RAB DRILLIUM JACKET
TEST SERIES BY EDWARD RIPLEY-DUGGAN
January 5, 2008
FIELD REPORT March 15, 2008
LONG TERM REPORT May 23, 2008
||Catskills, New York
||6' 1" (1.85 m)
||215 lb (97.50 kg)
I enjoy walking in all its forms, from
a simple stroll in the woods to multi-day backpack excursions. Though by no
means an extreme ultra-light enthusiast, from spring to fall my preference is to
carry a pack weight (before food and water) of 12 lb (5.5 kg), more or less. In
recent years, I've rapidly moved to a philosophy of "lighter is better," within
the constraints of budget and common sense.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Rab (Equip Outdoor Technologies Ltd.)
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.rab.uk.com/
MSRP: Not stated on website
Listed Weight: 12.3 oz (350 g) [the size Rab used for this weight is not stated]
Weight: 13 oz (368 g)
Fabric: Three-layer lighweight eVENT, ripstop
Available colors: Amber, Black, Indigo
Tested size and color: XL, Indigo
The Rab Drillium jacket
I safely received the Rab Drillium jacket. It was packaged in a clear plastic garment bag, and had three hang tags attached. One of these tags advertises the eVENT fabric itself; another provides the basic specs for the Drillium jacket; a third describes the Neutrino range of clothing to which the jacket belongs, and provides guarantee information. This last is pretty much industry-standard repair/replacement boilerplate coverage for failure in workmanship or materials.
I carefully inspected the jacket once I'd unpacked it. The quality of stitching is excellent, with a high stitch count and very neat sewing and finishing. All seams are taped, and the taping is reinforced at high-stress areas, in particular the interior corners of the exterior pockets. There are no raw selvages on the inside of the jacket, and indeed my immediate impression was of impeccable quality of construction.
The jacket's eVENT fabric is in two colors, a feature not visible on the Rab website's image of the jacket. The side panels, extending up the sleeves, are graphite colored. All of the exterior zippers are water resistant, made by YKK, and these have tidy nylon tabs attached to the zipper pulls with cord. The front of the garment bears the Rab Neutrino logo, and the right arm has the embroidered logo of the eVENT fabric from which it is constructed. The jacket is described as "providing comfort and protection during summer mountain activities" on the hang tag (of course, summer mountain activities doesn't rule out cold and snow, depending on where the mountains are)! Both the website and the descriptive tag note that the jacket has a roll away wire peak hood, a separate protective collar, water resistant front zip and internal storm flap, and two outer self draining pockets (plus a laminated inner pocket). More on these presently.
eVENT (now manufactured by G.E.) is explicitly described as waterproof and highly breathable. Indeed, the motto used on the eVENT tag is "let the sweat out," a pretty basic (if somewhat charmless) statement of the fabric's function. I hope it performs as billed, as I run very hot when engaged in aerobic activities, and have to be very careful not to soak out. As a result, superior breathability in jacket fabrics is very important to me. I intend to wear this as a general shell for winter activities over the test period, in conjunction with various layers for warmth as and when needed. I'm not intending to wear the jacket in extreme winter conditions, since this falls outside the parameters for which it is designed.
The fit of the XL size I requested suits me well. I'm generally a US size 46 in jackets, a bit on the stocky side, although I'm slightly narrow in the shoulders. The jacket is neither too loose nor restrictive, and I have already confirmed that there's room for a warm layer underneath, provided it is not too bulky. A MontBell Alpine Light down jacket works well for this purpose, without any sense of constriction. The same (or something heavier) fits equally well over the Rab Drillium, providing versatility.
Hood extracted from collar
The high collar is comfortable, not at all tight in fit. The hood is concealed within. This is of excellent construction. It is folded into the collar compartment and is kept out of the way with several strips of hook-and-loop fastener, which seal the collar closed when the hood is not in use. When it is deployed, the hood is controlled by a left and right drawstring, each with a spring-loaded toggle, as well as another drawstring at the back (also with a toggle) to control the angle of the hood. The result, on a preliminary basis, is a good snug fit with ample visibility. There is enough room in the hood for a helmet (climbing or bike).
All the zips move smoothly at room temperature. I'll be interested to see how they do in the cold, as this type can sometimes stiffen in chilly conditions. The exterior pockets (positioned quite high. almost Napoleon-style) are spacious, and the garment is intended to be stowed in them (there is no separate stuff sack). The interior pocket, made of a light mesh, has a simple vertical security zipper, and will easily fit a fuel canister, food bars, a pair of gloves, or what-have-you.
The jacket is cut to be longer in the rear, with a dropped tail or "bum-warmer," and there's a waist drawstring controlled with two toggles. The sleeves can be sealed tight around the zip with a nylon-backed hook-and-loop fastener strip, kept in place by a smaller patch of female fastener when not in use. The main zip has a patch of soft fabric to insulate it from my bare neck. All said and done, this is a jacket with lots of interesting features to test!
