The Rab Continuum Insulated Down Jacket Review
Before I review the Rab Continuum jacket, allow me some shameless self advertising. Starting on June 24th, I’ll be walking the length of Great Britain from the North West tip of Scotland, to the South East tip of England. The adventure, which I’m calling NW2SE has no set route, save the first 300 miles on The Cape Wrath Trail and The West Highland Way. After that it’s a deliciously random affair, with no direction other than what I like the look of as I travel south.
You can catch me here on the blog, as well as the dedicated NW2SE blog. I’ll be posting updates as well on social media sources (Facebook, Twitter and Google+) using the hash tag #nw2se. If it looks like I’m passing by you, get in touch. Show me what’s on your door step and why you love it!
* * *
Granted, a strange time of year to be reviewing a down jacket. I’ll be extolling the benefits of ice axes and 4 season sleeping bags next. There’s a couple of reasons, firstly I’m behind with reviews (as usual) and I meant to have this up in February. Secondly, actually, there’s good enough reason to use this jacket in the summer months also, depending on where you live but on our fair isles here, and on American thru-hikes, it’s got a lot going for it.
Technical stuff out of the way first. The outer layer is Pertex Quantum GL which is a breathable, windproof fabric. It’s filled with 110 gr of 850 hydrophobic goose down, treated with a Nikwax water repellent finish and not plucked from live birds. The net result is a jacket weighing in at an impressive, but not market leading 296 gr, give or take.
Rab’s use of a Nikwax treatment for their down seems to work well.
General consensus of opinion in current climes puts two down jackets at the top of the tree. They’re scoring constantly great reviews and on my limited time out hiking the CDT, they both made regular appearances. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is remarkably similar to the Continuum. It’s filled with 79 gr of 800 fill, water repellent Q-Shield down. Its total weight is 197 gr however, a decent 100 gr off the Rab but with 31 gr less down fill, it’s not going to be as warm. The Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket uses 51 gr of 900 fill down, and tips the scales at a silly 159gr (if you think that’s light, their Plasma jacket barely registers on the scales at 135 gr). Again, although Montbell use a slightly more efficient down (900 vs 850), there is still practically half the amount of the Continuum which should make it less warm again. Specs aside, these two seem to be the current favourites amongst the thru-hiking crowd.
The Continuum isn’t for use in the middle of winter, half way up Everest or on a trip to the North Pole. They’re designed for temperatures dipping just past zero, to just above. Ideal for thru-hiking because of their weight, they score well for use in the evening and early morning , at elevation around camp and also benefit by being wearable when actually hiking at lower temperatures whilst the body warms up, for example during the first hour or so in the morning. I made the mistake of using a Montane Antifreeze down jacket on my PCT thru-hike. Not that it’s a bad jacket, it’s not. It was toasty when I wasn’t moving but I couldn’t hike it in because it was way too warm, meaning it’s use was wasted during the day. I think the Continuum also scores well for most of the year, even in the summer. We all take some sort of warm top layer out camping, perhaps a fleece being the favourite over the last few years. The Continuum will do a better job, and weighs substantially less as well.
Carrying gear over 1000, 2000, 3000 miles or more means every use for it has to be eked out. Insulated jackets that employ lighter filling weights can still be used when actually walking, and will keep you warm when the temperature dips to a certain extent, if it gets chillier than they can cope with then we simply put on another layer underneath, or a waterproof jacket over the top. Any colder than that and we wear a sleeping bag.
My temperature tolerance has dipped over the last five years or so. My sleeping bags need to be warmer than those I used to get away with. It’s the same with jackets so whilst I did take a long look at both the Whisperer and the Ex Light, I decided the filling wasn’t quite generous enough, even with a jacket over the top or another layer underneath. As it turned it, it’s spot on for me. It does work well around camp when the temperature drops to single digits (Celsius) and below freezing. It great in the tent when it’s chilly enough to make me want to get my lower half in my sleeping bag, but still do tasks like cook, read or write as well. I do love the fact that I can hike in it as well without steaming up inside and overheating. When my body does reach a decent warmth then the outside temperature has usually warmed sufficiently to remove it.
