Rab Strata Hoodie Review

3rd Jul 2015

An insulating layer should keep you warm and sometimes, depending on your activity, that’s really all you need it to do.  That warm chunky duvet jacket you pull on at a base camp or on a chilly summit, for example, just needs to be really good at trapping warm air in.  Then there’s those skinny layers that will only be warm enough when you are working hard.  Base layers or maybe light weight fleeces fall into this category.  But that really isn’t the full picture because there’s also all that time when you need a warm layer but you are working too.  If you don't want to be continually altering layers is there anything you can use?  What will work in those situations?
For the last few months I’ve been using Rab’s Strata Hoodie and it’s been a real game changer for my outdoor adventures.  On the face of it this is a simply styled well fitting insulated soft-shell jacket.  The outer is made from windproof and water resistant Pertex and, as well as a full length front zip, the jacket has 2 insulated hand warmer pockets, a chest pocket and snug fitting hood.  It has all the features you need but nothing more.
But, there’s a lot more to the Strata Hoodie and much of what really makes it special isn’t immediately obvious.  It’s stand out feature is the Polartec Alpha insulation it is filled with.  Alpha is a type of synthetic insulation that works differently to others on the market.   It insulates to a similar level to some others but, due to it’s unique construction, it breathes incredibly well.  Here’s an insulation that Polartec say can keep its wearer comfortable in a wide range of activity levels.  
Polartec Alpha is a very clever material.  Polartec have incorporated low density fibers between air permeable woven layers which increases moisture transmission and aids thermal adaptability in changing conditions.  Alpha is therefore able to work in a range of conditions and during a variety of heat outputs.  Besides this, because the woven layers create a stable ‘sheet’ of insulating material, it can be used to create new styles of garment and it doesn’t need securing in place like some insulation materials.
In the Strata Hoodie Rab have taken advantage of these construction features by combining the Alpha layer with various other shell and lining materials.  The shell is Pertex Microlight and inside the jacket a range of fabrics are used to again make best use of the Alpha’s breathability.  Rab use lightweight mesh in as many areas as possible and then a more durable woven nylon is used in higher wear areas.  The armpits contain no insulation for better temperature regulation.  It’s certainly a package designed to maximise the properties of Alpha and to create a multi use garment. 
So, on paper this looks to be a very impressive insulating jacket.  So impressive, maybe, that  it actually sounds too good to be true.  Well, after several months testing the jacket in a range of conditions,  it definitely performs as well as the hype.  This is a jacket that, on many trips during the late winter, spring and early summer,  I have been able to wear all day. You can walk in to a route, climb it, enjoy some time at the summit and then walk back to the base again - all in comfort and yet with considerably different energy expenditure levels.  I have also used it for high output mountain bike rides with the same result.  The combination of Polartec Alpha, the other carefully considered fabrics and the construction makes this a very effective insulating layer for use in a wide range of conditions.
Of course, to work effectively in the environment it is designed for, the Strata Hoodie also needs to have the right features to make it efficient to use.   I’ll say straight away that the Rab design team have done a great job.  Careful attention has been paid to features such as the cuffs which are simple lycra bands designed to reduce bulk. The hood is bound with Lycra and, although it can be squeezed over some helmets, I’ve found it works best when worn underneath.  Like the cuffs, the hood has stretchy lycra edging and, other than that, is kept simple although Rab have added a mini quick release buckle which can be used to keep the hood out of the way.  I have found this useful when climbing in the jacket on windy days.  The chest pocket is a good size and the 2 hand warmer pockets are positioned so they can still be used (just about) when wearing a climbing helmet.  That’s it really.  The jacket is deliberately kept simple and minimalist.  It is better for that too.
Rab won many outdoor awards for the Strata Hoodie and I can see why.  It’s a brilliant insulating layer that really benefits from both the design and also Polartec’s inspired Alpha insulation.  I think it’s a great jacket and I think you’ll find the same too.  You can find out more about the Strata Hoodie on the Rab website here and there's lot of info about Polartec Alpha on the Polartec website here.  The Strata Hoodie is available in men's and women's fits and retails for £150 (although there are plenty of deals available bringing the price down to nearer £100).
Posted by Cal