Friday 6 March 2009

Rab Vapour Rise Trail Smock and Montane Scarab

As part of my search for a replacement midlayer, I came across this curious notion of the "soft shell". I finally got my head around that idea but then had the even harder task of working out which one.

I realised I was better off not looking for a soft shell as such but for something that might match my needs as closely as possible.

I wanted a top to act as a replacement mid-layer to my Berghaus micro fleece with the added benefit of a little more wind and water resistance, preferably a bit more insulation and a hood.
I found a number of items that met this criteria and decided I'd start with the cheapest - I can't help myself!

I went for a Rab Vapour Rise Smock and a Montane Scarab. I wanted to compare these two simply as they are both made from Pertex Equilibrium and both (unsurprisingly) offer a similar spec. The Rab VR (in size small) weighs in at 515g and the Scarab (in size medium) is 475g. I couldn't get a Scarab in small at the time and hence the medium size for this review (and the medium was on offer and I thought I'd risk it!).

Rab Vapour Rise:

The Pertex outer is soft and a little stretchy which is great for freedom of movement. I wanted a fairly snug fit so went with a small and I'd say this is perfect for me. There is a technique to getting in it but once its on it feels like its tailored. The shell is very windproof but not sacrificing of breathability and venting is helped by the long two-way zipper at the front and the chest pocket. The inner fabric is a fluffy micro wicking liner throughout the garment which adds a little warmth and aids moisture transport. The liner is nice against the skin and works with or without a base layer. I think the liner adds little insulation but with the wind resistant outer the benefit is slightly more than you might expect. The build quality seems good (despite quite a few disgruntled owner reviews) but I think only time will tell just how tough the fabric is and if the sewing really is as sound as it first appears. The hood is a fixed one with volume adjustment at the back, a wired peak and cord adjustment at the front. I got this fitting perfectly within seconds of first putting it on and have done every time I've used it. I like that the fact that it just works exactly as it should. I will add that the hood contains this fluffly micro liner too if that's of interest to anyone?

In short I like it. Its got a nice cut, good adjustments, is definitely very water resistant and the hood is great. It certainly replaces a micro-fleece and wind shirt and adds value by being a mid and outer layer for all but the worst of weather. I've worn it a few times now but the best test so far was a quick circular walk up to Glen Stank in Strathyre this weekend. It was a mixed bag of weather with wind and rain being quite prolific. It beads the water very well and I remained at a comfortable temperature throughout the day. My only criticism at this stage is that 515g is positively heavy in my book! I've no experience with Pertex Equilibrium but will be watching the durability closely.

Montane Scarab
This is a jacket as opposed to a smock but is lighter than the Rab VR at 475g in a medium. The Scarab differs in others ways too with Montane using varying thicknesses of Pertex in appropriate places to increase breathability and save weight. The inner is made of DryActiv zones (mesh bits to you and I) which means it doesn't offer as much insulation as the VR but is more breathable as result. Like the Rab, its well made but I have noticed that there are some loose threads around the collar and the top panel of the shoulder. Probably not anything to worry about but it does niggle once you know its there!

The fit (which I can't compare directly with the Rab VR as its a different size) is good but slightly more square cut and a little shorter. The first thing I noticed was the size of the gap around the neck when the jacket is fully zipped up. Its a little large to say the least and to the point where it looks a bit ridiculous! I've not worn it out in a gale but I think this would be a problem on a cold wet day, probably only solved by wearing a Buff or other form of neckwear to plug the gap. The hood is a roll-away type and fits well too - but I would never bother to roll it back into the collar as, like most, its a bit of a ball ache.

The fabric beads water as it should and like the Rab I guess time would tell as to the longevity of the DWR and the toughness of the fabric. The thing I like most is the different thickness of Pertex dotted about the jacket


In honesty I wasn’t expecting to like the Rab as I seem almost predisposed to Montane these days, but it turned out the opposite. The Scarab isn’t bad at what it does – it’s lighter and more technical but that neck would be a problem for me. Its ‘horses for courses’ though and I think the Rab offers more warmth with the micro wicking liner and so suits the majority of my walking. The Scarab would almost certainly be better as a mid-layer in warmer months with its underarm breathable panels and DryActiv inner.

I need to experiment with some different materials from the various offerings but for now I’m sticking with the VR Trail Smock.

Rab VR Trail SmockMe, making perfectly good looking outdoor clothing look terrible.


Nigel Gray said...

