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Best Lightweight (Under 350g) Softshell Jacket

Rab's Borealis Tour Jacket

Rab's Borealis Tour Softshell (& Borealis Range)


Although this is primarily a review of Rab's Borealis Tour Jacket, it's best viewed as a review and recommendation of the overall Borealis range.  Rab seem to be chopping and changing (hopefully seeking perfection rather than being confused as to which world they inhabit: outdoor or fashion). We hope Rab will bring back the Borealis Pull-On for example, but we've been equally, if not more impressed by the Tour (reviewed here) and they've recently released the "Borealis Jacket" which is basically a full-zip version of the hooded Pull-On but with twin chest pockets. 

Our view is that as long as Rab stick to the same fabric-weight and material blend of their Single Weave Softshell fabric and maintain the high finishing standards, we'll continue to recommend their Borealis line.   

There's a good deal in this review that is simply carried over from the Borealis Pull-On, but if you're interested as to how Rab made a good number of intelligent design choices to get from the very good Boreas to the near-perfect Borealis the Pull-On review is worth a read. 

Additionally, in this review we'll say goodbye to an old favourite of Scramble's, the excellent and discontinued (though just about still available) Mountain Hardwear Chockstone and in doing so explain why the Borealis pairs so well with its replacement.

As always, we're looking at the Rab Borealis Tour Jacket 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 = Aspen Green  (2022)
Kit Tests: Winter, Summer
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 / measured) 296g / 290g
Product Sizing Reference: 42" Chest = Large
Manufacturer RRP £90.00

Manufacturer's Page


Scramble Review



Introduction: In Search of the Modular 4-Season Softshell

In terms of active softshell layers, we've long advocated a two-jacket "modular" approach to cover all seasons. In the past that was a mid-weight (<450g) and a lightweight (<300g) softshell to be combined for sub-zero conditions.

Over-time we've tested increasingly lighter options to see whether we can slim down the  mid-weight softshell. When Mountain Equipment released their superb Echo Hooded Jacket we initially thought of it as competition for the Borealis, however it's surprisingly tough and durable for its weight and we've subsequently discovered that it's actually the ideal replacement for Mountain Hardwear's (nearly) iconic Chocktone.

As a final test of this hypothesis, in the 2023 Winter Kit Test I paired the Chockstone with an ultralight (120g) Mountain Equipment Aerofoil. Promoted as a kind of softshell, but really a wind-jacket with a small degree of stretch (an over-priced, but decent bit of kit).

The Classic Mountain Hardwear Chockstone over a super-light Mountain Equipment Aerofoil2023 Winter Kit Test, wearing the Mountain Hardwear Chockstone softshell over a super-light Mountain Equipment Aerofoil "softshell".


Any of the Rab Borealis range (inner-layer) when paired with Mountain Equipment's Echo (outer-layer) make a double-layered winter softshell (which out-performs the combination pictured above). Combined they form a breathable yet highly wind-resistant, reasonably water-resistant, durable and functional pairing for active use in sub-zero mountain conditions. In summer, the Borealis is ideal, in cooler climes the Echo takes over and in winter you use them together. It's a very flexible and relatively cost-effective approach and we've not seen any reason to change our underlying philosophy.

Rab's Borealis pairings for a modular winter softshellScramble's current modular softshell recommended jacket pairings

A useful way to impart the overall favourability of the items pictured above is to hypothetically induce some restraint. In actuality, I'd want, and have, all three jackets pictured above. However, if I could only have two I'd go for the Echo and the Borealis Tour; if I could only have one, I'd go for the tougher Mountain Equipment Echo - it's the best all-rounder and with some supplementation could be made to function across all four seasons.

Assuming one can have two of the three, let's see why the Borealis Tour makes such a great partner for the ME Echo and why it's so good as a solo piece when the sun finally manages to peak through the clouds.

The Borealis: Compromise Perfected

What we stated in our "Pull-On" review applies equally to the Borealis Tour (and the current Borealis range, since it's a function of design principles and materials used):

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 Tour, like many good designs, is very simple. It has most (if not all) of what you genuinely need and not a lot else. We'll begin with a brief overview of the Tour and then we'll look at a few particulars that show why it performs whether single or when in a relationship.  

The Borealis Tour is a hoodless, full-zip, stretchy softshell (if it snags on undergrowth or rock it tends to give rather than rip). The Tour has four pockets; two outer zipped pockets and two internal "glove" pockets (which for some reason in many of the specs don't get mentioned). It has the standard Borealis lycra-bound cuffs and adjusters at the hem and collar.

Main features of the Rab Borealis Tour JacketThe Borealis Tour's elegant simplicity.

Inside out, we see much the same: a simple elegant design. You can barely make out the openings for the internal pockets and aside from that there's a hanging loop behind the neck.  Not much to see here, let's move on. 

The Rab Borealis Tour Jacket: Inside OutInside out the Borealis Tour doesn't give a great deal away.

