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Hands-on Gear Review
Rab Firewall Review
Cons: Poor performance from DWR coating, heavier than most
Bottom line: A solid hardshell at a very reasonable price.
Measured Weight (Size): 1 lb. 1.4 oz. (L)
Material: Pertex Shield + 3L stretch fabric
The Rab Firewall jacket is a very affordable hardshell that uses stretchy fabric to create a very mobile and supple feel while wearing it. It uses the Pertex Shield+ 3L membrane that is a lower cost alternative to Gore-Tex that works much the same way. When it comes to ventilation options, the Firewall stands out. In particular, the full arm-length zippered vents offer palpable relief if the going gets sweaty, and these are paired with a two-way front zip with bottom button enclosure that makes for good venting even in the rain. However, despite some commendable attributes, we had issues with how well this jacket protected us from the weather, as well as its elevated weight compared to the competition. At the end of the day, we think this jacket provides good value at a low price, but it was not among the higher scorers in our overall ratings.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Hardshell Jackets of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Retailing at a mere $290, affordability may be the Rab Firewall's best attribute. The relatively low price is a by-product of using the Pertex Shield+ 3L membrane and rejecting the added costs that come with the inclusion of a Gore-Tex membrane. While we found the performance of the Firewall's membrane to be comparable to Gore-Tex during our field testing, questions abound about its long-term durability, something which we didn't have the opportunity to test.
Pertex Shield+ is marketed as an exceptionally light three-layer polyurethane membrane, in evidence considering this jacket weighed only 1lb. 1.4 oz., despite the plethora of zippers included in its design. Even at this seemingly light weight, it was the third heaviest that we tested. More disappointingly, the DWR coating was so ineffective as to make us question whether it had been applied in the first place, compromising the overall performance of other aspects of the jacket. While we think there is a lot to like about this model, and the price alone makes it worth serious consideration, it was one of the lower scorers overall.
To see how the Rab Firewall compared to the competition, check out the table above.
The Firewall that we tested for this review was a size large, and we found that the hem and sleeves were amongst the longest of any in this review, great attributes to keep one sheltered from the precipitation either on the ground or in the air. It also includes two small internal button straps that attach to the belt loops of your pants to hold the jacket in place, a much lower profile and lighter option for added powder skiing protection than the powder skirt included on the Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker.
In our downpour simulating shower test, we were disappointed to find that the DWR application was very ineffective. Very little beading took place and water almost immediately soaked into the face fabric in all locations, and we aren't sure whether the DWR itself was not applied, was simply inadequate, or whether the permeability of the stretchy ripstop face fabric had a hand. Regardless, our jacket seemed ready for a re-application almost the moment we received it. We also found the wire-brimmed hood to be quite useful without a helmet on, but only barely large enough while wearing a helmet, as we were often getting splashed in the face. For weather protection we couldn't give this jacket better than a 5 out of 10, ranking it near the bottom of the pile along with the Marmot Speed Light.
Our size men's large Firewall weighed 1 lb. 1.4 ounces on our independent scale. While this may sound fairly light, it was the third heaviest jacket in the review, and so received a score of only 4 out of 10. For reference, the lightest jacket we tested was the Outdoor Research Realm, which weighed in at 11.1 ounces for a size large, roughly six ounces lighter.
Mobility and Fit
Our head tester is 6'0" tall and weighs 160 lbs. He has broader shoulders but a skinny torso. We ordered him a size large for this review, and it fit well. It was perhaps the largest jacket in this entire review but was not excessively baggy in the chest like we found the Arc'teryx Beta AR to be. It had very long sleeves and a low hem. The fit in the collar was excellent no matter whether the hood was up or down.
When it came to mobility, we loved how much the stretchy fabric did stretch, and the larger fit meant that we experienced no constrictions of any sort as we moved about. We also appreciated how quiet the fabric was as we moved, a nice contrast with the noisier Patagonia Pluma and Arc'teryx Alpha FL, which were both made using a Gore-Tex Pro membrane. We awarded 8 out of 10 points for this metric.
Venting and Breathability
In our controlled stationary bike breathability testing, we did not find the Pertex Shield+ membrane to be noticeably more breathable than the Gore-Tex Pro membranes found in the Patagonia Pluma or even The North Face Summit L5 FuseForm GTX. It was hot and sweaty in there until we opened up the vents. We loved the combination of the full-length arm vents, which Rab calls "Escape Artist" vents because having the sleeves fully unzipped makes them very easy to simply slip your arms out of for optimal ventilation and heat buildup relief.
That said, these vents also have the distinct downside of allowing one to get wet if it is precipitating, one of the primary reasons most vents hide in the arm-pits. The Firewall also has a two-way front zipper that used in conjunction with the metal snap button at the bottom can create a nice vertical opening for ventilation while also doing an effective job at keeping the rain and snow out. This jacket had the second best ventilation options, next to the Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker, and so we awarded it 8 points for this metric.
The Firewall has some unique features not found on any other jacket in this review. In addition to the full-length arm vents that work fantastic, we also liked how it has a Velcro tab at the back of the neck that enables you to roll up and stow the hood when not in use. It also has two low-profile buttons on tabs inside the jacket for fastening it to the belt loops on your pants, a great feature for preventing it from riding up while wearing a pack, or while skiing.
In addition to these unique features, we appreciated the generous amount of fuzzy fabric covering the inside of the collar and helping to prevent chafing on the chin and face. We also though the two high handwarmer pockets, and the single external cross-over chest pocket worked just fine. On the other hand, all the pull cords found on the hood and the hem use buckles that are a bit fiddly for releasing with fat gloves on, and are not as convenient and easy to use as the Cohaesive cord lock buckles found on the Arc'teryx Alpha FL or the Patagonia Pluma. As one of the better feature sets found on this selection of hardshells, we gave it 8 out of 10 points.
The Firewall is a good choice for cold weather activities like climbing or skiing in winter, where mobility is highly valued. It would not be our first choice for rainy days or climates because of the poor performance of the DWR coating, its relative lack of breathability, and the fact that its best ventilation options are in a location where they will let in rain.
This jacket retails for $290, second only to our Best Bang for the Buck winner, the Outdoor Research Realm. There is a lot to love about this jacket, and at such a low price it is surely worthy of a look.
The Rab Firewall is notable for the affordability that accompanies the choice to use the Pertex Shield+ 3L membrane instead of a Gore-Tex product. It has unique features and very effective ventilation to go along with its stretch mobility. All of these attributes are worthy of recommendation, although it also comes with the downside of performing poorly compared to the competition in our weather protection tests.
— Andy Wellman
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