Rab's Borealis Pull-On (Hooded Softshell)
Rab updated their Boreas Pull-on for 2018 renaming it the Borealis Pull-On. Unlike many upgrades in recent times (that have proven to break something that never needed fixing), Rab did a great job and all the negatives of our old (now archived) review no longer apply.
As always, we're looking at the Rab Borealis from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.
Test subject: Chest 42", Waist 33", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: size = Large, colour = Evergreen (2019)
Kit Tests: Winter, Summer (multiple)
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)
|Materials: Matrix SWS™ (Nylon / Elastane)||85% / 15%|
|Treatments: Polygiene Stay Fresh odour control||-|
|Weight (Size Large, stated, size not specified 2021 / measured 2019)||265g / 280g|
|Product Sizing Reference: 42" Chest =||Large|
Introduction: Compromise Perfected
At Scramble, we're not big fans of compromise, but Rab's Borealis offers a kind of uncompromising compromise; a compromise perfected. It's tough enough, it's light enough, it's stretchy enough and it offers just enough protection from the elements, rocks and undergrowth to make it indispensable enough - it's an absolute gem.
The Borealis is essentially a cross between a wind-top and a softshell jacket. Lighter than most softshell jackets and tougher, more stretchy and more breathable than most wind-tops (putting it in the wind-resistant rather than wind-proof category).
Most of the cold we experience in the great outdoors is via convection (warm body to colder air). A non-thermal layer like the Borealis provides a sufficient degree of warmth when active simply by taking a large edge off a biting wind. The ability for a layer to "breathe" reduces the tendency to over-heat and get soaked in perspiration, leading to rapid cooling when static.
It's this balance between breathability and protection that sets the Borealis apart. Combined with a very ample degree of stretch (15% elastane) incorporated into a tough polyamide tight single weave and you've got a light and packable layer that can handle itself in the mountains. It's easy to see why it's a favourite among climbers.
The Borealis wasn't always so perfect. When it was the Boreas, it was very good but had a number of niggling flaws. Unlike the majority of "upgrades" which seem to break more than they fix, Rab did a stellar job of righting the Boreas ship. Enter the Borealis ...
- The major change was switching the main material composition of their Matrix Single Weave Stretch (SWS) fabric, from polyester (86%) in the Boreas to nylon (85%) in the Borealis with the remainder in both cases made up of elastane. This greatly improved the drying time but more importantly increased its toughness and durability.
- The long sleeves are now elasticated at the cuff and the lycra bindng is very forgiving, so you can still pull the sleeves up well over the elbow to cool down (see pic below).
- The hood fit is much improved (now under helmet vs over so less voluminous) and, due to the flexible lycra binding (the older model had no elastication on the hood), better accommodates peaked headwear.
- There's now two cord adjusters at the hip.
- It has a genuine integrated stuff sack with daisy chain loops to clip it to your pack or harness.
- The fit is slightly slimmer at the waist. But overall sizing isn't really affected.
- My size large Borealis weighs in at 280g (stated weight = 265g but size is not stated), which makes it a fraction heavier than the old 2015 Boreas (basically a little less fabric but a few more useful bells and whistles).
There's not a great deal going on with the Borealis. It's a simple top with a slightly dropped back, a hood and a chest pocket.
One of the major upgrades has been to the hood. The old Boreas used a hood binding with no stretch, and when worn with a cap whilst carrying a heavy pack, would result in neck strain when looking upward whilst ascending.
The lycra-bound hood on the Borealis however is excellent and has no such issues. It doesn't interfere with your vision when turning your head from side to side or up and down (with or without a cap). It's an ideal "under-helmet" fit and a massive improvement over the older model.
The old Boreas had a non-tapered, non-bound cuff. Many complained about the gorilla sleeve length, though I quite liked the fact you could fully roll up the sleeves over the bicep. Early on, I was a little concerned that Rab had bound the cuffs, but in use, those concerns were unwarranted.
The cuff binding has a good degree of stretch and (depending on the Popeye-like nature of your forearms or the Tyson-like pop to your biceps) you may be able to get the sleeve a good way up the arm when you need to vent and lose a little heat.
Pocket, Zips and Hem Adjusters
Something outdoor brands could learn from Rab's Borealis (especially when designing zipped t-shirts) is the deep zip. The main purpose of such zips is to help vent and dump a bunch of heat, meaning you can keep the top on and not be jumping in and out of layers. The other benefit of deep zips like this is they help accommodate map pockets like Scramble's Floating Pocket.
The Borealis has a good-sized chest pocket which doubles as a stuff sack with carry loop (should you want to clip it to your pack or harness - especially relevant for climbers). The Borealis packs down quite small and will fit in most trouser thigh pockets (meaning its weight, when not in use, doesn't necessarily need to go onto the shoulders).
Finally, unlike the Boreas, the Borealis includes a useful cinching adjuster at the hem. This has been a set and forget option for me, but it's nice to be able to adjust such things and this is a definite improvement over the older model and well implemented.
The main negatives we docked the Boreas for were the hood and its slow drying time. The hood in the Borealis is excellent and the switch in fabric from polyester to nylon has greatly improved the drying time as well as its robustness and durability.
The other small changes have brought genuine improvements and there is literally nothing we'd want Rab to alter. Normally, such a sentiment seems to act as a signal to the manufacturer to discontinue the product or get their design team to screw it up. Let's hope not this time.
Conclusion & Rating
Something for all seasons? Not quite, but perhaps one half of the ultimate 4 season softshell
The Borealis is the ideal outer layer for trekking conditions equivalent to UK summer, late spring and early autumn. However, we really consider the Rab Borealis as one half of the ideal 4-season softshell.
When paired with Mountain Hardwear's Chockstone or Mountain Equipment's Echo you have a double-layered winter softshell, with a Rab inner and an equally high quality, tough outer, combining to form a breathable yet highly wind-resistant, reasonably water-resistant, durable and functional winter setup for active use in the mountains.
However, unlike a traditional alpine softshell, these two items can be used independently. So, in summer, late spring and early autumn the Rab Borealis Pull-On provides ideal protection from the elements without causing overheating; likewise MH's Chockstone or ME's Echo will cover early spring and late autumn use.
So to sum up, the Rab Borealis is compromise perfected. For such a seemingly light layer it's surprisingly hardy and offers good protection from the elements and the environment. Its high degree of flex means it gives rather than rips when snagged. Everything Rab could improve they have and as much as the Boreas was liked, the Borealis should be loved by climbers and mountain trekkers alike. Rab have done a great job on the Borealis and it's going to be hard to shake it from its lofty perch as our top pick in the Lightweight Softshell category.
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Last Updated: 29/06/21