The instructions for cleaning are on a tag sewn on the interior pocket. Frequent machine washing is suggested, using warm water and liquid detergent, followed by a double rinse. The jacket should be hung dry. One slightly atypical recommendation is that the jacket be steam ironed on a warm setting to rejuvenate the waterproof setting. The recommendation of ironing is not in itself unusual, but I can't recall that I have seen steam ironing specified before.
I look forward very much to testing this jacket in the coming four months. I'm initially impressed by the features, which show considerable thought. The aspect that I will be examining more closely than any other is how well the eVENT fabric works when the jacket's worn during periods of intense activity. I'll be using it for cross-country skiing as well as for hiking and backpacking. My field report will be due two months from this initial report, and a final long-term report will be posted after four months. My thanks to Rab (Equip Outdoor Technologies Ltd.) and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the Drillium jacket.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I used the Rab Drillium jacket in moderate winter conditions for hiking, backpacking and cross-country skiing in the Catskill Mountains of New York, to elevations of about 4000 ft (1220 m), for a total somewhat in excess of ten days of use. Weather ranged from moderate snow to occasional mild rain, and temperatures from about 15 to 32 F (-9 to 0 C), give or take five degrees.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I used the Drillium as my primary shell from January to the middle of March. I usually run somewhat hot during intense physical activity, and this was generally a mild winter. In consequence, my base layer was a thin long-sleeve merino shirt or an ancient Hind DryLete cycling shirt that I like; over that I wore the jacket, and this was generally sufficient for the conditions, so far as my torso was concerned. I would start out feeling cold, but after moving for a few minutes, even in windy weather, I felt comfortably cool (the ideal for winter hiking). When stationary, usually after summitting or when stopping to eat, a couple of times I wore a warmer insulated jacket over the Drillium. Since it isn't bulky, this was a perfectly feasible proceeding.
I don't usually wear a shell constantly except on the coldest of winter days, but I didn't find that the Drillium posed much problem with regulating moisture (a serious matter in winter), and in consequence I wore it non-stop (this also let me test how well it let moisture escape). The breathabilty of the eVENT fabric seems more than adequate to me, though not, naturally, a complete panacea.
I still found that, after a particularly strenuous ascent, or some especially hard skiing, my shirt would be a little moist; but then, that would likely be the case even without wearing the jacket. Since the conditions were generally dry, I could regulate my temperature to some extent by simply opening the front zip. I haven't yet tested the jacket under truly rainy conditions. Nor have I used the hood more than a couple of times, as I usually wear a warm hat in winter when conditions require it, and there's been no rain to fend off. I intend to examine these aspects in the milder and wetter two months to come.
I very much like the way the sleeve ends seal over my gloves, enabling a seamless and snow-proof junction. The waist also seals well with its drawstring. I was disappointed with the closure of the neck of the jacket, when fully zippered. The high collar promises (and, initially provides) good protection, but I found that invariably the zip would slip down several inches in a few moments. Generally, I used a neck gaiter over the collar, though if the zip had stayed put, I would not have needed it. The problem was not fit—the neck does not feel tight—but simply that the zip does not hold its position. This could be prevented with a locking zipper, or perhaps a "zipper garage" created by the addition of a tab with velcro tabs at the top of the collar. This was my only real disappointment to date with the garment.
The wind resistance of the jacket is very good. Several times during this test period I was out all day in moderate winds with gusts of up to twenty knots (28 km/h) or so (based on local forecasts, as guessing actual windspeeds is a notoriously fallible process). Even on exposed summit areas, I felt well protected against the breeze, though temperatures (before factoring windchill) were well below freezing. Based on the conditions I've been exposed to so far I would judge that the Drillium's ability to deflect wind is on a par with, or superior to, most windshirts and jackets I own.
The eVENT seems pretty durable so far. With the exception of a couple of outings on groomed snow on skis. and two shorter day hikes, I was wearing a pack at all times, and the shoulders so far show no evidence of wear from this. I have even used the jacket for some moderately hard bushwhacking without any misadventures (although this is probably pushing my luck). The one mischance I've had with the jacket was a very tiny leak of a jojoba oil/Teflon preparation used on waxless skis in transitional temperatures. A few drops from a bottle in a pocket spread like crazy to create a sizable and ineradicable stain, still all too evident after two washes with a sports-specific detergent.
This doesn't seem to affect the utility of the jacket in any way, although I note some very slight evidence of delamination in this area (eVENT is a three-layer fabric laminate). I will be curious to see how this affects that section of the jacket in wet conditions, and I do wonder what it implies for long-term durability, since it seems to be the oily component that has caused the problem (Teflon itself is pretty much inert). I've spilt cooking oil on myself at least once in the past while backpacking, and this fabric seems to sop up oil, with a small amount creating a stain of surprising proportions. This strikes me as a potentially messy issue. When backpacking, sometimes greasy stuff just happens!
Laundering (beyond the fact that the stain did not wash out) was straightforward. I steam-ironed the jacket afterwards as suggested. The laundry instructions suggest periodic treatment with a DWR treatment, but before I do this I want to see how the fabric performs in rain without this step.
