Tuesday 22 November 2011

Review: Rab Bergen Hardshell Jacket £125 – 22/6/11

As we all know, the British weather can be a contrary thing; fine and sunny one moment, pouring with rain the next, and with the ability to flip flop from one to the other at barely a moments’ notice. “Four seasons in one day” may be an overused epithet the world over, but here in good old Blighty, three in a day is both a frequent and not unexpected occurrence.

I found this out for myself on a two-day outing in the Peak District one wet weekend in June. A late check of the forecast before setting out had encouraged me to take both my summer and winter waterproofs, which may have added a bit of extra weight to my pack but also added to my options. Good job too, as over the next two days the skies subjected me to almost every conceivable type of weather possible, including warm sun, heavy rain and even stormy sleet! (See here & here).

What I learned from this was two things: one, be prepared, and two, have the right gear. My summer waterproof might be cool and light, but it didn’t keep out prolonged heavy rain (not that I expected it to), whereas my winter waterproof might keep the weather at bay no problem, but it’s really a bit too warm and bulky for summer use. What I really needed was something in between.

Ideally, that would be a jacket that covered the middle ground; light enough for use in warm, rainy conditions but robust and waterproof enough for keeping worse weather out too, should it happen along. Also, it would need to be comfortable worn over a wicking T-shirt in warm weather yet roomy enough to accommodate a mid layer or fleece when the mercury dropped.

I did as much research as I could (see here) tried on various options and arrived at my choice: a Rab Bergen. Since it’s delivery in early July, it has already been quite a few miles with me. But, thanks to a largely dry summer and autumn, for most of them it’s been in my pack – an observation, not a complaint! However, there have been occasions when it has been pressed into service, particularly in the last couple of weeks, so it is only now that I feel I can justifiably offer my initial review.

Rab describe the Bergen as a waterproof and breathable hill and mountain walking jacket, a stalwart of their range for several years that should offer all-year-round protection. They also claim that in it’s latest incarnation it has been cut slightly longer and been beefed up round the arms and shoulders for extra durability – more of which later. These are the specifications for the Bergen according to the Rab website:

· Constructed from midweight eVent® 3 layer fabric in the torso
· Heavyweight eVent® 3 layer fabric in arms and shoulders
· Articulated elbows
· Protective hood with volume adjustment cords, wired peak and roll down tab
· 2 A-line chest pockets with water resistant zips
· Pocket rain drain points
· Internal zipped mesh pocket
· 2-way YKK front zip with double storm flap and rain drain
· Easy open velcro fastened external front zip storm flap
· Laminated velcro cuff tabs, and adjustable waist and hem drawcords
· Long cut
· 610g so still lightweight and packable

As mentioned at the outset, I have had little chance to test the jacket in really bad weather. Having said that, when I have had to resort to it, it has kept the rain out fine. It’s certainly lightweight: as measured on my electronic scales at home it came in at only 532g – interestingly considerably under what is claimed on the Rab website.

The reason for this – I think – is that I have the previous incarnation of the Bergen, which I have seen credited with a similar weight. Where I think the weight has been “saved” is that this version does not perhaps benefit from the extra length and beefed-up fabric around the arms and shoulders mentioned above, although I stand to be corrected on that!

Anyhow, it was bought in the sale, and I have no quibbles about what I bought and the price I paid for it having tried it on first. I mention it simply to warn others to check thoroughly what they are buying especially in sales and doubly so if you are buying mail order and not seeing the garment first – the lesson being that although the name may stay pretty much the same from season to season, the specification might well alter!

Having said that, this lighter version actually suits me better as it is closer to what I was looking for. It does pack down quite small, but the well-stiffened peak means it’s not quite as compressible as it might otherwise be.

The hood is pretty good. The wired peak helps keep rain off the face (really handy if you wear glasses) and there are drawcord adjustments at the rear and at the chin to help achieve a neat fit. When fully done up, the chin guard comes up to around the mouth and, as it isn’t fleece-lined, it doesn’t snag on your stubble/beard (this is the men’s version – I can’t speak for the ladies!). But best of all it hasn’t been designed to fit over a climbing helmet like most modern technical jackets (hurrah!) so it’s not way too big, and when cinched to you’re are not left peering out of a pokey little hole.

The pockets seem very good, too. The inner, zipped mesh pocket is a fairly standard affair, suitable – I would say – for keys or a cereal bar but not for electrical items that might be sensitive to moisture as it could easily wet-out from the inside if you are working hard. The two A-line pockets are plenty large enough for a map or guidebook and are sited at chest height – high enough that they remain unobstructed by a rucksack hip-belt. Both have water resistant zips backed by a small storm flap and with a guard at the top, and these have not let any rain in so far.

