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Rab Zenith Jacket and Pants Review

Note: Photos were taken before the Coronavirus lockdown. At the moment we emphasise that no one should be travelling to the hills or crags.


Rab's latest waterproofs in Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, the Zenith jacket and trousers are light and packable enough for weight-conscious users, but without compromising too far on essential mountain features like an active cut and decent pockets. Whether you need a just-in-case waterproof that packs down small for multi pitch rock or summer alpine trips, or you're out on a rainy hill day, there's a lot to be said for the Zenith Jacket in particular.

The Zenith Jacket and Pants make a good team for changeable spring weather, when you want both packability and protection  © Dan Bailey
The Zenith Jacket and Pants make a good team for changeable spring weather, when you want both packability and protection
© Dan Bailey

The Zenith Jacket would be ideal for scrambling, backpacking, fair weather Scottish mountaineering at the spring end of winter... Indeed, the only occasions on which I would definitely want something more substantial are very cold windy weather, full-on all-day foulness, and regular winter climbing (for all of which a heavyweight shell would be better - see our latest group test).

The Pants feel more walking-oriented than the jacket, perhaps partly because of the way they fit on me.

Using the Zenith Jacket as a windproof on the Crianlarich hills  © Dan Bailey
Using the Zenith Jacket as a windproof on the Crianlarich hills
© Dan Bailey

Zenith Jacket - £250

This is an excellent three season jacket, and arguably as light as most of us really need to go. It hits a sweet spot between lightness and packability, on the one hand, while retaining decent functionality for all-round mountain use, and a bit more durability than you'll find in lighter shells. The RRP of £250 does seem quite lot for a jacket that will inevitably have less life than a thicker, heavier alternative, and I think you'll want to spare it regular contact with rock or winter tools.

Giving it some 'alpine' use on a sunny Sron na Lairig  © Dave Saunders
Giving it some 'alpine' use on a sunny Sron na Lairig
© Dave Saunders

The cut can feel baggy around the midriff (it's the jacket, not me!)  © Dave Saunders
The cut can feel baggy around the midriff (it's the jacket, not me!)
© Dave Saunders

Weight and packability

At 320g in a men's size L (Rab say 330g) you'll find plenty of lighter shells than the Zenith, but I don't think there can be many as light as this that offer a cut and feature set so suited to climbing and scrambling. The Zenith is a jacket you could equally wear for weight-conscious backpacking, or on the summit of an alp. For the sort of shell you get here the weight is impressively low, and when packed into the stuff sack provided the Zenith is about the size of a large grapefruit. Even in a minimal pack it's not going to take up much room, and it's small and light enough to hang from your harness just in case (a clip loop is provided).

For a fully featured mountain shell it's highly packable  © Dan Bailey
For a fully featured mountain shell it's highly packable
© Dan Bailey

Fit

Rab offer the Zenith Jacket in both men's and women's versions. Lightweight shells tend to be close-fitting, either because the designers are expecting them to be worn in gentler weather (over fewer other layers), or because tightening up the cut is one way to shave off a bit of weight. But in keeping with its mountain credentials, this jacket is sized to fit over a few other layers, and I can wear a base layer and midweight fleece inside without feeling at all restricted. There's plenty of room in the shoulders, and enough articulation in the sleeves to allow free arm movement. I can reach up to climb without lifting the hem. One minor drawback of that roominess is that the jacket gets pretty flappy in high wind, not helped by the lightness of its fabric.

The tab gives a close, wind-excluding fit at the wrist  © Dan Bailey
The tab gives a close, wind-excluding fit at the wrist
© Dan Bailey

But the cuffs also fit medium-bulky gloves  © Dave Saunders
But the cuffs also fit medium-bulky gloves
© Dave Saunders

The other issue I've found is that the shell tends to bulge out at the tummy, where a jacket with a trimmer cut or a thicker fabric might be more likely to hold its shape. This bulge may also have something to do with the fact that the zip is a lot more rigid than the fabric, so there's nothing to stop it bowing out in front. Rab's suggestion that the Zenith has a slim fit looks pretty far off the mark in the photos!

The Zenith is long in the body, too. I'm 183cm tall, and in men's size L it drops well below the waist at the front, and lower still at the rear to give almost full bum coverage. While shorter hems have been the trend in recent years, especially on more technical jackets, a longer cut keeps out more wind and rain. I really like the length here. The hem drawcords run around only the rear half of the jacket, leaving the front uncluttered. This works in a lightweight shell in a way that it might not in a heavier jacket designed for wilder weather. Rab have used inbuilt cord locks here, which I find far superior to old fashioned toggles since they're less fiddly and less obtrusive.

There's plenty of length in the sleeve for users with a positive ape index, and the cuffs are wide enough to fit over medium-bulky gloves (if not the thickest winter gauntlets). A bit of extra cuff length is provided, to partly cover the back of your hand, while the velcro tab gives a nice tight seal at the wrist; there's no need for elastication here, it's a simple low-profile feel.

