Rab Microlight Jacket Review

Trim-fitting ultralight three-season down jacket with a great shell and basic feature set, but its numerous horizontal seams allow down fragments to leak out.

Overall Rating: Above Average

It's appropriate to give this jacket the name "Microlight" because its Pertex Microlight shell is its dominant feature. I like the jacket's highly wind and water resistant shell, trim fit, and feature set, and its down insulation seems to be "almost 800 fill" but they don't call it that. The downside of this jacket is that the numerous horizontal seams leak down, and the hand pockets lack a good elastic binding. From an ultralight backpacker's viewpoint, the Rab Microlight Jacket is a bit heavy for the warmth it provides. Jackets with a lighter shell fabric, like the Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket and Flight Jacket, have a much better warmth to weight ratio. However, the Microlight Jacket is spot on for mountaineers and lightweight backpackers who want more durability and exceptional water repellency.

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by Will Rietveld |

Rab Microlight Jacket Review - 1
The Rab Microlight Jacket has a Pertex Microlight shell, 750+ down fill and weighs 11 ounces (size Large). Rocky Mountain goats in the background, Rocky Mountain old goat in the foreground.

Introduction

An ultralight three-season down insulated jacket with high loft down, very light shell fabric, a minimal feature set, and weight under 14 ounces is an essential part of an ultralight or lightweight backpacking kit for summertime backpacking in the mountains or shoulder season camping most anywhere. Down insulation provides the most warmth for its weight, so it's the insulation preferred by backpackers and mountaineers in all but very wet conditions. An array of jackets is available - differing in fabrics, features, and amount of down insulation - so there's a jacket to fit most hiker's needs and preferences. Look for a Backpacking Light State of the Market article on ultralight three-season down insulated jackets in Spring 2010 that will present the options and assist with the selection process.

Description

The Rab Microlight Jacket, as the name implies, utilizes Pertex Microlight fabric for the shell. Microlight, like other Pertex fabrics, is made of microfine filament yarns with an extremely close weave, and they are calendared to make them windproof and downproof. The fabric's high density weave also enhances insulation by trapping more air inside. However, Microlight at 1.3 oz/yd2 is a bit heavier than Pertex Quantum at 0.9 oz/yd2. Microlight features DWR+, which is a unique durable water-repellent treatment which encapsulates each filament of the fabric with a hydrophobic polymer. This treatment gives excellent water shedding, and since it is not a continuous coating, breathability is not impaired. Another unique property of Pertex fabrics is their ability to disperse water. Where most nylon fabrics wick moisture directly through the weave, Pertex spreads it over a broad area by capillary action, so it evaporates more rapidly.

Rab Microlight Jacket Review - 2
Front and rear views of the Rab Microlight Jacket. Features include a full front zipper, stand up collar, two side pockets, and zippered chest pocket.

The Rab Microlight Jacket shares several design elements with its siblings, the Microlight Alpine Jacket (hooded), and Microlight Vest. All have sewn-through 1.5-inch horizontal quilting to hold the down in place, two hand pockets, one zippered chest pocket, and elastic piping on the cuffs and hem.

Rab Microlight Jacket Review - 3
The Microlight Jacket has two unzippered handwarmer pockets (left), and one large zippered chest pocket (right) that doubles as a stuff sack.

The down insulation in the Microlight Jacket is 750+. I asked Rab why they don't use 800 fill power down to keep up with the competition, and their response emphasized the "+" sign after the "750," meaning their down has a minimum of 750 fill power, and is closer to 800 on average. Rab prefers to use a very conservative rating rather than inflate it for marketing purposes (not that others do...) so they call it what it is at the very minimum. From a consumer point of view, it still begs the question: "Is it, or isn't it, comparable to '800 fill' used by other manufacturers?"

Performance

Rab Microlight Jacket Review - 4
Rab Microlight Jacket worn while backpacking on a cold fall day.

