Boreas Pull-On from Rab Review

© UKC Gear

Sitting in the pub after being blown all over the place on a winter’s day at Bosigran we got talking about our favourite pieces of kit. I guess we all have a favourite item, and I had assumed, when asked, mine would be something metal, like a favourite cam that always seemed to fit. But the more I thought about it, the more I turned to clothing, and one piece in particular.

Rab Boreas  © UKC Gear
Reading Andy K’s webpages on clothing some years ago felt like an epiphany. I’d spent years with a bottom layer, a mid layer and a top layer, but only the top layer was wind proof. This meant that if I was too hot I had to: remove top layer, remover mid layer, replace top layer. On some routes I seemed to be doing this on every stance. Often the layers stuck together during the process, or rode up to expose skin. It also meant that I had to take the, often bulky, top layer with me on each pitch, even if it was a hard one, or I would freeze in the wind whilst belaying my second.

Andy pointed out that it was much better if the mid layer was windproof too, and if it was it didn’t need to provide much insulation as wind is normally the problem, not cold. This means the belay jacket can stay in the sack most of the day and there is never the need to get undressed on a hanging belay. Clearly this is only going to work if the mid layer is made of something light, stretchy and breathable as well as windproof. Climbing in a plastic bag isn’t going to be nice.

Tom Blight travelling light on the South Face of Petit Grepon (III 5.7) in Colorado.  © UKC Gear
Tom Blight travelling light on the South Face of Petit Grepon (III 5.7) in Colorado.

This will not be much of a revelation to many, but I still bump into people doing the clothing shuffle on stances, or see people agonising over what to wear on a pitch as they know they don’t want to get sweaty, but they also don’t want to freeze in the wind waiting for their second to remove the inevitable stuck cam.

Amy Till at home on a windy day on Dartmoor.  © UKC Gear
Amy Till at home on a windy day on Dartmoor.

For most routes below the snowline I’ve now switched completely to a long sleeved wicky top as a bottom layer (I use a long sleeved one even in summer as it keeps the sun off my arms), a windproof mid layer with a hood that fits over a helmet, and only if really needed a belay jacket. Much of the time I find if the mid layer is windproof, then for multipitch rock in the UK I can use a wind proof gilet rather than a full jacket even in winter, or forget the top layer completely. Not taking a traditional top layer now means I don’t need a sack, which means all routes feel a grade easier. I guess it just makes longer routes more fun, and this is why, in the pub, when asked for my favourite piece of kit, I chose the Boreas.

David Coley trying to find the footholds on Rider’s on the Storm in Pembroke (HVS).  © UKC Gear
David Coley trying to find the footholds on Rider’s on the Storm in Pembroke (HVS).

For me the Boreas Pull-On fits the bill perfectly. It is light, hasn’t ripped over many years of abuse, and has survived being washed endlessly.

Although Rab call it a soft shell, it is feels fine next to the skin. There may well be other equally good products from other manufactures, but until my Boreas can be persuaded to die, I guess I won’t find out. One nice thing is that it has a pocket for a photocopy of the route or an energy gel. The zip on the front is also long enough to allow you to remove it over a helmet – this is a feature that many manufacturers seem to miss. And for climbing mothers, I’m told the zip is even long enough to allow breast feeding.

Tom Blight speed climbing on the Spearhead, Colorado  © UKC Gear
Tom Blight speed climbing on the Spearhead, Colorado

If you do get a Boreas, get a blue or red one, the grey one might look good in the high street, but will camouflage you out of any photo against rock. My only complaint is the length of the arms. Rab must employ people with high positive ape indices, people like me with a negative index will have to roll the sleeves up.

Tom Blight trying to find the way off Hallett Peak, Colorado  © UKC Gear
Tom Blight trying to find the way off Hallett Peak, Colorado

Rab Boreas  © UKC Gear
From the Rab Website:

The Boreas Pull-On is a light-weight, highly breathable pull-on, in a Matrix SWS™ stretch fabric, designed to provide protection during fast-and-light mountain use.

Offering high levels of sun and weather protection, the Boreas Pull-On is a perfect layer for climbing or walking in the mountains.

Now featuring Polygiene® STAY FRESH odour control treatment, the Boreas Pull-On can now comfortably be worn for multi-day trips. Features include an under-helmet hood, deep venting YKK chest zip and flatlock low bulk seams.

The slim fitting nature of this piece makes it the ideal pull-on for providing extra warmth in cold and windy conditions.

Tech Specs:

Weight: 259g (large) / Matrix SWS™ fabric / Polygiene® STAY FRESH odour control treatment / Under helmet hood / Deep venting YKK chest zip / 1 YKK zipped chest stash pocket / Flatlock low bulk stretch seams / Open cuffs / Fit: Slim / SKU: QWS-13



David Coley is co-author of the ebook High: Advanced Multipitch Climbing Techniques and maintains the climbing resource

Photos by David Coley, Pete Callaghan and Scott Borden.


For more information Rab Website

2 Sep, 2015
I'll back that up - had mine for 3-4 years now and it's done sterling service. The two criticisms I have are: that although the contrast stitch looks dapper, it catches badly on rock, especially rough rock and it tends to pull and look shabby quite quickly. Not that that particularly bothers me, but do they NEED the contrast stitching? the pocket is large enough to fold the top up into a small ball and stuff it inside - the pocket looks as though it was designed for this as the stitching is neat on the inside of the pocket. But the zip is single sided and there's no look to clip it to the back of your harness. If they sorted these two things IMHO it would be absolutely perfect - if the above features put the price up by £5 it would still be cheap...
2 Sep, 2015
How can it be windproof *and* highly breathable?
2 Sep, 2015
I've always fancied one, but Rab seems to tend towards very narrow shoulders and long arms. I can chop of the excess arm length, but the narrow shoulders are ridiculous. If I get one big enough for the shoulders I end up with a massive amount of material around the waist. Is it just me?
2 Sep, 2015
Many tightly woven fabrics, nylon and cotton can be windproof and with no coating or laminate on them they remain very breathable.
2 Sep, 2015
I've never had the sleeve length problem with Rab and in fact I find their t-shirts and tops a little high above the wrists, ME tops always fit better in the arms!
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