Pros and Cons
Filed under:Clothing, Gear reviews, Waterproof Jackets, Gore-tex, jacket, Ladakh, rab, waterproof
Jon Doran tries out an all-round waterproof mountain shell with helmet hood that’ll cope with anything from UK mountain walking through to the Alps and beyond.
New for this winter, Rab has a range of four men’s and three women’s waterproof shells made using Gore-Tex fabrics. It’s a bit of a departure for the brand, which has previously used non-Gore fabrics for its top-end waterproofs – note, you can still buy Rab jackets made from Pertex Shield fabrics.
Some of the jackets, the Latok for example, carry over their names and function from last year, but the Ladakh GTX is an all-new design which uses tough Gore-Tex Pro fabrics in high-wear areas, but softer, quieter Gore-Tex C-KNIT for the main body of the jacket. It’s a mountain all-rounder with a full helmet hood that’s aimed to work anywhere from UK hills through to full-on alpine mountaineering.
To put it in perspective, the Latok is Rab’s full-on, professional use, super serious mountain shell made entirely from 70D Gore-Tex Pro, the Muztag uses a mix of Gore-Tex Pro and Active for more breathability and has a slimmer ‘active’ cut, while the workhorse Kangri GTX is a no-nonsense mountain-walking shell made from straight 3-layer standard Gore-Tex and isn’t helmet compatible. There are women’s versions of all of these bar the Latok GTX.
All of which makes the Ladakh a potentially ideal choice if you’re someone who does a bit of everything home and/or abroad. Most of the Latok’s features and design touches, but in a more affordable, slightly lighter – about 50 grammes less – quieter package. Or that’s the theory.
The Ladakh uses two Gore-Tex fabrics. The main body, the lighter panels, is made from Gore-Tex with the C-KNIT backer. It’s a lighter 40D weigh material that feels pleasantly soft and doesn’t have the distinctive crackle of the tougher Pro version. The darker areas though use tough 70D Pro, effectively the shoulders and yoke, outer sleeves and top-panel and peak of the hood. It all makes the jacket feel nicer, but it’s also significantly quieter in use than a full Pro jacket. It won’t be as tough, but for most users that’s arguably not a major factor. As a combination, I’d say it works pretty well. Breathability is fine until you really put the hammer down, at which point you can still implement operation pit-zip. The C-KNIT fabric is really quiet in use, even with the hood up, which may sound like a minor thing, but Pro really can be distractingly loud on a windy day. And finally you still get the reassurance of having the tougher fabric in areas that rub against rocks and pack straps. In the long term it won’t be as durable as a Latok, but for most of us, that won’t be a major issue. You save a handy 50 grammes too and the jacket’s a not unreasonable 530g in a medium, about the same as similar shells from rival brands.
Fit and features
Rab’s used the new Gore-Tex range as an opportunity to refine its cut, it says. The Ladakh is a relatively roomy fit, not loose exactly, but not as fitted as some, and with plenty of room to layer it over a medium warm insulated jacket like its own micro-baffled Cirrus. One neat touch is an internal, adjustable half waist-cord, which lets you cinch the jacket in around the lower back when you don’t need that extra volume. My only misgiving with that is that the fabric rucks up along the cord and could potentially in the long terms suffer abrasion from a pack. The jacket’s a good medium length for protection without restriction and it gets Rab’s characteristically long sleeves for unrestricted climbing use. Those with shorter arms might want to try before buying. As you’d expect hem and cuffs are all fully adjustable with neat one-handed tensioners and hook and loop fittings respectively. The back of the cuff is extended for extra glove protection and there’s enough opening for them to fit over full winter gauntlet-style gloves.
Arguably the Ladakh’s trump card is a superb, helmet-compatible hood. It’s big enough to swallow a climbing lid, while still giving plenty of facial coverage and allowing easy head movement. Normally the pay-off for that is compromised performance with a bare head, but in this case, a new third adjustment at the base of the neck does double duty of reducing effective volume and also pulling in the front cords, so there’s no slack ends to smack you in the face, neat. It’s all topped up with a serious stiffened and wired peak for extra rain protection. Just an excellent, no-nonsense hood design with or without a helmet.
Finally you get as many pockets as most folk will ever want. Two huge hand ones neatly protected by slanted laminated storm-flaps plus a big, Napoleon style lefthand chest-pocket that’ll happily take a pair of gloves or a map without signs of indigestion. Those hand-pockets also get internal shaping so they can handle 3D objects as well as flat ones. Nice touch. Last but not least, there’s a smaller, internal zipped chest pocket on the right, ideal for a phone or wallet, though you have to open the main-zip to access it.
Finally on the feature front, you get decently long, easy-to-use, two-way pit-zips for those overheating moments. The zip-pulls are different on each zip, so you can differentiate between them by feel, which can save fumbling. A nice idea to make life a little easier and still viable even wearing thick winter gloves. Neat.
Rab has always made really well-engineered mountain shells, but adding Gore-Tex dependability opens up the brand to people who wouldn’t otherwise have considered it. I’ve been using the Ladakh through some truely gruesome late autumn / early winter deluge conditions and it’s kept me reliably dry and comfortable. The hood is brilliant and gives you the option of wearing a helmet too. The features all work. Build quality seems spot on and the trade-off of the circular knit C-KNIT backer used for most of the jacket is that it’s soft, quiet and very wearable. If you’ve ever winced at the snap, crackle and pop soundtrack that goes with Pro, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Of course you don’t get the same ultimate durability as you would with, say, the tank-like 100% Pro Latok GTX, but if you don’t need it, it makes the jacket a much more pleasant experience. Particularly if it’s windy. As someone who runs hot, I generally prefer a snugger cut, but the waist-cord adds some leeway there and if you do habitually use thicker insulation under a shell in colder conditions, there’s plenty of space to allow that. Finally it’s not the lightest or most packable jacket out there, but it’s not absurdly heavy either.
Overall I’d say the Ladakh is an excellent all-round, all-weather shell that you can happily use for UK hill and mountain walking, but thanks to that excellent helmet-compatible hood, will also take on higher, more technical stuff if needed. And all without added snap, crackle and pop.