I’m going to make a wee confession. Don’t tell the gear manufacturers, it’s just between us. It’s this: I don’t like hard shells very much. When I first started out in the hills, the standard issue uniform was a jumper or fleece and a hardshell. Probably a cagoule, but maybe a fancy Gore one if you were well off. That’s just what you had. The shell would be used to keep you dry of course, but it was also used to keep the wind off. This was purely because the wind would howl through your wooly jumper or fleece and strip the meat from your bones.
Nowadays of course, we live in a much more enlightened age. Soft shells are splendid, although the thicker versions can still get hot if you’re burning it hard on the uphills. What you really need is something that will allow you to stride (or stagger) manfully uphill at full tilt without being reduced to a sweaty blob, all the while keeping the wind at bay. What you need, is a windshirt.
Why would I bother carrying a thing to keep the wind off when I already have my shell jacket in my pack I hear you cry. Well, mainly because that shell wants to cook you in your own juices. Your windshirt will protect you from the sun and the chilling effect of the wind, but allows all that water vapour to fly out and away at a rate of knots. There are plenty to choose from, most of which are just Pertex shells, but also in that zone we have the lightweight softshell.
Here’s the Rab Zephyr.
The main material is Matrix SWS, which is a lightweight polyester/spandex mix, and we also have the heavier Matrix DWS on the shoulder and arms for a bit of abrasion and weather resistance. The seams that join the materials are flat to minimise chafing. It weighs sod all (that’s a technical term), so you can have it in your pack without noticing.
In practice, it’s a wee marvel. It’s not 100% windproof, but it keeps the wind at bay up to the point where you need to be thinking about descending. Breathability is excellent, which is kinda the point. The fit is slim, so you don’t get any annoying flapping, which is a big win. Stretch is excellent, so it’s useful when scrambling. There are also thumb loops to keep the arms from riding up, but the fit is clingy so I didn’t really use them. The pockets are good and large.
Then there’s the hood. It’s a good snug fit and it’ll go under a helmet nicely, which means it’s useful as a mid layer when climbing in cooler conditions.
The only downside is that when you put the hood up, it instantly transforms from a windshirt into a gimp suit. Look.
No one looks good with their windshirt hood up. No one. Least of all me. You immediately look like an escapee from a dungeon somewhere. It’s best to avoid using the hood if you’re likely to run into people, you might scare them. I know the sheep were giving me funny looks. Bear that in mind when you pitch up at a summit and person who’s there immediately packs up and leaves. This applies in general to all windshirts for some reason and isn’t limited to this one.
Regardless of that minor issue, the end result is a super light softshell that keeps the worst of the wind off and lets the moisture out while you toil. Perfect on it’s own for summer and autumn trips, and a good mid layer when it gets colder.
I like it a lot and it’s always in my pack these days. I’ll just try to remember to put the hood down when I meet you on the hill.