I tested the Rab Microlight Jacket on several summer and early fall backpacking trips in the southern Colorado mountains, where I camped at elevations up to 12,500 feet (3,810 m) and encountered snow, wind, rain, cold nights, and lots of beautiful scenery. I wore the Microlight Jacket as an outer layer on cold days, as a midlayer with a shell over it for extra warmth and wind protection, and in my 30 F (-1 C) sleeping bag to extend its warmth on below freezing nights.

The jacket has a trim fit, both in the body and sleeves, so it will only layer over a base layer and a thin sweater. Sleeves are set-in at the shoulders and are plenty long.

I really like the jacket's roomy hand pockets, which will hold a bunch of smaller items in camp and keep them handy. The side pockets are not zippered and the elastic band in the binding has minimal stretch, so items can fall out if the pockets are overloaded. I found the zippered chest pocket handy for holding my digital camera to keep it dry and secure.

Rab Microlight Jacket Review - 5
The jacket's Pertex Microlight shell is very wind resistant and functionally waterproof (see next photo).

Rab Microlight Jacket Review - 6
I tested the jacket's waterproofness by placing a puddle of water on the shell for an hour, then checking for leakage. Nothing came through! Water eventually soaks through the seams in many jackets, but the Pertex Microlight shell on this jacket didn't allow any water to soak through.

The Microlight Jacket is warm down to about freezing at a low activity level, and warm down to colder temperatures when worn as a midlayer while hiking or skiing. From past experience with a Pertex Microlight windshirt, I find the fabric not very breathable (because it's calendered), but breathability is less important in an insulated jacket shell. Overall, the Microlight Jacket is extremely versatile (as are all ultralight three-season down jackets) and it saw a lot of use. I wore it during the day as needed, every evening and morning in camp, and inside my sleeping bag.

Rab Microlight Jacket Review - 7
Although the Microlight Jacket's 1.5-inch horizontal quilting is stylish and holds the down in place, the numerous seams also provide an easy route for down to escape. This microfleece top is covered with down fragments after wearing it under the Microlight Jacket in a sleeping bag overnight.

Comparisons and Assessment

Two jackets closest to the Rab Microlight are the Patagonia Down Sweater and Mountain Hardwear Nitrous Jacket. The following table compares their specifications; manufacturer data for size medium are shown.

Jacket Shell Fabric Insulation Features Weight (oz) Cost (US$)
Rab Microlight Pertex Microlight (nylon) 750+ down 2 unzippered hand pockets, zippered chest pocket, elastic cuffs and hem 11.3 190
Patagonia Down Sweater Polyester 800 down 2 zippered hand pockets, drawcord hem, elastic cuffs 11.0 200
Mountain Hardwear Nitrous Polyester 800 down 2 unzippered hand pockets with flap, zippered chest pocket, drawcord hem, elastic cuffs 11.0 220

Compared to the closest competition, the Rab Microlight Jacket holds up well. Its Pertex Microlight shell is a plus, the down insulation seems to be comparable (see explanation above), and it's a better value. Of course, this is a limited comparison; there are numerous other jackets on the market with different constructions and feature sets.

Overall, the Rab Microlight Jacket is perhaps a little more versatile than many of its brethren because of its medium level of insulation, trim fit, lack of a hood, and its pockets. This combination allows the jacket to more easily be worn as either an outer layer or midlayer, in a variety of outdoor sports, as well as for sport-casual dress. However, its numerous horizontal seams allow down fragments to exit. Also, the binding on the hand pockets does little to keep items from falling out; I would prefer to see an elastic piping like that used on the jacket's cuffs and hem.

