Rab Strata Hoodie
Alpha test alpha
Written by: Bryan Wolf
If you have been to Roads Rivers and Trails then you know that we are big fans of Rab technical wear. To date there has not been a piece of gear that left us disappointed or that failed to out-perform our expectations. While this gear test is on the Rab Strata Hoodie, the real test is on the new technology that is Polartec Alpha.
If you visit the Polartec web site as it is linked above you’ll find scientific proof along with reviews, backing, and support of our military forces that this technology works. This all has great substance and while hand selecting the gear that we use and sell in our store we find that the better gear has that substance. I want to know ratings for breath-ability and warmth, that is how you compare things. How do I know one piece of gear is better than another if not for the credibility of testing and user performance reviews.
That being said I am more skeptical than most when it comes to reading reviews on a website that is self promoting. We have personally found that certain pieces, while maintaining their claims, fail to be the most practical piece for our applications. For example, a high alpine piece created for ski may not be the best for an Eastern United States Appalachian hiker. With this exact issue in mind I wanted to get a little use of the Strata and the new Polartec Alpha technology before bringing it in to the store.
Off to my favorite gear testing stomping grounds; the Appalachian Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The plan as it is now is for a few nights atop Mt. LeConte via the Boulevard Trail. Recent nights have been as low as -9 degrees with about 10 inches of snow on trail. The weekend forecast will most likely add to the snow and it doesn’t look to get warmer than highs of mid twenties. I plan on having proper layers on and will wear the jacket both in motion and while still. I’m a pretty fast hiker so I hope to mostly test the breath-ability of this piece. Since I previously have reviewed a competing technology with a Primaloft jacket (Generator) I feel I’ll be well suited to compare the leading brands and discuss the differences.
I can’t wait, I’ve been needing some mountain time!! Review coming soon:
The Mountain didn’t disappoint. Upon arriving at the Sugarlands visitor center we were immediately detoured in our plans. The roads were closed at 441 so there was no hope for the Alum or Boulevard Trails, furthermore it meant that we had to make alternative plans for that night. We grabbed a tent site at Cades Cove Campground and enjoyed the solitude of being absolutely the only people staying at the typically bustling site. The next morning we checked again for changes in road conditions and things had only gotten worse. Cherokee Orchard was now closed half way to the Bull Head Trail. The rangers questioned if packing up the mountain was something we wanted to do with the nights forecast, we of course assured them that we would be just fine.
We had to hike up 1.5 miles of road before hitting the 7.1 mile trail to the shelter. Road walking was too easy of course and my pace up the mountain wasted no time in building up some heat. I started with the Strata jacket and some wool base layers. When we got to the trail head it was time to remove a layer and the jacket got packed away. I didn’t ever expect the jacket to last during a 3+ mile pace uphill. Temperatures were under 20 degrees all day and as you may know they can change rapidly as you hike higher in elevation, or in and out of different ridgelines.
It was around mile 4 (including the road) that we stopped for a short break and lunch. The pack comes down and before anything else the jacket hat and gloves go on to retain what heat I had built up. The break was only 20 minutes, but it was very comfortable. When we started hiking again enough heat had escaped that I wasn’t willing to lose the Strata yet. As the trail steepened and our feet slowed, I realized I was not going to take the jacket off for the rest of the hike. At this point I had on Ibex Woolies 150 base, Patagonia R1 Base and the Strata Hoodie. I can tell you that without a doubt the Generator would have been way too hot after even a half mile in this scenario. If you read my Generator Review, that is not a knock on its performance at all; it is a top layer piece for breaks and at camp. The Strata however had a very noticeable difference, it is built as more of an in action piece. Other then the occasional unzipping of the jacket for a quick vent, I had the perfect layer system for what was soon nearing 0 degree hiking.
You could assume that changing my layers, say excluding the Patagonia piece would have made this jacket comfortable for backpacking at temperatures closer to 15-20 without incident. As a stand alone piece there are plenty of puffy jackets to retain more heat, however this is the first that I have comfortably hiked in. The test of the Polartec Alpha in my opinion passed and stood out for all the reasons that they claim. At the shelter that night we would reach -7 degrees while cooking dinner and melting snow. Overnight we would see -12 as a low. While moving around camp I sure was glad that I had my generator, was layered appropriately and had my shell for protection. There is no way the Strata was up for that test. My suggestion would be to use the Strata as more as a mid layer in extreme cold of negative temperatures to the teens. From mid twenties and up you could probably use the Strata as a camp puffy.
*There are always other factors to consider when picking appropriate layers for your trips conditions, please feel free to comment or call for advice.