Thanks for the great review. As you know I'm going through the same soft-shell selection shennagidans. Looks like you made a good call being able to directly compare them both (hope you get a refund!). Rab VR does seem to get positive reviews from owners - if I can find a shop with stock I'd try it on. Some reviews seem to suggest they come up small? If so, seems inconsistent with their other jackets (tried on a Rab Latok Alpine jacket and I need a large as the medium is tight across shoulders/arms).

Re- you think you'll still be packing a hard-shell to go over the top when its tipping it down??

PS. It looks good in the dark-blue - I've only ever seen it in the electric-blue.

Marcus said...

Hi Nigel,

No worries, glad if it helps somebody out of the soft shell dilemma!

Sizing is a bit difficult to comment on as I've no previous experience with Rab clothing. I went for small and I'd say by chance it fits perfectly, however I think I could easily live with a medium. I've heard that some find the shoulders/arms a little tight but even in the small I don't have this problem - perhaps its my puny build!

The VR smock (in fact Pertex Equilibrium) isn't waterproof but Rab (and Montane) state that they are 'very' water-resistant! In real terms this means it will probably be overwhelmed in a torrential downpour, but I've had mine out in nasty weather and its never leaked. I'd always carry a lightweight hard shell (Marmot Precip @ 346g) though on a backpacking trip and the VR smock just means less frequent changing on the hill.

I like the graphite-like colour but I'm now in danger of looking like the man from Milk Tray on the hill!

There are so many different solutions to the mid-layer crisis and in my honest opinion I don't think you can buy one that works for year round use. For example, I think this is too warm for summer use where I'll prob revert to a good base layer and my Featherlite Smock but for 3/4 of the backpacking I do this is just the job.

Wayne said...


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The reason for getting in contact is we are trying to encourage people with an interest in outdoor activity to add products and create useful lists on it's a new site for user generated content and product reviews.

It should represent a good opportunity for you to share some knowledge and create links back to your blog. I hope the site will be of interest to you and hopefully your readers.

Any commens greatly appreciated.



Anonymous said...

Have you tried Paramo yet. The new Velez Light doesn't weigh much more but you can ditch the hard shell and save weight. I was a bit disappointed by the old style VR. It felt constricting compared to Paramo and the cut was odd. I have Montane stuff as well, which I like even if the trouser lengths are a bit long. The Oryx jacket is a favourite lightweight mid layer and fits nicely under a Paramo when it's cold. Thanks for the reviews. Always useful to read about other gear.

Dave said...

Hi very good review i don't think you go wrong with rab gear. I have the vr top without the hood its been brilliant,when the weathers really bad i use a rab latok as the outer, you should also try a paramo velez or an aspira the later is is very warm best left for the coldest of days. But getting back to rab i have just ordered the vr which you have reviewed.I think a lot depends on if you run hot or cold, i tend to run hot but the vr does a very good job of wicking the moisture. Best advise is try before you buy as sizes can be a little awkward. You could go on for ever writing whats the best kit but rab is up there with the best.

Marcus said...

Robin - I've not tried the Paramo stuff yet despite being very tempted at times.

In a New Year trial I've decided too go back to my layering system for a change and see whether I'm really taken by the softshell approach. For the most part I still think they have a place in my pack but with the ever diminishing DWR it presents an ongoing maintenance issue which I'm looking to cut out of my routine!

Dave - I do like Rab stuff and everything I've had has been well made and very well thought out. The cuts can be strange for some but suits me fine. Probably my best piece of clothing so far for a lot of reasons is the Moutain Equipment Ibex tweeds. Light, tough, very water-resistant and dry out faster than you can say moisture.

Anonymous said...

Hi, what's your height and chest measurement? Im thinking of getting 1 but not too sure with the 1.73m and form your pic think im more slim than you...

sma1001 said...

HI - thanks for the great review.

I see you went for a small. Do you find that is quite snug - perhaps such that you'd only get a baselayer under it?

I ask because i'm often between sizes. Can you tell me what size you normally are (chest/collar for example). I think i might get away with a small here albeit i'm often ending up with medium but then with it being somewhat baggy around the middle. The pic of you makes the smock look reasonably large (for a small!).

That would help a lot.

Marcus said...

Anon - I'm 5' 7" but not sure on chest. I went for the small, which is quite snug to get into but once on its fine - though there's not room for extra mince pies at christmas!

The Vapour rise tops tend to work best when worn directly next to the skin or on top of a base layer to wick the moisture away and that's partly why I went for the small too. I would admit I've gone slightly on the small side but then again a medium would mean arm lengths being very long indeed!

The fit is such that you either have to be built to match or accept that it will feel different to anything else you've worn before. I think the Stretch version of the trail smock should help this little quandary though