Gear Guide 2012: Rab Scimitar Shell

This is the go-to shell for alpine activity providing great breathability and impressive weather protection.

[alpine protection]

Shoulder-season hikers reached for the Scimitar when high-output alpine activity was on the agenda, praising its one-two punch of breathability plus impressive weather protection. Rab’s proprietary stretch fabric pairs a wicking inner surface with a durable, abrasion-resistant outer weave, adding heavier-denier fabric panels for extra strength on the shoulders, sides, and hood.

Protection from sloppy weather was above average for a traditional softshell: “Rain rolled right off, and snow, sleet, and freezing stuff didn’t make a dent,” reports one tester who wore the Scimitar in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. The fabric’s exceptional DWR* coating beaded light to moderate precipitation without any sign of wetting out, but the non-waterproof zippers are vulnerable to leaks and the jacket won’t handle a sustained downpour.

Breathability is enhanced by three large, mesh-lined pockets (two handwarmer pockets big enough to swallow a map or pair of gloves, and one Napoleon pocket), which cooled steamy testers efficiently when unzipped. Props also went to the stylish, athletic cut that allowed for unhindered movement, plus long sleeves that “kept my wrists completely covered, even while I searched for my next handhold on a snowy climb,” says one wearer.

Testers also praised the Scimitar’s easy-to-adjust, rollaway hood, which stays in place and features a moldable wire brim to keep precip clear of eyes (though some found the shape was too baggy without a helmet). Caveats: The main zipper can take some fiddling to get started, and the Scimitar is heavier than competing softshells. $175; 1 lb. 4 oz.;