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Rab Borealis - Women's Review

This wicked light softshell has great mobility, is highly breathable and well-tailored - a perfect layer for fair-weather climbing or hiking
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $115 List | $77.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Inexpensive, stellar mobility and breathability, stow-away pocket, harness-friendly pockets, excellent fit
Cons:  Not very warm, below average water resistance
Manufacturer:   Rab Equipment
By Mary Witlacil and Penney Garrett  ⋅  May 7, 2020
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78
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 14
  • Weather Protection - 30% 5
  • Breathability - 30% 10
  • Mobility - 25% 9
  • Weight - 10% 8
  • Versatility - 5% 4

Our Verdict

The Rab Borealis is a light-weight and well-tailored softshell that delivers top-notch mobility and breathability. It was designed for climbers that need something packable and fitted, but anyone active and mobile outdoors will appreciate this layer. It weighs barely over half a pound but has harness-accessible pockets, a stow-away pocket for stashing on your harness, and is still able to provide a decent barrier against the elements. It won't keep you warm in severely cold or wet conditions, but the slim fit is perfect for layering under other pieces. While it isn't particularly feature-heavy, all your bases are covered for most situations. Overall, this is a fantastic softshell and one we think the majority of climbers will find highly useful. Even better is the very friendly price tag, so we resoundingly give it a Best Buy Award!

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Borealis is an active softshell that is awesome for taking the edge off the wind while alpine and summer climbing, peak-bagging, trail-running, and other fair-weather aerobic activities. It was designed with climbing in mind, hence the Napoleon-style harness-compatible pockets and the stow-away pocket for clipping onto a harness; but is light enough to toss in your pack while hiking or backpacking for all manner of activities. It scored exceptionally well in many categories, all while staying affordable, hence earning our Best Buy Award.

Performance Comparison


Lightweight and stretchy  this is an ideal layer for climbing or running.
Lightweight and stretchy, this is an ideal layer for climbing or running.

Weather Protection


Aside from being an excellent wind-breaker, the Borealis isn't notably warm or water-resistant. However, the UPF 50+ fabric does offer some great protection from the sun.


In addition to a wind-resistant face fabric, this jacket has a DWR-finish to boost water-resistance. If you're caught in a light drizzle, the Borealis will provide nominal protection, but it won't keep you dry in a downpour. Being an active softshell, this doesn't have any sort of fleece lining to keep you extra warm. Then again, keeping you warm in winter is not what this jacket was designed to do; it is meant to protect you from the wind while high on rock routes or mountain ridges. If you need something warmer, you could always pair this jacket with a lightweight fleece or opt for a warmer jacket altogether. For climbing or hiking on windy days, however, the Borealis will take the cold edge off the wind, so you can focus your energy on getting sendy instead.

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.

Breathability


The Borealis absolutely crushes in terms of breathability. This rad little number is the most breathable jacket in our review.



The Borealis is made with a single-weave fabric, making it the lightest weight softshell on offer by U.K. based company, Rab. It is sufficiently breathable for all but the toastiest approaches, and when used as a skin-protecting layer in off-widths, it didn't feel overly swampy or suffocating. If you're looking for a thin soft-shell to combat the wind on chilly morning runs, alpine big walls, or forest hikes — this jacket is a primo option, and at an affordable price to boot!

The Borealis is breathable enough that you won't turn into a swampy mess  even after climbing a fist crack in the sun!
The Borealis is breathable enough that you won't turn into a swampy mess, even after climbing a fist crack in the sun!

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 moveable jacket. It has excellent stretch, and the well-executed slim cut means there isn't excessive 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 of the Borealis makes it easy to push them up and have them stay in place. The fitted hood fits well underneath a helmet instead of over it, which aids in unrestricted movement. We like this design more when not wearing a helmet because it never needs to be fussed with or adjusted — it just always fits. The Borealis is also long enough that it doesn't ride-up while climbing, which is a must unless you thrill at sharing climber's crack with the world (rather than just climbing cracks, that is…)

If you like having layers that you can forget are even on your body  this is a jacket to consider.
If you like having layers that you can forget are even on your body, this is a jacket to consider.

Weight


The Borealis is one of the lightest softshells in our review. The size small weighs a measly 9 ounces.


While little-to-no weight means that weather protection isn't as robust, it's a fair tradeoff for the right activities. If you're high on a rock wall or climbing a 14'er, you will appreciate the ultra-lightness of this layer. Indeed, it's so lightweight that you'll barely notice this jacket when it's clipped to your harness or stashed in your pack.

You wouldn't even know the Borealis was on your harness except for how pink this one is!
You wouldn't even know the Borealis was on your harness except for how pink this one is!

Versatility


We determined this metric by considering each jacket's features, style, durability, and ability to move between varied activities and climates. On this metric, the Borealis did not score as high as some of the other jackets in our review. This is because, while it is a great fair-weather jacket, it doesn't offer much in terms of weather protection. This means it is restricted to activities like rock climbing, hiking, summer mountaineering, and trail-running. That said, it is highly durable, attractive, and appropriate for many warm-weather adventures where unimpeded movement and breathability are paramount.


The Borealis isn't particularly feature-rich when stacked up against other models in our review, though it does have some fantastic features for rock climbing. It has two zippered hand pockets that are harness compatible, meaning you can easily use your pockets while hanging at a belay or while wearing a pack. You can stuff the jacket into one of the pockets, which easily zippers-shut, and has a durable-ish loop for clipping to your harness. This is a feature we believe all climbing-specific jackets should have, because it doesn't add any weight, and it means you can easily take the jacket off while climbing and put it back on at belays. Beyond this, the Borealis has lightweight single-weave fabric, which is wind-resistant, DWR-treated, and UPF 50+ to offer light protection from the sun and rain. The drawcords on the hem are easy to use, and the fitted hood and chin guard both 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.

This Best Buy Winner was an easy favorite in our lineup.
This Best Buy Winner was an easy favorite in our lineup.

Value


The Borealis nabs our Best Buy Award for a reason. This lightweight active softshell is a fantastic layer for taking the bite out of the wind. It is highly breathable, moves with ease, and has an ideal number of features for the price-point. While it does not offer the same degree of weather protection as the technical (read: more expensive) softshells in our review, it does cover its niche quite well. It is an awesome layer for making sure you can squeeze one more pitch out of the day or cut the cold on a sunrise trail run. If you're looking for a well-fitting wind-layer that is light enough you'll forget it's in your pack or on your harness, then the Borealis covers all of these bases, effectively striking a balance between high performance and an affordable price.

The Borealis is Rab's lightest weight softshell  while climbing desert splitters  it moves like a second-skin  and it's inexpensive to boot!
The Borealis is Rab's lightest weight softshell, while climbing desert splitters, it moves like a second-skin, and it's inexpensive to boot!

Conclusion


The Borealis is an 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 warrants 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 or as part of a more comprehensive layering system.

The clean lines and slim fit of the Borealis made for an attractive layer that we really enjoyed wearing.
The clean lines and slim fit of the Borealis made for an attractive layer that we really enjoyed wearing.

Mary Witlacil and Penney Garrett