Pros and Cons
Filed under:Clothing, Gear reviews, Waterproof Jackets, Kinetic jacket, rab, waterproof jackets
Jon Doran tests Rab's new-for-spring 2019 Kinetic Alpine Jacket...
Rab’s new-for-spring 2019 Kinetic Alpine Jacket is the more mountain-friendly successor to the original – and rather brilliant – Kinetic Plus Jacket. Like the Plus, which is still in the range, it uses a soft, stretchy waterproof own-brand fabric called Proflex, with fully-taped seams, but with some crucial differences.
First, although the fabric has a similarly soft and stretchy feel like a soft shell, the outer face is Polyamide (Nylon) rather than Polyester for added durability and abrasion resistance. Next, the outer sleeves, shoulders and hood have a discrete ceramic print to up abrasion resistance further in those areas, almost invisible on our blue test jacket, more obvious on the black version. Up top, the hood on the Alpine is helmet compatible and more comprehensively adjustable than the simple single-tab version on the Plus. And finally, the new jacket gets an internal zipped chest pocket and hem-cord rather than non-adjustable hem. All this adds up to an extra 40 grammes of weight and a £20 difference in price.
I loved the original Kinetic Plus for its mutant mix of hardshell and softshell characteristics, even though it was initially hard to work out which it was. Or whether it was both. Rab seems to have had similar issues: last year the Kinetic Plus was, from memory, on the softshell section of the website, this year it’s officially a waterproof. The good news is that the Kinetic Alpine is every bit as good. The fabric’s beautifully soft and stretchy, which means even though it has a close, technical fit, it never feels restrictive in the way that some conventional waterproof jackets can, particularly when layered over insulation. That’s particularly noticeable with a helmet in situ, there’s none of the sudden jerk restriction you can find with conventional shells. Its other trump card is an eerie ninja quietness, there’s none of the crackling, crisp-packet percussion you get from many waterproof fabrics – yes, I’m looking at you Gore-Tex Pro – just a gentle autumnal rustle. That might not sound like a big deal, but if you’ve ever spent an hour or two hood-up in a loud-ish fabric, you’ll appreciate the difference.
The jacket’s fully windproof and, thanks to fully-taped seams, waterproof too. We’d add a bit of a proviso there. While we’ve found Proflex to work well in intermittent rain and snowy conditions, it wouldn’t be our first choice for sustained heavy rain for two reasons. One is that with the Plus, we found the soft outer fabric was prone to wetting out after an hour or so, which reduced the breathability appreciably. The other is that my experience of fabrics with low-ish initial lab waterproofing figures like the 10,000mm is that longer term use, waterproofing deteriorates eventually to a lower level. I’m not saying that Proflex isn’t waterproof, just that if your first priority is durable waterproofing, you’d be better off with a conventional waterproof shell. The flip-side is that in anything short of heavy rain, the Kinetic Alpine is every bit as protective as a hard shell, but a lot nicer to wear. More like a soft shell in fact. The knitted liner is comfortable even against exposed skin.
As you’d expect from Rab, the jacket’s features are pretty well dialled-in. Zipped hand pockets give plenty of storage and clear harness and pack belts. Hem adjusters are tucked up out of harm’s way – no inadvertent clipping of cords – and cuffs and hood are both easily adjustable. The cuffs just about fit over Rab’s own bulky Guide Gloves and lighter options are no problem. The hood takes a helmet no problem, with the stretchy fabric meaning there’s no restriction on head movement, while without a hood, things still cinch down neatly, though the peak-stiffening is quite low profile. The slim fit layers neatly over a baselayer or lightweight mid-layer, but unless you’re very slim, struggles with a down-type insulation jacket – stick it over the top if you need to is our advice. Finally, the elephant in the room is durability. Despite its Polyamide face and that ceramic print, our educated guess is that the Kinetic Alpine is unlikely to match something like Gore-Tex Pro for wear resistance and we’d be very wary of dragging it repeatedly over abrasive rock or even for extended heavy pack use. That’s not to say though, that with a bit of common-sense sympathy, it won’t do perfectly well and should be tougher than the original Plus too.
Only for alpine use?
The ‘alpine’ tag labels the jacket as a sort of hardcore users only option, but I’d actually argue that it makes a really nice, all-round, second mountain shell for days when you’re not expecting sustained rain, but still want fully windproof and water-resistant capabilities. It scores over a softshell alternative here because you don’t also need to carry a waterproof jacket ‘just in case’, the Kinetic Alpine is waterproof even if it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice when water resistance is my priority. The pay-off is the luxurious, soft, quiet, stretchy fabric and excellent breathability compared to most waterproof fabrics. Bottom line: I wouldn’t buy the Kinetic Alpine instead of a conventional waterproof jacket, but as a second waterproof shell that also replaces a soft shell. For general use, I ought to prefer the Kinetic Plus with its non-helmet hood, but the Alpine’s added robustness would swing it for me.
On the right day, there’s something a little bit magical about the Kinetic Alpine. The super soft and stretchy fabric isn’t exactly invisible, but its mix of close fit, non-restrictive nature and all-round quietness means you barely notice its presence. Impressive breathability helps too and it just lets you get on with things. It’s almost like the anti-waterproof. Except of course, it is 100% waterproof. That doesn’t mean its flawless – in heavy downpours it wets out faster than normal waterproof fabrics and breathability falls as a result, it’s not as outright tough as something like Gore-Tex Pro and, as with Polartec’s NeoShell, it wouldn’t be our first choice for durable waterproofing. All of which means it’s more of a luxury second waterproof that’s also an alternative to a softshell, than a first-pick conventional waterproof.
Note: there’s also a matching Kinetic Alpine Pant. We have a set in for review and will let you know how they work, but first signs are that they’re cracking waterproof legwear for folk who don’t love overtrousers.