We’ve been using Rab’s new for autumn 2013 Strata Hoodie for over six months now, so we have a good idea of what makes it tick and, in particular, how Polartec’s new Alpha insulation works in practice. The only downer – and this is why this is a ‘First Look’ rather than a full review is that it hasn’t really been cold enough for the jacket to really shine.
New this winter, Polartec’s Alpha insulation is, it says, an alternative to traditional ‘puffy synthetics’. It works in a different way with a sort of inner gridded insulation layer than, in tests, wicks and breathes more efficiently than ‘leading synthetics’ in itself.
On top of that, Alpha allows the use of inner and outer fabrics which are also more breathable which means an insulated garment which is breathable enough for active use when conventional synthetic jackets would reduce you to a sweaty, glowing mess. Or that’s the theory.
If you want more technical info, check out our earlier introduction to the fabric.
Performance So Far
From the outside the Strata Hoodie looks like any other insulated jacket though there’s no down-style quilting, because none is needed to hold the insulation in place. Weight is bang on Rab’s quoted mass at 430g measured and it packs down reasonably well, though though not to the same level as down.
That’s really missing the point though, because the idea of the Strata is that you can wear it on the move as well as in static situations like belays and rest-stops. Rab’s used zoned lining fabrics on the jacket to maximise that breathability – it’s almost mesh-like on the bulk of the torso plus the cut is relatively slim rather than a sort ‘throw it over everything else’ gig.
Outside there’s a wind-resistant rather than wind-proof Pertex Microlite fabric, which again ups breathability at the expense of outright weater protection.
And so far we’ve found it works really well. Okay, it’s been cool rather than winter cold, but we’ver tried Apha for walking and biking in conditions where we’d have boiled in the bag using normal synthetic puffy stuff. In proper cold winter environments, our gut feeling is that it’ll work really well – better warmth than a fleece and more wind resistance, better breathability than normal synthetic or down puffy jackets and faster drying too.
On top of that, we reckon it can double up either as a mid-layer jacket under a shell in really gnarly conditions, or as an outer layer in cold but more settled stuff.
The jacket itself is neat but not flashy with twin hand-warmer pockets, an adjustable hood that’ll go over a climbing helmet, but could equally well sit underneath or be worn over bare head, an adjusable hem and elasticated cuffs.
The hood’s not wired, but to be honest, if it’s rough enough to merit a stiffened hood peak, you’ll probably be wearing a shell over the top anyway – that outer shell gives decent wind resistance, but it’s not 100% wind proof.
One thing to bear in mind is that the Strata isn’t as warm as comparable traditional synthetics, something like Rab’s own Xenon is lighter but arguably gives as much warmth thanks to using fully windproof fabrics, but then that’s not really the point, the Strata is all about working on the move rather than when you’re stopped.
So far we’re dead impressed with Polartec’s Alpha insulation precisely because it’s not really like a traditional synthetic puffy insulation system at all. It’s almost as warm and almost as weather resistant, but – and this is the crucial plus point – you can wear it on the move without boiling alive, something we’re looking forward to this winter, when we reckon the simple, slim design of the Strata should be ideal from everything from cold weather mountain walking through to sub-zero biking. Simply brilliant.
- Zoned woven nylon and polyester mesh fabric inner
- Polartec® Alpha™ insulation (80g/m²)
- Zoned inner fabrics
- Over- or under-helmet hood with Lycra® edging
- YKK front zip with chin guard
- 2 YKK zipped handwarmer pockets
- 1 YKK zipped chest pocket, doubles as integrated stuff sack
- Elasticated cuffs
- Hem drawcord
- Fit: Slim