Specifications and Features

  Manufacturer:

Rab (http://www.rab.uk.com/)

  Year/Model:

2009 Microlight Jacket

  Style:

Full zip hoodless jacket

  Fabrics:

Outer shell 30d 1.3 oz/yd2 (43 g/m2) Pertex Microlight with DWR finish, lining is a generic 30d downproof nylon

  Insulation:

4.4 oz (125 g) of 750+ fill power down

  Loft:

Measured two layer loft is 1.5 in (4 cm)

  Features:

Sewn through construction with 1.5-inch horizontal quilting, down filled stand up collar, full front #45C YKK zipper with one slider and storm flap under zipper, two hand pockets, one zippered chest pocket, elastic cuffs and hem, 1.25-inch dropped tail, jacket stuffs into its chest pocket

  Weight:

Size Large tested, measured weight 11 oz (312 g), manufacturer specified average weight 11.3 oz (320 g)

  MSRP:

US$190

Citation

"Rab Microlight Jacket Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/rab_microlight_jacket_review.html, 2009-11-03 00:05:00-07.

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Rab Microlight Jacket Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Rab Microlight Jacket Review on 11/03/2009 13:15:36 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Rab Microlight Jacket Review

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
Nice on 11/03/2009 20:09:37 MST Print View

I'm curious about the 1.5" spacing of the horizontal quilting/baffles that you see in a lot of these down jackets (Rab, Patagonia, Mtn Hardware, North Face etc).

It seems to me that this is less efficient than using wider baffles (ie. Montbell) because this single layer quilting reduces the loft to zero at every line of stitching. Wouldn't less be better to a certain extent?

Is this done for style reasons? It seems excessive for simply keeping the down in place.

Edited by dandydan on 11/04/2009 01:00:43 MST.

Jack Newton
(figster) - F

Locale: Central Arkansas
Rab on 11/04/2009 09:10:55 MST Print View

I spent weeks researching insulation jackets. I settled for the Rab Microlight for a handful of reasons. As the article noted, it is very waterproof, tough for its weight, versatile, and certainly best in class.

Unfortunately, my local outdoor shop, Ozark Outdoors, is located in the middle of Too Much Money Street and carries a heavy stock of Patagonia and North Face. Fortunately, they recently started to carry Rab. I was excited to see slightly more technical gear and was thrilled about being able to try Rab gear. The extra large, at 337 grams, layered perfectly with my shells, fit and layered better than the Western Mountaineering jackets I tried, and weighed nearly the same or better as its competitors after storage considerations.

I considered the small baffles as a potential problem for cold spots, but I reckoned the Microlight fabric will go far to help deter that a bit.

Its fair to say, Dan, that a minor consideration for picking up this jacket was how sharp it looked. I can wear it around town without feeling restricted or fat - the many stitches helps that considerably.

Jack

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Rab Microlight Jacket Review on 11/04/2009 11:15:09 MST Print View

Love the goat(s) pic (and caption)--kudos to Janet!

Great review, as usual, Will. This category is getting crowded with fine contenders.

Cheers,

Rick

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
Neck on 11/04/2009 14:29:12 MST Print View

Is the neck perhaps a bit loose? If it's going to be loose like this then there isn't much point in having insulation in the neck collar.

I find with quite a few insulated jkts that they don't fit my neck well when zipped up (or really anyones neck besides steroid juicing body builders). It seems like manufacturers in general make the necks too large so they look better when they are unzipped and folded down, and presumably, so they don't risk anyone finding the neck too tight.

This isn't really a knock against the Microlight, but rather something I'd like to see manufacturers in general tighten up. I had a MEC jacket that was way too loose in the neck and as a result I had a lot of heat escaping.

Rab Neck

Edited by dandydan on 11/04/2009 14:36:32 MST.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Size Matters on 11/04/2009 17:04:20 MST Print View

Dan,

Yes, the neck is too loose on Will. Will’s garment reviews are my favorite BPL content. He analyzes garments differently than I do but, I never fail to gain valuable additional insights from his reviews. After his highly recommended review of the WM Hooded Flash, I just had to try one on… I hated it. In a large measure this was because it fit me very differently than it fit Will. The size that maximized my torso warmth (see below), had hood dimensions that were totally ineffective. Compounding that, there were no adjustments to alter any aspect of the fit. It was my most recent reminder that “size matters”.

For any jacket to achieve its maximum insulation potential the neck has to seal, as does the wrists, and waist. Otherwise you have "chimney effect" heat loss when inactive. As your body heats air around your torso, it rises and goes out your neck. This in turn actively draws cold air up from the openings in the waist and wrist area.

