Keeping up with new technologies over the years, Rab has gone far beyond its roots in down insulation. Ever since their popular Photon Jacket, Rab have extended their synthetic offering and - new for winter 2015/16 - have introduced the Nebula Jacket in both a men's and women's version.
With synthetic insulation offering a comparably lightweight, warm, and quick-drying alternative to down it has rapidly become the go-to option for those - such as ourselves here in the UK - that live in a (relatively) warm and (definitely) wet environment. Furthermore, with claims from Rab that the new Cirrus insulation is the closest they have ever achieved to down warmth within a synthetic fabric, I was interested to see how it performed in the real world.
The Cirrus insulation, designed by 3M, is marketed as being almost as good as natural feather down, but without any of the associated drawbacks; however, given that the two materials are, in fact, quite different, there will always be an element of trade off between the key comparisons: warmth, weight, and packability.
The Nebula Jacket, at 490g (UK12), is not as light as it’s nearest down comparator, the Microlight Alpine Jacket, which comes in at a mere 360g (UK12). Being that I own both, I would say that the Nebula Jacket feels warmer that the Microlight Alpine Jacket (which surprised me). I was impressed by how toasty the Nebula felt, and I almost always ended up choosing it over my Microlight during the autumn/winter bouldering season. While it doesn’t pack down quite as neatly, the Nebula fits into one of the outer pockets, which doubles up as a built in stuff sack. Considering that synthetic insulation is generally more bulky, this is to be expected, however, I was slightly disappointed by how difficult it was to zip-up the stuff sack; it was a pretty tight fit!
Another impressive quality of the Nebula jacket is the fact that it is reasonably breathable, yet also highly windproof. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to feature in Rab's own description of the jacket, but I haven’t overheated or felt too sticky whilst wearing the Nebula. Equally, I noticed that the jacket protects against cold winds. The hood, easily big enough for a helmet, has a wire-peak and a drawstring, while the sleeves feature elasticated lycra cuffs, both of which help to keep nasty drafts out. The cuffs also result in a cleaner overall look, and work well when sliding gloves through the ends of the sleeves. As noted in the UKC review of the Rab Electron Jacket, this is an important point for anyone using the Nebula Jacket for Scottish Winter and Alpine use, as the velcro strap alternatives tend to get packed with snow causing them to fail.
The Nebula Jacket is described as having a regular fit, which means it has a slightly roomier feel around the body. It also features a ‘drop-seat’, which really just means ‘it-covers-most-of-your-bum’. Without appearing bulky or losing its feminine aesthetic, the fit of the jacket means you can pile on plenty of layers underneath, so it’s a fairly versatile layering piece. While the jacket performed best on cooler summer days or during the spring and autumn, as a standalone piece, I can still recommend using it all year round. In more wintery conditions the Nebula was a great mid-layer, fitting underneath my Rab feather down jacket (Neutrino Endurance Jacket). This combination has worked particularly well on cold days spent bouldering in the Peak District; the Nebula keeping me pleasantly warm and snug whilst trying problems, only using the bigger jacket to keep me from cooling down between attempts.
This jacket comes in at £160, which is quite reasonable. The nearest down alternatives are either much more expensive (the Continuum Hoodie, is nearly £100 more expensive) or much less substantial (the Microlight Alpine Jacket, only £20 more expensive, but quite a bit less warm). That said, Rab’s competitive pricing strategy has meant losing out on a key feature: the Nebula Jacket is missing a two-way zip to help when belaying in cold conditions. Rather than having your belay device neatly peeking out from the bottom part of the zip, you have to maneuver the device over the bulk of the jacket. Considering the Nebula is marketed as a winter climbing and belay jacket, I feel that this is an oversight: a two-way zip is possibly the most useful aspect of a belay jacket, second to actually keeping you warm.
The discovery of insulated jackets was a total game-changer for me, and now I can’t believe I ever survived a winter without one. The Nebula Jacket is marketed as a versatile “winter climbing and belay jacket”. Although I can’t claim to be a Scottish winter climber, in my experience - being Scottish, and being a climber, and having survived many Scottish winters – I can only imagine using the Nebula as a mid-layer. If I did ever happen to go winter climbing, the Nebula perhaps wouldn’t be my first choice (due to the lack of a two-way zip) but it has become my first choice for cold weather bouldering, walking, and hanging out – for this, the Nebula is great! While it’s not as soft and cosy feeling as a real down jacket, it is very warm relative to its size and weight. You’d be hard pushed to find any synthetic that replicated the feeling of real down, so this seems a small sacrifice and well worth it.
What Rab say about the Nebula Jacket:
Cirrus™ is a new, breakthrough insulation which combines almost all the key benefits of natural down and synthetic fillings, whilst avoiding their limitations. Key technical features include a helmet compatible hood for climbing use, a Pertex® Endurance® outer fabric and YKK® zips throughout. The Women’s Nebula Jacket is designed as an all-round cold weather piece, yet the technical feature set offers the flexibility of using the jacket as a winter climbing and belay jacket.
- MORE INFO: Rab Website
Originally from Edinburgh, Penny is a yoga teacher based in Sheffield.
After discovering the film Stone Monkey at age 4, she has been climbing for almost all of her life. Although her primary focus is on sport climbing and bouldering, she has also dabbled with North American trad and has plans to brave the fulmars back here in the UK later in the year.
Penny keeps an occasional blog on her website: http://penelopeorr.weebly.com/