I've long been a fan of Rab's Generator series of insulated jackets and vests. Simple designs and light weight. I have both the 100g Primaloft filled vest and last year's 60g Primaloft pull-over. What I always wanted them to release was a hooded version, especially now that I use quilts as I find hoods wonderful at keeping you warm, trapping a cosy bubble of air around your neck and noggin that hats just can't compete with. Rab have had the hooded Generator Alpine for a while but with it's heavier fill and highly weather-resistant Pertex Endurance shell it is a bit 'too much jacket' for 3-season backpacking. Then earlier this year I read rumours on BPL that Rab were about to release two ultra-light insulated hooded jackets. This resulted in the sublime down-filled Infinity (PTC takes a sneaky peak at it here) and the synthetic Primaloft-filled Xenon. Prayers answered. So here it is. The Rab Xenon.
The Xenon's shell and liner, like the Infinity, is made from the new 10d Pertex Quantum (25 g/sq/m) nylon. It still has a mini rip-stop grid but it's so gossamer light that it must be witchcraft! It's has a DWR that repelled the snow it encountered today and is also very wind resistant. It will be interesting to see how well this fabric stands up to real world conditions but as this jacket will be mainly used on rest stops and in camp then it should be more than robust enough. There was a flurry of interest in the Xenon on Twitter just before I ordered mine and this might explain why the more subdued colour options ('Dark Shark' sounded particularly cool) were sold out and I ended up with a rather retina-burning 'Juicy' orange...
Insulation comes from the Primaloft One fill. I prefer synthetic insulation for 3-season use and 60g weight is just about perfect for peak backpacking season. In early spring and late autumn I might be inclined to boost it with my Generator vest if I'm expecting particularly cool weather.
It's a very straight forward full zip jacket. I'd actually prefer a pull-on design, which saves a bit of weight and packs down a bit smaller, but on such a lightweight item as this any savings will be minimal.
I love the hood on the Xenon. Other insulated jackets I own have wired brims and volume adjusters but sometimes I question their usefulness, especially in camp. I rarely, if ever, wear an insulated jacket whilst on the move so I'm not sure that the protection from the elements offered by such features is crucial. I'm usually wearing a cap anyway so I have a brim if I need it. On exposed breaks during the winter ski tours such a featured hood is more desirable but this ultralight jacket is not primarily designed for such harsh adventures. The hood can be rolled down and secured out of the way. The inside of the face and neck area is lined with a soft fleece to reduce discomfort from moisture condensing on the shell fabric from exhaled breath.
The rest of the jacket is very simple too. There are two hand-warmer pockets, which I love to use when sitting round the camp fire telling stories but to keep things light and simple they don't have zippers. If you want to keep anything secure then there is a zip on the chest pocket, where I like to store my emergency mid-night peanut M&Ms and foam ear-plugs. The chest pocket can also be used as a stuff sack if required. Me? I prefer to loosely pack this kind of jacket in the top of my backpack, ready to pull out at any rest stop.
Usual Rab quality here. I've never had a problem with the build quality of Rab products. Stitching is top notch, quality YKK zips and the pullers are light and simple. The main zip also sports an insulated internal baffle. There is a double-exit draw-cord for the waist hem to keep draughts at bay and the cuffs are simple elasticated affairs. The Xenon, in my size Medium, tips the scales at a feathery 295g.
More reassuring Rab-ness here. A fairly slim, technical fit. No excess flapping material. Long enough in the body to overlap my Integral Designs PLQ pants without exposing my kidneys to the elements. Arm length is spot on. No sudden 'sleeve-creep' when reaching for your cooking pot. The hood is thankfully not 'helmet compatible' in the traditional sense. It's slim enough to slip under a helmet if required but not excessively voluminous to fit over one, and for backpackers, cross-country skiers and other non-helmet wearing folk this means less weight and more function.
While this jacket is primarily designed for 3-season use it will also find it's way into my pack in winter. Here we have a jacket that is lighter, more weather resistant and more compressible than a fleece mid-layer for up-coming winter ski trips. It's silky shell means you can easily layer a heavier, more weather resistant belay jacket over the job giving you a very flexible system. And with that 'Juicy' colour I just need to make sure I always pack my sunglasses. The future is bright, the future is Xenon...