You want the body of the jacket to be loose so as to maximize the garment warmth. The air space between the jacket and your next inner layer acts as additional insulation up to a max of about 3/4”. If you are moving, then the “billows effect” will pump both excess moisture and warmth out of your jacket. This is the reason that a down jacket doesn’t loose its insulating value in environments which it would be less than optimal for a down sleeping bag. For UL backpacking you normally only wear your insulation layer when your relatively stationary. Consequently, the warmth doesn’t billow out when you most need it; for example cooking breakfast or dinner. As you become more active, then your MET rate goes up and you want the billows effect to extend your thermal neutral range.

I alter the neck and wrists of many of my jackets to achieve their full warmth potential. All that is required is a needle, some polyester or nylon thread, and about a half hour of time. A neck looks best if it is taken in at both shoulder seams. If you take it in by using a single seam in the back of the neck, you will get a "hump back" material blossoming below the seam. Pin it and then try it on to insure you have the proper size prior to sewing.

Neck Mod

Air Gap

The insulation value of an air space falls off rapidly when the air space is any measure thinner than 3/16 inch. The thickness of the insulating air films on each surface is reduced. The R value increases up to about ¾ inch when air convection in this space begins to offset any increase in distance between the surfaces. Although not relevant to jacket fit, the curve remains fairly level in this range with the insulation value near 1 until the curve exceeds 4 inches. Beyond 4 inches, convection currents disturb the air films and cause the R value of the air space to decrease.

Edited by richard295 on 11/04/2009 17:33:12 MST.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
Neck on 11/04/2009 17:36:49 MST Print View

Wow that was a great post. Very informative. Thanks.

Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
Microlight Vest on 11/04/2009 23:48:35 MST Print View

I own a Microlight Vest from Rab and am very happy with it. I experienced the same issue with loosing down, but its not too bad. In the summer I also use it as a pillow at night, and in the winter I layer it with my Klättermusen Loke for some very nice warmth. Great piece of UL gear, for a good price.

Edited by skullmonkey on 11/04/2009 23:51:24 MST.

Alan Little
(AlanL) - F

Locale: Bavarian & Austrian Alps
Waist sealing? on 11/05/2009 00:17:32 MST Print View

> For any jacket to achieve its maximum insulation potential the neck has to seal, as does the wrists, and WAIST.

... said Richard

On which subject, what's with the lack of waist drawcords on modern shells? All canvas/ventile etc. mountain anoraks used to have them.

I really miss one on my Patagonia Ascentionist soft shell, which I otherwise love and wear pretty much all the time on the hills from Autumn to Spring. The hem seals ok but the cut on the torso is fairly loose - I bought mine sized to go over plenty of insulation if necessary, although it's usually fine over a baselayer or two when I'm moving. I'm sure being able to snug the waist in would make it a lot more thermally efficient than walking around in a loose bag of convecting air.

Why does almost nobody do this any more? I assume it's purely about looks over function.

(Yes I know I could, in theory, learn to sew well enough to put a waist drawcord in myself. Maybe I even will one day)

Edited by AlanL on 11/05/2009 00:18:08 MST.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
question for Richard: Rab Microlight Jacket Review on 11/05/2009 11:55:07 MST Print View

Richard, would you be willing to hazard an estimated CLO for this jacket?

Reason I ask is I've always backed away from low loft down things (OK, this one might be considered low-medium loft) because the fabric weight is much more than the insulation weight ... diluting the value for the $$$ paid for good quality down.

The outer shell weighs 1.3oz/yd^2 and the inner (30d) probably 1.1oz/yd^2 (1.2-1.3 if it contains ANY DWR) ... easily more than the weight of the down (which I might guess to be around 1.5oz/yd^2 based on Will's data of 4.4oz of down fill in a size large).

