Lightweight, breathable and stretchy, the softshell that thinks it's a hardshell.
When I first saw the Kinetic Plus, it seemed too good to be true. Super light weight, waterproof, stretchy and highly breathable. It ticked all the boxes but would it live up to Rab’s billing of it being “the ideal layering piece for a range of mountaineering activities?”
Having used the Kinetic Plus for the last six weeks, I feel able to give a few thoughts on it. Six weeks might not sound too long but it included 27 long days in the hill and quite a few nights out. A typical scenario might be catching the Misty Isle from Elgol, climbing the Dubh Ridge, going out to Gars-bheinn then a bivi before finishing the rest of the Cuillin Ridge the next day.
The Kinetic Plus has had a lot of use and abuse, the Cuillin gabbro being particularly abrasive and unforgiving. It’s also experienced a lot of very poor weather since after a great start to the summer, Skye has experienced a climate that would have been familiar to Noah and his Ark.
The Holy Grail of an outer layer for me would be waterproof, windproof and stretchy. It would be breathable, a good fit and functional. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt if it was brightly coloured and looked good about town as well as on the hills. In theory, the Kinetic Plus looks perfect but it would take some serious use to convince me. After all it was so light and packed down so small. Surely it was all hype.
The jacket comes with a small stuff sack with a webbing attachment point so it can easily be clipped to a harness for those days when the weather could go either way. It weighs in at less than 275g (medium) on our kitchen scales although Rab quote 320g as an “estimate” on their website.
In conversation with Rab, I’d asked for bright colours and they duly obliged with an orange jacket (“Dark Horizon”) which looks great in photos. Rab asked to “hold the review until you've had a chance to test it in bad weather. It won't stand up to a full hoolie, but it will shrug off most British weather.” Well, now it’s experienced a lot of the worst weather Skye can throw up; heavy rain, light rain, damp and misty days, windy days and yes, a few warmer, drier times as well.
The magic material that allows for such a light weight yet waterproof and stretchy construction is called Proflex. Basically, this has a waterproof PU membrane sandwiched between two layers; the outer layer is treated to repel water and the inner layer wicks to move moisture rapidly through the system.
The jacket is extremely well made with neat, narrow taped seams. It beads really well with water droplets running off the surface even after six weeks use and it getting a bit grubby. These figures mean little to me but it is meant to be highly breathable (measured at 35,000mm/sqm/24 hours) which is much better than your average hardshell waterproof.
It certainly feels comfortable and the light weight and stretchiness means that it is easy to keep it on as conditions change. Even working really hard, struggling uphill with a large pack it seems very breathable and avoids the sauna like clamminess of traditional waterproofs.
The inner flexible membrane is given a hydrostatic head of 10,000mm and is definitely more than adequate for light rain, prolonged showers and more. A full on hard shell might have double the hydrostatic head but has the associated disadvantages of weight, bulk, and is less breathable.
The Proflex shrugs off water and even heavy rain didn’t seem to wet it out or penetrate the fabric. I had worried damp might penetrate where pack straps or a climbing harness caused pressure but so far all is good. It would take really heavy, prolonged rain to need an additional waterproof over the top of the Kinetic. If conditions were that bad then you may well be glad of a more traditional hardshell.
One thing I couldn’t make up my mind on was the hood design. A stretchy rim makes for a snug fit and an additional stiff brim keeps water off the face. At a stretch, it will fit over a climbing helmet but feels a bit restrictive. It’s more comfortable worn under a helmet. The stretchy fabric allows for a good range of head movement.
In keeping with the simple design, there is no draw cord on the hood, just a velcro volume adjuster on the rear. Personally, the less is more design philosophy works really well and I’m always eager to save weight and carry less but not at the cost of practicality.
Usually, (outside of winter) on the Cuillin Ridge, I’d take some kind of fleece, a light windproof and a light waterproof. Recently I have lived in the Kinetic Plus and for much of the time it has replaced both the wind and waterproofs. Depending on temperatures and wind speeds, I have usually worn it over either a Rab long sleeved tee or Rab Nucleus fleece. The stretch material did allow me to get a surprising number of layers under the jacket and on a cold bivi I also had on a light synthetic insulated jacket.
The stretch allows for impressive freedom of movement and it has been used for climbing and bouldering in cooler, windy conditions.
The jacket is very minimalist and well cut for climbing and other activities. The longish hem stays put and doesn’t ride up or ruck up under a harness or hip belt of a pack. The Velcro cuffs allow a wide range of adjustment.
The outer material is a very close knit fabric which doesn’t snag, scuff to tear on the sharp gabbro and is remarkably robust especially for it’s weight.
“This piece will transform the way you dress for the mountains.” To a certain degree marketing hype, but to a large extent true. Initially I took a full on waterproof with me just in case the Kinetic Plus couldn’t cope but increasingly I was happy to rely on it unless the forecast was especially bad.
To sum up, the Kinetic Plus is an amazingly light outer layer for changeable weather conditions. The stretch, comfort and breathability make it a jacket that can be kept on through a variety of conditions. It combines the lightness of the most minimal softshell with an impressive level of waterproofness and breathability. Light weight protection from all but the worst weather, the Kinetic Plus provides a hybrid of hard and softshells.
· Light and packs down small
· Stretchy and amazingly comfortable
· Superbly windproof
· Able to cope with a wide range of weather conditions
· Cost of £180 seems a lot but seems more reasonable once it becomes apparent how versatile the jacket is
· The jury is out on long term durability but seems great so far
· Hood will not comfortably fit over a helmet
My parting thoughts are that I’d happily buy one of these given the amount of use I’d get out of it. For full bore bad weather something like Rab’s Firewall jacket would be more suitable but I love the fact that like the Kinetic, it is made of stretchy fabric.
NB the Kinetic Plus is available in Men and Women’s versions.
Here’s a link to Rab with all the specifications;