The pockets are extremely spacious, and on a couple of shorter (four to six hour) hikes in milder conditions, I stuffed them with food bars, spare gloves, a headlamp and other odds and ends, and left my pack behind. This makes me look a little pregnant (a friend's remark), and is certainly not recommended winter technique, but it felt liberating.
The Rab Drillium has proved a very useful and durable shell in moderate winter conditions. I have found the breathability to be sufficiently good that I can wear it continuously, an asset on days when there's constant snowfall. I have some reservations about the way the collar closes, but this can be worked around with the use of a neck gaiter, which I tend to use many days in winter in any case. The eVENT seems to be rather vulnerable to oils, but then that's bad news for most fabrics.
LONG TERM REPORT
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
From mid-March to the present, the weather to which I (and the jacket) have been exposed in the Catskills has varied from wintery conditions, complete with light snow, to positively balmy days. I carried the jacket on all my expeditions, although I only needed to use it on five or six days, either for wind resistance or against snow and/or rain. I did need to use the hood on two of those occasions. I wore it through one moderate deluge. The warmest temperature at which the jacket was used was about 50 F (10 C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Drillium continued to perform very well over the long term test period. I was particularly enamored of the fit of the hood, which (as noted) saw service twice. I was able to use the two sets of toggle and drawstring adjustors to obtain a fit that was stable, tight, and that (best of all) did not obstruct my vision. Removing the hood from the collar "pocket" is very straightforward, as is returning it. At a pinch, it can be done with the jacket on. With the hood deployed I found that the tendency for the zipper to slide open at the neck (noted in the Field Report) was considerably diminished. Presumably the collar bulk when the hood is enclosed is a factor. I would still advocate for a locking zipper, as I certainly wouldn't want to have the hood out all the time.
In rain, the jacket kept me dry, in so far as I could see no soak-through of the fabric. I have not been able to test the self-bailing nature of the pockets. I did have some build-up of perspiration, but that was, I would judge, significantly less than with most other rain jackets I own (quite a few).
I do have one significant concern that arose during this period of the test. On one brightly sunny but chilly day, I glanced at the sleeve of the jacket and was surprised to see a number of tiny bumps. Goose pimples? Unfortunately not. Careful examination showed that there was evidence of localized delamination, mostly on a scale of a few ripstop squares (i.e. a tiny fraction of an inch or centimeter), over the entire surface of the jacket. Arms, chest, and back were all afflicted, but not the hood and collar.
Fabric defects (some marked by arrows)
This last observation, that the hood was untouched, was key. I realized that I had steam-ironed the entire jacket as per the laundry instructions on the tag within the jacket, with the exception of those areas. I also logged onto the Rab website, and found a page with significantly different instructions for eVENT garments than those on this tag. "At some temperatures, the heat from an iron can have a rejuvenating effect on the DWR finish but there is a greater potential for fabric damage if the iron is too hot. We recommend that if you do iron your garment you use a temperature no higher than 'warm'. (two dot)."
I phoned the folks at Rab, which led to a cordial dialogue with Jonathan Morgan, of the export division of Equip Outdoor Technologies Ltd., which owns Rab. Mr. Morgan contacted the main eVENT rep for the UK, and discussed the matter. His final e-mail response reads in part:
"We both agree with you that the problem is one of ironing at too high a temperature.
There are 2 potential problems when ironing any waterproof garment.
Firstly all irons will vary in their temperature settings. I suspect that a warm setting on one iron may well give out as much heat as a hot setting on a different iron.
Secondly eVENT, like most fabric manufacturers give out one set of washing instructions to cover all of their fabrics. There is going to be a higher risk of damaging a Drillium jacket which uses one of the lightest face fabrics then with for example our Latok Jacket which uses a much thicker face fabric.
If ironed on a medium/2 dot setting the fabric should be fine, but I would tend to iron on a lower setting then this (partly because I don’t trust my iron, partly because I am not very good at ironing!) with a t-shirt between the iron and the jacket."
As a result of this mishap, he states that the website information is going to be clarified, and he hopes to have (in the longer term) care labels congruent with the website advice.
I do want to commend Mr. Morgan, Equip, and eVENT's rep for their kindness and responsiveness in investigating this issue, and to emphasize that despite concerns I have that the long-term durability of my garment may have been compromised by steam-ironing, in the period I have tested the Rab Drillium I have been very much impressed by both the thoughtful design and the performance, which are significantly better where breathability is concerned than just about any other jacket I own. The problem I report here is a resolvable fabric care issue. High marks go to both the Drillium jacket and the performance of the three-layer eVENT in almost every other regard.
The Rab Drillium is fully featured and well designed. The fabric is highly breathable, making this an all-round shell for all seasons, great for aerobic snow sports, hiking, and backpacking. My only reservations are the neck closure, and the issue of fabric care discussed above. I will continue to use the jacket for the foreseeable future, as long as the fabric remains sound and functional.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer
Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Read more gear reviews by Edward Ripley-Duggan