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: question for Richard: Rab Microlight Jacket Review on 11/05/2009 13:52:09 MST Print View

Jim,

Based on my lab testing of many down jackets last year, they are most closely correlated with warmth based on their amount of fill. The Rab Microlight (M) has 4.4 oz of (750+) fill. I previously posted the iclo values for the Montbell product line. The Rab Microlight is closest in insulation value to the MB Alpine Light Down’s 4 oz and 2.51 Iclo. Factoring for the slightly different fill weight, I estimate that the Rab Microlight would test ~ 4.4/4 * 2.51 = 2.761. Assume you wore typical a typical winter weight base layer clothes grouping (1 clo) under the jacket and used it for typical camp activities (1.5 MET). Also assume you are an average male. This would yield a comfort to extreme temp range of ~37F to 19F. Sanity testing the physics calculations versus Will’s real world experience, they jive. He said, “The Microlight Jacket is warm down to about freezing at a low activity level…”

You have a valid point about the relative contribution of the non insulation component of a jacket. Your solution to only use high insulation jackets is one option. Another option is to mitigate the non-insulation weight by selecting very high tenacity / low denier nylon fiber fabrics. Use that in combination with an appropriately sized shell to handle the potential abrasion and water repellency issues. The second approach yields the additional benefit of a significant increase in the insulation efficiency of sewn through down insulation. The seam channels form insulating air gaps between the jacket and the shell (hard or Windshirt). It also eliminates the potential water leakage from down channel seams.

Edited by richard295 on 11/06/2009 09:07:53 MST.

Robin McKay
(rlmckay) - M

Locale: Auckland NZ
RAB Jacket on 11/06/2009 02:58:31 MST Print View

This jacket seems very heavy compared to my Backpacking light cocoon

Bradford Rogers
(Mocs123) - MLife

Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Rab vs. Cocoon on 11/06/2009 08:21:31 MST Print View

It is heavier, but it should be quite a bit warmer than the Cocoon, plus you can actually buy one!

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
Rab Microlight Jacket Review on 11/06/2009 08:23:09 MST Print View

My Cocoon is my favorite piece of year. I can't believe the warmth it provides.

Jeff Vince
(AC_Doctor) - F
Another great review! on 11/06/2009 20:10:57 MST Print View

Another great review from Will!

AC

B. F.
(thrush) - F
Winner? on 11/08/2009 06:46:05 MST Print View

Like the Yeti Purity Jacket, there are so many horizontal baffels on the Rab Microlight Jacket, and I wonder why just like Dan said before. It makes no sense - its heavier (more stitches) and colder (more cold spots), and it is not necessary (see PHD Utra Down Vest: http://www.phdesigns.co.uk/product_info.php?cat=111&products_id=202 wich can cope with only 7 horinzontal baffels). Taking the loss and the medium quality of the down into account (PHD uses 900 cuin), this jacket is not the real winner for me. Or am I missing something maybe?

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: question for Richard: Rab Microlight Jacket Review on 11/08/2009 08:17:22 MST Print View

Thanks for the CLO info Richard.

I wasn't actually saying to use high insulation jackets only. What I tried (failed) to convey is that if cost is much of a factor (is for me) then spend $$$ on down for those situations where you need a high CLO value that could only be provided by a lot of bulk and weight if you use synthetics.

Regarding a separate shell. Yes, yes and yes! For me, winter clothing starts with oversized wind pants, shell mittens and hooded shell jacket ... both with good closures on all openings. Then I can insulate underneath those to match the day's conditions.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Rab Down fill-power on 11/10/2009 05:09:52 MST Print View

I'm puzzled why the fill-power wasn't explained better. Rab use European fill-power ratings, so 750 EU is equivelant to 850 US. More details on this Rab page HERE

Julian Thomas
(jtclicker) - F
Re: Rab Down fill-power on 11/10/2009 05:34:16 MST Print View

I've a phd UL on order - 900 EU fill power!

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Rab Down fill-power on 11/10/2009 05:45:40 MST Print View

"I've a phd UL on order - 900 EU fill power!"


How many ounces/grams of down? I'll bet you don't know? ;)