Working in a gear shop has its perks; it also has a tendency to encourage certain types of behaviour. One of them, speaking for myself, is that I can never bring myself to buy the same item twice when other brands and models are offering different takes on the same purpose, each of which needs 'real world' testing. Once I've owned an item I'm happy to say that we spent some wonderful times together, the highs, the lows, but the world is a big place and I can't be tied down when there's so much more out there. But every now and then an item comes along that demands my commitment, and one of them is the Rab Xenon Hoodie.
You could be forgiven for looking at the Xenon and thinking that this is a really niche piece of kit. An insulated jacket that weighs as much as a packet of Doritos is obviously meant for "fast and light" alpine climbing where warmth and durability must be sacrificed for speed. And in keeping with the durability of a packet of chips, you would assume this would be a one use item that you buy new every trip.
Well you'd be right on the fast and light front, but it's proven more durable and versatile than I expected.
I bought this jacket in Spain whilst I was on a climbing trip. We had decided to stay into the start of winter and climbing in Lleida at the foot of the Pyrenees was getting quite cold. My current down jacket (of which the brand will remain nameless but was bought at 80% off in a sale that seemed to be lasting all year) was not proving to be remotely windproof, so while in the still it was quite cosy, as soon as a breeze came through it wasn't worth its weight in down feathers. Although a shell over the top is fine for the crag, I wasn't dragging 2 jackets up a multipitch.
So I wanted a jacket with the following criteria:
- Compressible insulation
- On the lightweight end of things
- Able to get wet and stay warm
The Rab Xenon won out against a couple of other suitors from other brands and after trialling it for a few weeks I promptly off-loaded my old down jacket to the first person who needed a handout. I loved it.
Two things I was initially impressed with:
- Even though technically it probably wasn’t any warmer than my last jacket, because the jacket is basically windproof, it feels completely snug no matter what the conditions.
- Pack size. Fits inside your helmet that is strapped to the back of your pack. You end up not even thinking, you just always take it with you.
Two things that I came to appreciate:
- The durability of the Pertex Quantum fabric. My expectations were not much, but it has been shoved into and out of my pack more times than I’ve changed my undies. It’s been to every crag, been around all the sharp ice gear numerous times and accompanied me on ever trip.
- The stretch hood and cuff adjustment. At first I was thinking “Man this jacket would rock with some Velcro on the sleeves or some hood toggles, but to cut the wait they’ve obviously left them off”. But after owning it a while I realised that the stretch hood and cuffs are awesome because you never have to fluff around with the toggles or Velcro every time you want to put gloves on or your hood. And it always fits.
Apart from features, here’s a quick summery of how this is an awesome jacket across different fields.
Being the same weight as a warm fleece, but with the advantages of being warmer, more compressible and weather resistant, it means if luggage space is getting tight putting the Xenon in is a no brainer.
Yes, there are warmer and more durable jackets out there. But the packed down size of the Xenon is so small that it always goes to the crag no matter what the weather report. This has saved me on more than one occasion.
Lightweight Rock and Alpine Belay Jacket
This, I believe was Rab’s initial design brief for the jacket. It is small and light enough to clip to your harness and carry up a steep multipitch. Your climbing partner will say at the bottom that they’re all good and don’t need one, but when the cold winds have you lashed to the ledge they’ll be oh so jealous. The Alpine belay jacket is where you may have to toughen up a little because you could go with a warmer jacket. But because of its pack size, it could mean you can take 3 more double serve dehydrated meals. So if space is precious, have a think about it. I’ve used it in Australia ice climbing and snow camping, New Zealand mountaineering, and I’ve taken it up to 6000m in Nepal climbing before donning the high altitude gear. I will admit that at least once on each of these colder trips the thought was running through my brain saying “I wish I had a warmer puffy”. But this is balanced out when it comes to the walk in or out and you hardly realise it’s there.
Mid Layer in Extreme Cold
For High Altitude climbing, you can’t wear your warmest down jacket/suit all the time. It can be far too warm when acclimatizing and ferrying gear up to the lower camps. So usually two jackets are needed. The beauty of going with a lighter second jacket is that it also substitutes for an extremely warm mid layer when it’s time to emulate the Michelin man.
This article is not intended to say that this jacket will solve all your puffy needs. Certain conditions, applications, if you ‘feel the cold’, or simply if you’re willing to carry a few more grams for some extra warmth will mean other options might be more applicable. But what I’ve been impressed with, is that I bought the Xenon for a particular purpose, but it quickly proved warmer than expected and because of its weight, pack size and weather resistance, I’ve ended up carrying this jacket more places than I ever would a heavier model, and as the saying goes- the best jacket is always the one you have with you. And this one is with me more of the time. So when its innings have ended and it comes time to trade it in, I think I’ll be mostly be excited to see what colours Rab has made it in next!
Matt believes that you don't have to be having fun to have fun. Thus he spends most of his time trying to convince others that this is the case so they can have fun not having fun together! When he pulls this off he often ends up cold, unable to feel his fingers, hungry and tired, but happy. When he decides that it would be more fun to have fun, he usually ends up sport climbing in the blueys.