for mild weather applications.

The Borealis says Cheers!
The Borealis says Cheers!


Penney Garrett