Hydrophobic down has been promised several times over the last few years but finally, in the last two, it’s made its appearance. It’s more resistant than actually waterproof, let’s get that out of the way but in humid conditions and light rain it seems to work well. The down remains lofted and thus still insulates, and it dries quicker. For me, it’s a peace of mind thing. Down equipment in the past has been a constant worry, a terrific performer granted but you end up molly-coddling it to make sure it doesn’t get wet. Hydrophobic down has made inroads into making us all slightly less concerned about our feathers getting damp. However, as with most insulation, even synthetics, you’ll need to get the waterproofs out if the rain is heavy.
The Pertex Quantum outer is impressive. It’s silly light and seems way too thin to the touch. However, having used it for five weeks on the CDT with more bush snags than I care to remember, it hasn’t ripped or pulled anywhere. Durability wise I have no complaints at all. It’s also wonderful to the touch and next to the skin. Somehow they’ve made nylon, for once, a pleasure to wear. It’s slippery, put the Quantuum over your head, slip your hands into the arm holes and the whole thing just slides on.
Fit, as always, is a personal thing that will always vary from one person to the next so it’s pointless me commenting. Except for one aspect – the length. It needs to be longer both at the front and the back around the waist. I’d recommend, if you order, going up one on your usual size.
The length could do with being a little longer.
Spartan in features as you would expect for this weight, it does have the benefit of a draw cord around the waist, elasticated cuffs cut just perfectly and a snug little fleece insert for the zip park. There are two, decent sized pockets as well which Rab have positioned thoughtfully above a backpack hip belt, so you can keep your hands toasty when you hike as well and believe me, when your body is kicking out some heat, they’re way better than any gloves. Also, there is no insulation between the pockets and the body so all the body warmth is not restricted and your hands reap the rewards. Insulation on the outside keeps the heat in these pockets.
The cuffs fit perfectly.
Draw cord around the waist tweaks to you.
Pockets are positioned thoughtfully so you can use them when wearing a hip belt. And they’re toasty warm.
The down is kept in place by stitching through the Pertex in squares about 9cm x 5cm which I prefer to baffles, where the filling has a tendency to move around too much. This method keeps it firmly in place although expect some cold spots as a result.
It has no hood which is my preference but the Continuum is available in a hooded version. I always carry some form of insulated hat anyway, which gives me the option of using it with the jacket if I want to, or not. I prefer saving a little weight by having jackets with no hood.
No hood (not a bad aspect necessarily) . . .
Little details like a zip park and fleece insert are welcome.
Pack size is impressive. It will stow in one of the pockets, thoughtfully with a zip on the inside to produce a neat little bundle slightly larger than a 32oz Nalgene, but you can squeeze it down to half of that size with a little compression. It not something I use because one of the first aspects of packing I learnt years ago was that clothing is a great way to fill up the gaps in your pack. Never the less, it’s there if you prefer it and as well as being impressively small, you could use it as a pillow.
Pack size great, but . . .
. . . it will squeeze down further, perhaps with the help of some elastic bands or a compression strap.
If the colour is not to your liking, the men’s version is available in Dark Shark (black with red detail). The womens is available in either Violet (purple), or Ink (kind of a subdued blue).
If the Electric Blue isn’t your thing – this is the Dark Shark.
For us British, I don’t need to sell Rab to anyone. Their reputation alone is enough. For my friends across the pond Rab is still making inroads. I have seen their products over there and chatting to the owners, they’re always over the moon about their purchase. You can buy Rab in the States, although you may need to look around but believe me, it’s worth the effort. In the UK, take a look at Webtogs who have it, and a lot of other gear, at pretty decent prices.
Sizes: S / M / L / XL
Mens Colours: Electric or Dark Shark
Womens Colours: Violet or Ink
Available with or without a hood
Webtogs Price: Varies but Men’s non hooded in Electric is £156.71
The Rab Continuum was provided free in exchange for this review by Webtogs on the understanding that it would be impartial, and could have bad points as well as good.