The long cut offers decent bum coverage and general weather protection  © Dan Bailey
The long cut offers decent bum coverage and general weather protection
© Dan Bailey

Fabric

Using an ultralight 13D micro-ripstop fabric in most of the body helps keep the weight down. For a modicum of extra longevity, panels of 20D fabric are used in the areas most likely to receive wear and tear - the shoulders, tops of the arms and top of the hood. Nevertheless this is a very skimpy jacket, and would not be likely to survive long in contact with mountain rock or winter tools. Gore-Tex Paclite Plus is a two-layer construction, where the membrane is laminated to the outer fabric with no additional lining layer to add weight. Gore market it in part on its durability, but I think it can only be considered durable relative to its lightness. If you want beefy, look for something more like Gore-Tex Pro.

The thin fabric can be very billowy in windy weather  © Dan Bailey
The thin fabric can be very billowy in windy weather
© Dan Bailey

In stormy winter weather the thinness of the material makes it prone to flapping about in the wind. As a result the Zenith doesn't feel as protective as a more robust shell, and you get colder in it since that billowing will slightly compromise the performance of insulation underneath. On the other hand its lightness is an obvious advantage in many contexts.

Unfortunately Gore do not publish their test results for breathability, a level of secrecy that makes me instinctively suspicious. If their fabrics beat the rivals on paper then I'd have thought they would make a positive virtue of it. But whatever the lab results may say, I've no complaints so far about the real world breathability of the Zenith. Anecdotally it seems highly breathable, and having used it on sweaty high-output days in a variety of conditions I'd say it's noticeably more so than a shell in a heavier fabric such as Gore-Tex Pro. I've found it light and unsweaty enough to use as a windproof on cold dry days, too.

Hood

A helmet-friendly hood is key to the success of any mountain jacket, and it's surprising how often manufacturers fail to design them genuinely roomy enough. However even the hardest-core winter waterproof is going to see as much use for walking as actual climbing, so the hood also has to work well on a bare head. Again, this often seems a bit bodged. By the standards of a lightweight all-rounder Rab have done pretty well with the Zenith Jacket's hood, though I don't think it's quite up there with the best hoods found on full weight climbing shells. There's sufficient room for a helmet here, which is already better than you'll find on many shells this light. But with the zip fully fastened I do find looking up is a bit restricted, and the front of the collar gets tight across my chin. It's better with the zip slightly unfastened.

The hood tightens up nicely on a helmet-free head  © Dan Bailey
The hood tightens up nicely on a helmet-free head
© Dan Bailey

And also fits a helmet  © Dave Saunders
And also fits a helmet
© Dave Saunders

Remove your helmet and the fit is more convincing. With a single point of adjustment at the back, plus stretchy sides, the hood tightens pretty well on a bare head, and movement is good.

A large brim helps keep rain and spindrift out of your eyes, and its slightly stiffened peak has enough structure to resist billowing about in a moderate breeze (for proper high wind you'd be better off with a stiffer hood - and a thicker jacket overall). When not needed, the hood can be rolled away and secured reasonably neatly.

Other features

Despite keeping the overall weight down, Rab have managed not to skimp on key features here. You get just two pockets, on the chest up out of hipbelt or harness range. These are absolutely cavernous in size, with plenty of space for hat, gloves and a map. With a mesh lining, the pockets can double as vents. There's no inside pocket, but I don't think that's necessary on a jacket like the Zenith.

For aerobic activities or warmer weather, Rab have included pit zips. The main zipper, meanwhile, is water resistant and feels pretty sturdy - and it's backed with a decent storm flap. Overall I think the feature set is well judged for an all-round mountain shell.

Rab say:

Why wait for the clouds to clear? The Zenith Jacket excels in poor conditions. Pairing GORE-TEX® PACLITE® Plus with protective features to keep out the worst of the weather, this is a jacket made for the mountains.

With lightweight 13D GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus construction and 20D reinforcement panels in the shoulders and hood, our Zenith Jacket is designed for highly active mountain users. There are full pit zips and ventilation mesh linings inside the pockets to promote airflow when you're working hard; and there is generous sleeve articulation, so you can stretch forwards and upwards on a vigorous climb without lifting the hem. There are also harness-compatible chest pockets and a helmet-compatible hood for serious climbing, as well as cuff adjustments with knuckle extensions so you can stay equally comfortable with or without gloves.

Despite its slim-fit design, the Zenith Jacket retains plenty of space for flexible layering, making it the perfect choice as a lightweight waterproof shell for exposed mountain trips.

