The Facewest Midweight Softshell Test – Rab Vapour-rise Lite Tour

This is the second review in the Midweight Softshell series. Click here and then scroll down to see the previous articles.

Rab VR Lite Tour

Rab is a new brand for Facewest this winter so I was really keen to get into some of the Vapour-rise. I choose the Lite Tour as it is the most technical of the Vapour-rise (henceforth known as VR) range.

The Lite Tour differs from all the other jackets on test as it has no membrane whatsoever. Instead it had a Pertex Equilibrium outer shell and a Tricot lining. The Equilibrium has a DWR treatment to repel snow and rain showers and it’s tight weave blocks the wind well. Unlike most non membrane softshells the Lite Tour breathes well because the fabric is not a simple high lycra softshell fabric but a fantastic wicking fibre that really draws moisture through and spreads it out for evaporation. A common misconception is that Pertex is just the thin, shiny windproof material in ultra light wind tops, in fact Pertex as a brand make a range of fabrics that are all windproof but have different weights, durability and wicking properties. Equilibrium is one of their heavier and more wicking fabrics. The wind resistance of the Lite Tour is enhanced by the Tricot lining. This is not a laminate layer but a distinct jacket lining. Tricot has been used as the lining of the Marmot Driclime Windshirt for many years. It’s a great fabric that is very comfortable against the skin, hard wearing and wicks like a demon. The two fabrics work really well together to be warm, windproof and comfortable to wear.

The first real test of my Lite Tour was one of our first night mountain bikes of the winter. Half way up the first hill I realised it was warmer than I thought and the Lite Tour is warmer full stop than the Astron Hooded. That’s OK because the Lite Tour has pitzips which I opened. Now I am not a big fan of pitzips on shells because I find them difficult to use and fairly ineffective. I am changing my mind about them on softshells because this style of softshell tries to be a midlayer and a jacket and I find the pitzips extend the climatic window in which the jacket can be worn and increase moisture movement greatly. This is especially true for cycling where the air rushes down the neck as you move forward and flushes out of the pitzips taking all the chest vapour with it.

However at the top I was still too warm but knew I would be too cold especially downhill in just my baselayer. With the Tricot lining this was no problem, as I removed my baselayer and put the VR Lite Tour back on as my only top layer. I was really comfortable and could vary my temperature by adjusting the pit and front zips. This is the design concept of the VR Stretch Top and Buffalo systems (remember them?) but not so obvious with something designed as a jacket. This ability really appeals to me as I can see that on inbetween days in the alps I will use the Lite Tour like this.

I also went out this week when it was -3 C and wore a baselayer underneath and was all zipped up. I wore quite a thick baselayer and was warm and comfortable all evening. I didn’t even get clammy on the climbs.

Night riding at -3 C in the Lite Tour

The Lite Tour is also good as a mid layer because the softness and lack of lycra fibres make it really comfortable and soft to wear. The Lite Tour is a bit bulky as it has 2 distinct fabric layers which means it can be a squeeze under a tight fitting shell. The hood has a soft wired peak and has easy pull elasticated adjusters on both sides. There is a velcro tab volume adjuster on the back. The hood can be rolled away and tabbed down when not in use, but can easily be deployed when walking without removing the jacket. The hood can be worn over a climbing helmet but I found it to be too tight and tiring on the neck. It was much more comfortable to wear the hood under the helmet. To be fair the Lite Tour is not described by Rab as having a helmet compatible hood. The sleeve cuffs have velcro tabs and are elasticated which makes them easily adjustable and the hem and hood have elasticated drawcords with one hand adjustment. Weight is 540g which is on a par with the average jacket weight in this test.

Effective Pit Zips

Hood over helmet - a bit tight

Fabric care of VR is pretty simple as all the fabrics are machine washable and there is no membrane to degrade. For optimum performance use a non clogging cleaner like Grangers 30c Cleaner and then refresh the DWR with an iron but you can just bung it in the machine if you are lazy . This is an important point if you are involved in muddy sports.

So what didn’t I like? Well the lack of handwarmer pockets is a bit annoying for a jacket, not so much in active use but more so when wearing it everyday, which midweight softshell jackets get used for a lot. The chest pockets work fine although the jacket is a tighter fit across the chest than round the waist so I would prefer my pockets down there. The fact that you can wear it next to your skin also means it’s a tight fit when worn as a jacket with a fleece underneath. To be fair the Lite Tour is not designed to be used this way but worth bearing in mind if you will use it as an everyday jacket.

The VR Lite Tour is a very good jacket and excellent value for money, the lowest cost jacket in the test. It covers all bases of a midweight softshell jacket in a different way from any of the others but covers them just as well. I really like the Lite Tour because all zipped up it is warmer to wear than most of the Powershield jackets but it’s lack of membrane and it’s venting zips mean you can easily dump that heat and vapour when too hot. Conversely the VR Lite Tour is not the most protective for deep winter use, for this the full Powershield of the Rab Baltoro Alpine or Arcteryx Gamma MX Hoody may be better. It depends what you layer the VR Lite Tour with.

For me, the true test of a garments quality is whether it stays or goes from my coat rack at the end of the test. The VR Lite Tour will definitely stay and I am looking forward to touring in it next spring.

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