Monday, 30 January 2012

Rab Vaporize stretch top- Review

Lynne wearing the top on a snowy day
Rab Vapour-rise has been around for quite a while in various guises. The basic thought of it is much the same as other "proper" softshells, not actually "waterproof", but rather water resistant, and focusing a lot more on the breathability of the garment.
Like other tops of the same ilk, there is no membrane as a barrier to water coming in, but also, that means there is no barrier to water attempting to escape. There is a Pertex Equilibrium outer layer, and depending on which jacket you buy, a varying amount of wicking microfleece material on the inside.

I've wanted one of these for ages now, and never got around to buying one as I couldn't justify the price for something that might not be as good as I hoped it would be. Trying on a number of types of the Vapour-Rise family in shops, it became apparent that the Vapour-Rise jacket, the general all purpose one was going to be too thick to run in (which was the primary reason for getting one). Also, the wrist closure was big and bulky, and I found it really cumbersome around my wrists. If that got wet, I could imagine it taking an age to dry. The cuffs would probably fit around most of my gloves though.
Rab Stretch Vapour-Rise

The Vapour-Rise Light jackets (which are at time of writing on sale) just didn't seem to fit me properly. Long in the wrong places, and just generally uncomfortable.
The Stretch Jacket though, thats the one which I tried on in the shop and fell in love with. A smock, with a single pocket, no hood, power-stretch fleece across the back and down the sides and no adjustable cuffs- just thumb loops. Brilliant. The Small was snug, but the powerstretch panels across the shoulders and back made it fit perfectly.

The long and short of it is that I eventually got around to buying one. The idea being that it is a winter running top which would breathe well, so I didn't need to wear anything else unless it got really nasty out- and then a small windproof or waterproof top would do fine. An all day top that once on, wouldn't need to be taken off, even if it got warmer, but could be used as a mid layer should it become necessary.

I've now owned a Vapour-Rise stretch top for about 3 months, and have used it quite a bit.
I can happily say that it is an almost unqualified success. The first major outing was in Wales with a couple of friends. We ran for about 6 hours in snow, sleet, rain, driving wind and general clag. The other guys had to stop and put on/take off various layers throughout the day. I stayed in the same top, until it got REALLY nasty, and then put on a Gore-tex top layer. No faffing around. Excellent.

Chest pocket opening
The chest pocket is very useful for keeping a small camera in- close to hand so I can take shots as I am running, the vent zip opens from the top and the bottom, giving a number of venting options, you can wear it with a wicking baselayer, or on its own and it breathes fantastically.

There is also an elastic neck closure (in lieu of a hood, I suppose), which I have never actually got around to using in anger. If the weather got bad enough to start needing to use it, I think that I'd already have another layer on top. That being said, I have used it in rain and clag, and for the first 30-40 mins the DWR layer on the pertex has been excellent, keeping the worst of the wet out. I found that as long as I was doing enough work in order to keep pushing sweat out from inside the jacket, I stayed relatively dry. Once the weather really came in though, it was time to put on a proper waterproof layer.

Neck closure
size of chest pocket
I have only twice been too hot in the top, once when the air was so still it just wasn't taking any heat away from me, and I felt like a heat sink. My answer was to wear it on its own, stuffing the baselayer I had into the bumbag. The other was yesterday, in the snow. I had a merino base layer on as well, and was running a bit faster than normal as I was keeping up with a couple of other people (and it was the day after a race), however, despite being warm, and sweating quite a lot, I was never actually uncomfortable.

All the black bits are powerstretch
Yes. This jacket really does breathe. After being out yesterday and running quite hard, I noticed that the outer pertex was pretty wet- not from any kind of precipitation, but rather from my sweat. However, the inner fleece was dry. Completely dry. The fleece to pertex wicking action was working brilliantly. I must have been steaming quite a bit by the end of the run.
On a couple of occasions I have lent this jacket to Lynne. Once on the snow run with the Harriers and once on a race- incidentally, also in the snow. She loves it and is thinking about buying one as well. The point of saying this is that when she runs in it, you can see steam rolling out of the shoulders and generally venting heat, something that you can sometimes see with other jackets, but certainly not to the extent that you see with this one. 

There is only one thing that I would change about this jacket. The thumb loops. The seem to be made with small fairies in mind. Getting my thumb through the loop is minorly problematic in the first place, and keeping them there means a numb thumb in about 5-10 mins. A small issue, but an issue nevertheless.

Thumbloops. Not quite big enough
One point to be aware of is the bulk of the jacket if you aren't intending on wearing it all day. I suspect that if you went out with a day pack, that wouldn't be so much of a problem, but trying to stuff it down to get into a small rucksac is hard, and a bumbag- impossible. If you are going to wear this outside, I'd suggest having it as an all day top rather than a "put in the bag and see if you need it" kind of top.
As it has a pertex outer, its worth noting that if you do like to really crank your rucksac down on your back, it may end up bobbling- I've only just noticed it on mine, but there are a couple of places where rucksac straps have started to bobble up the outer.

Breathable. Not Windproof
This is a note- not a criticism- this top is NOT windproof. Don't buy it and expect it to keep you warm if the wind is whipping around you on top of a hill. It is very breathable, and lets heat and water vapour escape. On the photo to the left you can see the sun through the material, thats a thin later of fleece, and a pertex outer.You may feel warm as you walk/run but if you stop, the wind will go through the black stretch panels. In order to stop this from happening get a windproof top- the Montane featherlite is great as it just goes over the top, and provides and extra windproof barrier.
However, should you do that, you WILL end up a sweaty mess if you start running again.

Added chunky zip pull
I like to have a solid zipper which I can grab on with a pair of gloves, so I slightly modified the main zip with a lump of Sugru. You probably don't need it, but I like it.

I haven't used this top in the warm yet, and I suspect it will be just a bit too warm for running in the summer, walking may be ok though. From late autumn through to late spring , I think this is a brilliant top for general all purpose running- especially on cold, frosty days, long easy days, or long days in cold hills.
If I was putting a lot of effort into running, like all out efforts in shorter races (less than 20k), or hard hill training, I think it would probably be a bit too warm unless the weather was really, really ridiculous.

Lynne wearing my top. Again.
I love this jacket. It has become the staple item that I wear on runs this winter. I know others will find it too hot, some may find it too cold, but I love the warmth, coupled with crazy amounts of breathability that it offers. I imagine that I won't be using it much to race in, but for the next few months, on long days out either on a challenge, or just for a bimble, this will be my layer of choice. I can't wait to try it in really nasty weather with an eVent top, that should be good.

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