It seems that over the past decade or so virtually everyone has been won over to having a synthetic jacket - and for good reason. Down jackets tend to seem slightly cumbersome to me and I’m always stressed about ripping them or getting them wet, so I’m completely sold on the synthetic principle. So sold am I, in fact, that this will be my seventh or eighth such jacket. By now I’d like to think I’ve got a fair idea of what makes a good one, and the Rab Xenon X Hoodie does not disappoint.
The first thing to figure out is what you’re going to use the jacket for. Synthetic jackets are relatively heavy compared to down gear of an equivalent insulation and so I tend to choose the lightest option I can get away with. The Xenon X is at the thinner and lighter end of the scale but warm enough that it isn’t an emergency piece or a summer only option.
My initial thought was that it would be ideal for most summer alpinism, chilly rock climbing and milder winter days, and so it’s proved. At 390g it’s light enough that I didn’t really find myself considering the weight and this also means that on days where you might go from bitter cold to relative warmth (such as an alpine start in the middle of the night followed by a route climbed in sunshine) you can chuck it in just for the cold bit and then not mind carrying it all day. The same principle holds for hillwalkers, who might only get it out on a chilly summit stop and have it unobtrusively stashed in the bag for the rest of the trip. You could always just toughen up and be cold in the morning and save weight later in the day, but with lightweight modern kit there’s no need to be suffering that much.
"It is light, yet has all the basic features - plus a few luxuries"
The Xenon is made primarily of Primaloft One insulation, which at 60g per square metre is incredibly light when you picture a piece of fabric that big weighing the same as a standard Mars bar. The inner and outer are made of Pertex Quantum meaning that the Xenon X breathes but is also water resistant (it will keep out a light rain shower) and if you stick it on over wet clothes it remains at least half way dry. Some synthetic jackets have inner layers which almost seem designed to soak up water, so this is well thought out.
In terms of features, Rab have clearly gone for the minimalist approach. There’s a decent sized chest pocket (which doubles as a stuff sack) and two hand pockets, a hood, an adjustable drawcord, elasticated cuffs and some fleece at the top of the main zip (which is insulated with an internal baffle – a nice touch) so that your face is rubbing against something soft. I thought the pockets worked well, even though they are compromised if you’re wearing a harness. However, given that the Xenon X is really a belay jacket, designed as a piece that you take on and off through the day, it is unlikely to be inside a harness often and even when it is you’ve still got the chest pocket. On balance I think it’s better to have comfortably placed pockets on a piece like this than to have them in a daft place just so that they aren’t affected by a harness, but others may feel differently.
The hood is excellent and can go either in or outside a helmet. Being big enough to fit over a helmet means that it is pretty spacious when you are just wearing a beanie but the elasticated lycra cinch works OK. I did find that high winds really got into the hood though so maybe a small tightening strap would have been good. The elasticated cuffs, meanwhile, are great and much better than a system that requires you do up some Velcro straps because you can just pull the Xenon X on for a minute or two and then take it off again whilst still getting maximum benefit from it. The hem drawcord around the waist stays tight too so once you’ve fitted it you don’t need to touch it again when you put the jacket back on. It never ceases to amaze me how many manufacturers don’t seem to manage this.
The final two “features” – the fleece chin guard and the integrated stuff sack - are both really good touches and make a big difference. When the wind was howling and I’d had the zip done all the way up for a prolonged period I found that the fleece was much less clammy than jackets with Pertex chin guards and it felt much more snug on really cold days. The stuff sack should really be feature of any synthetic jacket too because it means you can clip it to a harness if you don’t want to carry a rucksack on a route.
Performance wise I was really impressed with the Xenon X. Inevitably for a light jacket it feels slightly flimsy when you first pick it up but it has dealt with everything I’ve thrown at it with ease and is showing no sign of wear after roughly 30 days of use. It is warm too, especially given it’s size. The one area that it falls down on is breathability – if you start to heat up in it then just take it off because you won’t get any cooler with it on. That said, it isn’t designed to be moved in so I shouldn’t be too harsh on it.
The explosion of synthetic jackets has meant that the market is both congested and highly competitive but this really is a winner. It’s light, yet has all the basic features plus a few luxuries. It is more than warm enough for anything other than the toughest Scottish days and winter alpinism, and feels generally bombproof. As if that wasn’t enough, a RRP of £130 is pretty impressive value, so save for a few small quibbles it’s a big thumbs up from me.
"Lightweight PrimaLoft insulated hoodie with Pertex Quantum fabrics for versatile lightweight warmth and protection, ideal for alpine belays"
More info on Rab website
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