Though I'd been taking some rather daring and interesting routes (thus the gloves) Scrambling up and down the rough mongrel mountains known as the Rhinogs (pictured below), it was hard to get the Borealis looking like I'd taken any punishment. Everything is looking suspiciously pristine during my modelling session while the rain stayed away (this was well into my 250 mile trek during the recent 2023 Summer Kit Test).

The Rab Borealis Tour Jacket - surveying the RhinogsModelling the Borealis Tour during a quick break in the Rhinogs.

As with all the Borealis pieces the Tour features a nice dropped back and for a shorty like me (a size Large) has my arse covered.

Key Features

Unlike the Borealis Pull-On, a simple top with a dropped back, a hood and a chest pocket, the Borealis Tour has no hood and no chest pocket, so what does it have? We'll start at the top and work our way down.

The Neck

The YKK Vislon zips (used through the Borealis range) finish in standard zip housings (or garages). The Borealis has a reasonably high collar which can be tightened via an elastic cord adjuster at the back to prevent heat-loss on colder days. Personally, I've not used this, but it's good that it's there.

The Rab Borealis Tour Jacket has a good adjustable collarRab's Borealis features a cinch-adjustable collar.


This is an area where the Tour outshines the Pull-On.

The Borealis Tour has two large zipped hand pockets which have a larger capacity than one might expect due to the stretch of the softshell fabric. On the inside are two similarly sized, open (non-zipped) pockets for accessories such as hats, gloves etc. These are very useful and a welcome addition.

The Borealis Tour Jacket has four pockets (2 zipped and 2 internal)The Borealis Tour's features two very useful internal pockets.

I thought I might miss the zipped chest pocket of the Pull-On but didn't, largely because of the internal pockets. This is one of the features that makes the Tour work so well with ME's Echo. The Echo provides a hood and a chest pocket and the Tour provides two excellent and stretchy internal pockets.


As with the Borealis Pull-On (pictured below #2), the binding on the cuffs 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.

I was able to roll the sleeves over my bicep and combined with the full length zip, it meant I could keep the Tour jacket on even when it got quite summery.

Roll-up, roll-up - venting is possible on the BorealisEnough stretch at the wrist to roll-up the sleeves for most arms.

Zips and Hem Adjusters

As with the Borealis Pull-On the Tour features two hem adjusters to cinch the jacket at the hip and prevent it riding up while climbing and scrambling (a set and forget option for me). Like all the features on the Borealis range, these are finished to a high standard and work well.

The Borealis Tour comes with hem adjusters and features a full-length YKK vislon zipThe Rab Borealis Tour's hem adjusters and full-length YKK Vislon zips.

Having a full length zip means you can fully vent and dump a bunch of heat, allowing the wearer to keep the jacket on rather than be jumping in and out of layers. The other benefit of full-length zips is it just makes it easier to store and access things like map pockets (pictured in the top right panel of the main image of this review).

Finally, at the chest is Rab's fetching logo which serves no purpose but doesn't look too ugly either.

Packed Up

The Borealis Tour packs into the left-hand zipped pocket which acts 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).

The Borealis packs into its left zipped pocketThe Borealis packs into its left zipped pocket which doubles as a stuff sack.

Any Negatives?


The old Boreas had some issues, but Rab have made a number of intelligent improvements over time to both the design and the materials and they've got to the point where they've pretty much perfected the Borealis range. This is normally when manufacturers decide to either break what they've finally fixed or simply discontinue the line. We hope and pray Rab refrain from such suicidal tendencies.

Finally, although we're very much on-board with recycling and anything that re-uses waste and prevents environmental degradation, we're also aware that not everything can be made from recycled plastic bottles. Manufacturers like Mammut and Pyua and many others seem to believe that outdoor softshells can be made from polyester (via recycled plastics). However, polyester is simply not tough enough for viable softshells. So while we want to see alternative uses and re-uses for many plastics, we also want gear that actually serves the user. As such, we're very pleased to see Rab and Mountain Equipment (and others) continue to make sensible material choices and hope they refrain from being entirely swept up in "net zero / end of the world" hysteria promulgated by corporate PR firms and their risible creations.

Conclusion & Rating

The Rab Borealis Tour 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. We felt the Pull-On was pretty near perfect, the Tour is even better. The Borealis range (as long as they don't screw it up) should be loved by climbers and mountain trekkers alike.  Rab have done a great job on the Borealis Tour and there's nothing we'd want to add or change.

The Borealis Tour pairs perfectly with Mountain Equipment's slightly tougher and equally excellent Echo for sub-zero use and between them, you're absolutely covered for 4-Season trekking.

It's going to be hard to shake the Borealis Tour from its lofty perch as our top pick in the Lightweight Softshell Jacket category.


Product Images


Rating (out of 10)

RRP Value *

* 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: 22/11/23

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