The main zip, in contrast, is a standard 2-way YYK zip but with a double storm flap to prevent water ingress – around 4cm wide for the outer one and 5cm for the internal one. It may well be that this is necessary to keep driving rain out – I don’t know, I haven’t tried it in a hooley yet – but it seems a bit over the top. I reckon it could be narrower, because, on the downside, it makes the main zip a bit of a fiddle to operate, and if you are wearing it with the hood down and the zip open for ventilation there is quite a bit of fabric to flap about (added to because the chin guard is quite high, too).

There is also a popper at the top and bottom of the storm flap, plus no less than five strips of Velcro to hold it down. It might all be necessary to keep water out, but again it seems a tad over-elaborate – and, as anyone who has struggled with it in a gale knows, Velcro is both a blessing and a curse!

The cuffs are very neat with good adjustment. This is one of those occasions where Velcro really does seem to help get a good fit – especially considering the wide variation in thickness of wrist, number of layers worn, and watch size. The flexibility of the e-Vent fabric certainly helps in getting a neat fit with no uncomfortable bunching.

Regardless of which version I actually have, the e-Vent fabric used has a lovely, maleable feel which, whilst seeming fairly thin, feels pretty robust, too, with the high wear areas additionally strengthened. This is, in part, because of the high build-quality – nothing less than expected with a high-end brand like Rab – but the two features together certainly bring dividends. The inner layer is smooth, so that it’s comfortable to wear and slips on and off easily as well, whilst articulated sleeves mean that movement is not restricted at all.

In terms of breathability, the jacket seems fine. Although I have yet to really put it to the test, for instance by climbing a steep hill in the pouring rain, it seems to handle the build up of internal moisture pretty well. But whether it does it better than an equivalent Gore-tex product, I couldn’t yet say. It’s also quite windproof, and I have no qualms about using it for that purpose, even if it’s not raining – I quite like a shell I can wear all day whether wet or dry.

Overall I think this is a good jacket, but one that could be made better with a few of the wrinkles ironed out. Most of the niggles are very minor, and might not bother other users at all. However, I think it only fair to point them out – they may just as easily be annoying to other wearers. For me, the added reinforcement and length of the latest version is no real benefit, although it may be if you expect to use it more for winter walking or under a heavy backpack. It will be interesting to see how the fabric stands the test of time coping with prolonged, heavy use, as it does seem quite thin. Time will tell.

In summary, I think for £125 it is a good jacket. Whether I would feel the same if I’d paid the full whack of £200 for it, I don’t know.

Pros: Low weight, packable, decent hood, flexible fabric, neat cuff adjustment, pockets, well made, easy on and off, comfortable enough to walk in all day.

Cons: Too much Velcro, main zip tricky to operate, too much fabric in the storm flap and around the chin and hood when the hood is down.

Comfort: 7/10
Performance: 8/10
Value: 8/10 (at the price paid).

Overall: 23/30


  1. Jules, excellent post with a lot of detail. Surprising as you noted how many jackets have helmet compatible hoods which are huge when you try to cinch them down.

  2. Hi Jules,
    Picked up your blog from Marks walking blog.
    You have done a good review of the Rab Bergen here and it’s a worthy read.
    I would like to say a couple of points which you may not agree with and that i don’t think that there is too much material on the storm flap or the chin area. You have to remember that this is a properly designed mountain jacket and when the rain is horizontal and blowing a hooley you will probably wish there was more material and even more velcro.
    However i do believe it would have been better with a water resistant zip instead of a std water permeable one.
    The 3 layer eVent is as good as it gets so you have a fine jacket there which will do all but the very worst of winter.

  3. What an excellent review.

    I agree about the hood thing - it's a favourite rant of mine too...

    I also agree with Alan that the zip could so easily be a water resistant zip. I have noticed that the latest, even quite expensive jackets, seem to have water resistant zips backed up with rain getters behind them, which makes using the zips far less of a faff.

  4. @markswalkingblog. Thanks for calling by. Yes, hoods - a bugbear of mine!

    @AlanR. Yes, you're probably have a point about wearing the jacket in a hooley - all the fabric/velcro is perhaps needed and it is a mountain jacket, as you say. From my own perspective, though, wearing it with the hood down much more than with the hood up, it is a bit untidy. I'd wondered about using a water resistant zip for the main zip, too - it would be better and could do away with the need for one of the storm flaps altogether. Do they do a 2-way water resistant yet? I guess it would need to be 2-way. But it would be less of a fiddle, too.

    @Alan S. "Rain gutters"? Apologies accepted, but only just! Is your indoctrination into manuafcturer-speak almost complete then? ;-)

  5. I believes “Rain Getters” is the ways they says fings like, darn in Royal Berkshire!

  6. @AlanR. "Rain Getters" sounds like something a bit different. There will probably be some on a hill near you this weekend, if the forecast is to be believed!

  7. Yes you can buy 2 way water resistant zips.