  • Weight: 320g size L (our weight)
  • Sizes: 8-16 (women) S-XXL (men)
  • Fabric: 13D GORE-TEX® PACLITE® Plus Technology with 20D reinforcements
  • Semi-elasticated hood with stiffened peak and roll down tab
  • Helmet compatible hood with one handed adjustment
  • Lightweight chest pockets
  • YKK® pit zips for easy venting
  • Fully Adjustable hem and cuffs
  • Stuff sack included

For more info see rab.equipment


Zenith Pants - £160

Summer-weight overtrousers, but using slightly thicker fabric in the knees, on the seat, and in crampon-snagging areas, the Zenith Pants are designed to be mountain all-rounders like the jacket. For actually climbing in I think they'd be slightly less successful than the Zenith Jacket, but they are light and packable enough to earn a place in the pack on summer mountain trad days, or as a just-in-case windproof layer for high Alpine snow peaks. However I'd say their ideal niche is hillwalking and backpacking.

Weight

At 303g in a size L on my scales, plus 10g for the stuff sack, the Zenith Pants are a good match for the Zenith Jacket. I'd call them lightweight, but not ultralight; but compared to real featherweights, the benefit of a little extra weight is better durability.

They're compact and lightweight in your pack  © Dan Bailey
They're compact and lightweight in your pack
© Dan Bailey

Fit

The Zenith Pants are also available for both men and women. These are not cut to be a thing of beauty, and in common with most lightweight overtrousers I've worn, they look baggy and unflattering (but who's looking). Shell trousers designed specifically for winter or alpine climbing seem to be less bag-like and flappy than walking-oriented legwear, but you'd tend to pay more for them. The Zenith Pants feel like walking trousers. There's room in size Large for my big thighs and calves, and this also means lots of space for layering them over your trousers. I'd say they come out slightly longer than average in the leg, too; I'm 1.83cm tall, and there's a few centimetres more hem than I really need (though not enough to get in the way).

Part-elasticated ankle gives quite a close fit over a boot, but it's not tighten-able  © Dan Bailey
Part-elasticated ankle gives quite a close fit over a boot, but it's not tighten-able
© Dan Bailey

To aid movement the knees have some inbuilt articulation, which is good. However on me the low-slung crotch does hamper freedom of movement somewhat, especially high steps, while the cut gets tight across my bum when I raise a knee high. The fit on me is only just adequate for more climbing-oriented use, but perhaps people with thinner legs might get on better for climbing. I've certainly got enough freedom of movement for general hillwalking.

Fabric

Using 20D Gore-Tex Paclite Plus has allowed Rab to keep the weight down, but this is really thin stuff for trousers, so in order to boost their durability there are panels of 40D at the knees, in the seat, down the inside leg and in the crampon-snagging zone at the ankle. Rab describe the latter as a kick patch, but it's not really since it's just the same fabric as elsewhere, and you could still easily put a hole in it with sloppy footwork. The reinforcements do boost the mountain functionality of the Zenith Pants - these are not flimsy lightweights. Nevertheless I would not set out to winter climb in them, since I suspect they'd only last a few routes. I can see myself scrambling in them on a damp day though.

The long side zips allow for ventilation and make it easy to put the trousers on over boots  © Dan Bailey
The long side zips allow for ventilation and make it easy to put the trousers on over boots
© Dan Bailey

Features

With more-than-three-quarter-length zips, you can get into the Zenith Pants easily without removing footwear, while the double zipper allows for loads of airflow if things are getting sweaty. The zips are not water resistant, but since they are very well concealed within the fabric, with almost no zip exposed, I can't see much water finding its way through; and if some wind-driven rain does penetrate, there's a decent internal storm flap to channel it away.

There's no ankle adjustment, but you do get a waist drawcord.

Aside from this, the only feature is a tiny rear pocket, too small for anything much but a good place to carry the stuff sack that comes with the trousers.

Rab say:

Built for remote mountain adventures where weight matters, our Zenith Pants are light and comfortable yet loaded with top-spec features.

While our Zenith Pants are built from lightweight 20D GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus, they feature 40D panels in the knees and seat for extra protection, as well as reinforced kicker patches for ample protection from your crampons. The Zenith Pant also comes with an elasticated waist, as well as offset seams and articulated knees for outstanding flex and comfort when you lift your legs high. And if a small amount of water does manage to make it through the three-quarter-length zip, an internal storm flap is designed to funnel it safely away. Equipped with its own compact stuff sack, the regular-fit Zenith is the ideal easy-carry pant, whichever jacket you favour.

With its GORE-TEX construction, reinforced wear patches and climbing-optimised cut, our lightweight Zenith Pant is a premium summer waterproof for a range of mountain activities.

  • Weight: 303g size L (our weight)
  • Sizes: S-XXL (men) 8-16 (women)
  • Fabric: 20D GORE-TEX® PACLITE® Plus Technology with 40D reinforcements
  • 3/4 length YKK leg zips for ventilation
  • Articulated knees for ease of movement
  • Elasticated Pull-On waistband
  • Offset leg seams
  • Stuff sack included

For more info see rab.equipment

Zenith Pants prod shot

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