We gave the Rab Vital a Top Pick award because it is packed with pockets, but doesn't sacrifice wind resistance or weight for added functionality. It has, by far, the most pocket space — with two zippered hand pockets, and a zippered internal pouch — and sports some sweet, innovative features. There is a brim for keeping water out of your face and a snap across the chest to keep the jacket in place, even when it's fully unzipped. While this jacket is not finished with a DWR coating, it does a solid job of keeping you dry through quick-passing showers. Not quite as breathable as others in this line-up, we recommend this for more downhill-focused activities, like mountain biking.
Rab Vital Windshell Review
Cons: Goofy looking brimmed hood, swampy, lack of DWR
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Rab Vital Windshell
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|Pros||Lots of zippered pockets, ease of packing, elastic brim||Low price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coating||Ultimate breathability, next-to-skin softness||Lightest in the category, tiny packed size, larger chest pocket||Well-ventilated, body-mapped Merino panels|
|Cons||Goofy looking brimmed hood, swampy, lack of DWR||No feature to stow-away hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activity||Cold in a strong wind, expensive||See-through material, under-performing DWR fabric||Lack of drawcords, billowy|
|Bottom Line||Best-in-class storage in a lightweight, ripstop-nylon shell||The best overall value and performance in a lightweight package that sets the category standard||An ultralight, breathable, versatile layer for those who live by the mantra of fast-and-light||An ultralight jacket purposefully built for fast and light mountain missions||Packable weather protection that skillfully incorporates Merino into a well-ventilated shell|
|Rating Categories||Rab Vital Windshell||Patagonia Houdini||Patagonia Houdini Air||Distance Wind Shell||Merino Sport Ultra Light|
|Wind Resistance (30%)|
|Breathability And Venting (30%)|
|Weight And Packability (20%)|
|Fit And Functionality (10%)|
|Water Resistance (10%)|
|Specs||Rab Vital Windshell||Patagonia Houdini||Patagonia Houdini...||Distance Wind Shell||Merino Sport Ultra...|
|Measured Weight, size M||4.7oz||3.9 oz (size L)||4.0 oz||3.5 oz||4.8 oz|
|Material||Hyperlite nylon||100% nylon ripstop, DWR finish||90% nylon (51% recycled) / 10% polyester double weave, DWR finish||100% nylon ripstop, woven w/ DWR treatment (Green Theme Technology)||100% nylon outer, 54% Merino wool / 46% polyester liner, DWR coating|
|Pockets||3 zip (2 external hand, 1 internal)||1 zip (chest)||1 zip (chest)||1 chest zip||1 zip (chest)|
|Safety Reflective Material?||Yes, reflective logo on chest and back||No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible)||No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible)||No||Yes reflective logos on chest, back, right arm; stripes on cuffs and seat hem|
|Stuffs into itself?||Yes, stows in internal pocket||Yes, stows in chest pocket||Yes, stows in chest pocket||Yes, stows in chest pocket||Yes, stows in chest pocket|
|Adjustable Cuffs?||Half Elastic||Half Elastic||Half Elastic||Elastic||Half Elastic|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Vital Windshell is made out of 20-denier, solid nylon that is very tightly woven to resist wind, but isn't at all stretchy like the old Windveil material. For all of its additional features, this jacket is still one of the lightest in our review. Particularly, it is a fantastic alternative to jackets that don't provide as much storage space. Besides the unique features, its best attribute is wind resistance. It is particularly suited to those who need something to cut the wind but aren't as concerned about how well it breathes or sheds light precipitation.
This is one of the more wind resistant jackets we tested. On fast bike descents on cold mornings, we stayed relatively warm. Zipping around on bikes, we particularly appreciated how the Vital employs a number of features to block the wind. A storm flap behind the zipper helps block a piercing wind, and a fully-elastic collar both keeps wind from running down your chest and the hood from flapping around.
We back up our bike commute findings by taking the Vital to the top of a high pass in the southern Rockies and tested it in a strong, wintry wind. Beyond a tight weave that keeps the air from flowing through the jacket, we also appreciated how effective the hem drawcords closed. The half elastic cuff is easy to slide on over another layer, and keeps the sleeves in place. Together, these seal you off from the wind very effectively.
Breathability and Venting
This is where the Vital comes up a bit short. In side-by-side tests, while hiking and biking uphill, the Rab held more moisture than other, similarly constructed windbreakers when fully zipped up. With no vents, or mesh backing on the pockets, even if you unzip it isn't possible to achieve a good airflow. Not only that, but the Vital's pockets are lined with an extra layer of nylon. This keeps your sweat from getting to the pocket contents — a thoughtful touch — but it also reduces your venting options.
One cool feature to help improve breathability is the snap closure across the chest. This allows you to keep the jacket in place, even when fully unzipped. Although it might look a bit like a cape, we like this feature because it allows you to dump a lot of heat all at once, without losing your jacket to a strong breeze.
Weight and Packability
At a weight of 4.7 ounces, our size medium is impressively light when compared to many other shells out there, but still is about 20% heavier than our lightest windbreakers in this review.
The Vital conveniently packs into a zippered pouch that lives on the inside of the jacket — the only one we tested that doesn't simply stuff into its chest or hand pocket. Worth noting is that it also has a secure clip loop that keeps it from dangling as low as some other packed-jackets when hung off of a harness.
We really appreciated how the zipper is not right at the top of the parcel pocket, which makes it surprisingly much easier to pack. The Vital packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle, and for most people, this is plenty small. But it is comparably larger than some of the other, lighter jackets — this may make the difference if you are trying to stuff it into a small saddle bag.
Fit and Functionality
We tested a size medium, and found that the overall fit is right in-line with its purpose as a tech-hoody for alpine climbing or mountain biking. In contrast to some other tighter fitting jackets, this one is long enough in both the sleeves and hem. It also provides enough space underneath for a puffy layer on colder days, proving that it works well as an outer shell.
This jacket has three large pockets — two large hand pockets and a big internal pocket that also serves as the stuff pocket if you choose to stow it. This allows more storage than just about any other wind jacket available. You can easily fit gloves, a hat, your wallet and more. This is a key distinction with the Vital — you can easily integrate it into your everyday life.
Besides the pockets, a few other notable features are worth pointing out. Already mentioned is the snap button across the upper chest, but we also loved that a simple velcro tab adjusts the hood. This tab has the double purpose of allowing you to roll the hood up and velcro it tight if you choose not to use the hood on a windy day. Flapping hoods are annoying, and this simple addition — plus the fully elastic collar — helps keep the hood from slapping you in the face.
This is one of the few jackets in our review that isn't supported by a DWR finish. While the ripstop nylon does a good job up to a point, we don't suggest subbing-out your lightweight rain coat for the Vital.
During the lightest of rains — some may call it heavy fog — the Vital did just fine in beading up rain droplets. But the face fabric holds onto these droplets for a long time, and eventually they begin to soak through in places. These field findings were supported by our laboratory shower test.
When it comes to functionality, the Vital is more than worth the price tag. All things considered, this jacket strikes a price-point right down the middle of our best scorers — a valuable jacket for the athletically-inclined, just as long as you aren't consistently pushing hills while running or riding.
The Rab Vital Windshell is a very durable, impressively wind resistant jacket that has some of the best features to be found in this test group. While it did not win Editors' Choice, it is our Top Pick if you want the extra pocket space.
— Chris McNamara, Andy Wellman and Aaron Rice