The friendly folks at Rab North America hooked me up with a “Demand Pull-On” months ago, so I’ve been skiing, climbing, and riding in the thing since. The difficulty in reviewing hard shells in Colorado is…we rarely need them. It rains so infrequently, especially during winter, that I’m in a soft shell 95 percent of my days in the mountains. That said, the Demand is so light (10 oz.), I haven’t minded taking it along and because it’s built of eVent waterproof-breathable material, even a sweaty fat bastard like me can wear it without fully hot-boxing.
Rab’s lightest hard shell, the Demand saves weight in a few obvious areas. The deep-drop zipper (wide enough to pull on over a helmet) ends below the sternum, shaving a few grams and offering better waterproofing because of reduced stitching. It also vents pretty well and with a snap at the collar, you can have the zipper fully open, but still keep the jacket somewhat battened down–during a rainy approach or any time you’re working hard in inclement weather.
You won’t find ample pocket space, either. A single breast pocket holds sunglasses, an energy bar, or a snub-nose .38, but nothing more. Water-resistant zips close everything up and Rab pockets (on heavier models, too, like their Super Dru) are backed with eVent waterproof-breathable membrane, rather than mesh/vented material. Rab folks explain this is to keep the garment as waterproof as possible, which I can appreciate in an environment like the Pacific Northwest or Sheffield, England, Rab’s home base. In Colorado, though, I’d much prefer a mesh material, so pockets can act as vents. If you’re bushwhacking in the PNW or Alaska, you’ll probably dig the added protection–sweaty fat bastards in Colorado might imagine cutting out the eVent and sewing in mesh, but laziness will probably preclude them from doing so. (I’m sadly aware of my shortcomings.)
Wrist closures are simple elastic, no adjustability which suits me just fine. The waist drawcord only runs in the back half of the jacket, which seemed to close down the waist well. Gram-counting features like these keep the jacket packable and light, giving it nearly the weight of far less breathable PU-coated shells, but the advantages of a top-end eVent hard shell.
The hood closure also saves weight (according to Rab) by running the shock cord on the outside of the jacket–though it wasn’t obvious to me how this saved weight. There’s still a seam running the length of the cord inside the hood, which is fully sealed. I’d assume there’s less sewing to be done running the cord outside, than in…but I’m not sure. Functionally, the hood works very well, on a bike or climbing helmet. (Today’s bike helmets, most of which feature a pointy rear side, don’t go under hoods that well, but for riding something like the Monarch Crest, where you want a burlier shell than a cycling jacket, the Demand is a great option.) A stout, wire brim molds how you like it and the drawcord adjustment offers visibility options.
The flip side is the externally routed shock-cord. Again, I didn’t spend a ton of time bushwhacking in the the jacket, but I wonder about snags and tearing out one of the stitch points. What I did notice was when pulling the jacket out of an overstuffed backpack, the cord had a tendency to catch on pointy stuff (climbing gear, crampons, my samurai short-sword). Minor gripe, but you’d hate to blow out the cord on an extended trip.
Like many ultralight shells, the Demand sheds tonnage by foregoing elbow/shoulder reinforcements and using lighter fabrics. I didn’t find the compromise unwarranted, though–the jacket withstood a few outings on rock during which I scraped the arms a bit. I didn’t thrash around in the thing, though, so chimneying and body-scumming might overmatch the Demand. For what I did and how infrequently most Colorado climbers use hard shells, I think the Demand is the ideal alpine jacket–light enough you’ll still take it in your pack, breathable enough you won’t dehydrate yourself through sweating during hard efforts, and waterproof enough you can trust it above treeline in the summer.
So all the previous runs towards the Demand’s light-is-right approach to life. That criterion aside, how does it work? First off, the fit. As Americans have grown fatter (including the average hiker/REI customer/active person) fits have adapted: arms get shorter, garments’ torsos expand and shorten. You’ll notice apparel manufacturers offer “regular” and “slim” fits now. I know many brands debate this point internally–do we build for the average consumer or the hard-charging athlete? Last I heard Colorado is the skinniest state in the Union, so that leaves a lot of us lamenting the weird fits of newer jackets and pants, mainly from American companies. If you wonder about this, try on a European piece next time you’re at Neptune’s or the Bent Gate (Mammut, for example), then compare it side-by-side with an American brand. Bummer. Anyway, back on topic–Rab’s apparel still runs Euro-slim, which I like…and I’m not manorexic at 5’10”, 165 lbs. Sleeves stay down over gloves, the belly doesn’t billow over a harness, and the torso is long enough it stays down over your waistline and beneath a harness. The Demand’s waist is indeed slim when you pull it over hulking, chiseled shoulders (read: not mine), but once on, I think you’ll appreciate the minimalist non-fat-ass cut.
The hood, as mentioned above, functions well. How much the design saves, I’m not sure, but what matters is the thing stays out of your face when cinched around a helmet or hat and doesn’t flap in the wind. Good job.
Stitching and YKK zippers all seem bomber, as does in guts of the jacket.
What attracted me to the Demand initially is its eVent fabric. Without totally geeking out on the construction details, eVent is what Gore wanted to be, years ago. Problem was, the original Gore material absorbed dirt and body oils and quit functioning. Remember the rash of returns on first-gen Gore products, back in the ’80s? That was why. Gore adapted by adding additional material on the inside of the garment to protect the waterproof-breathable membrane–the result, better durability, but a dramatic decrease in breathability and more weight. Bummer. The engineers at eVent figured out how to accomplish this without this step, making eVent lighter and between 30 and 200 percent more breathable, depending on ambient conditions, according to a comprehensive article/test on BackpackingLight.com, by Alan Dixon.
Bottom line–eVent garments breathe far better than any other three-layer waterproof-breathable on the market, with less weight and just as reliable waterproofing. I’ve ridden for several years in a Descente eVent cycling jacket with outstanding results (the jacket’s, not mine). You can wear it (or the Demand) on a climb without the clammy, hot-box feeling you get from almost every other hard shell I’ve ever worn.
Now, first caveat is that I’m a sweaty fat bastard. Some folks don’t sweat like me and generally run cooler, so a less breathable hard shell actually feels warmer to them. Right on. Further, a hard shell is still a hard shell–I begin to sweat inside an eVent jacket eventually, it just takes longer and the effect is less annoying. This is the main reason why I don’t use hard shells much, especially in winter. I end up soaked from the inside out. The Demand does a far better job of mitigating this with its deep-drop zip and eVent fabric, but it’s still a hard shell. (I should note Rab makes what is essentially a Demand with a full-zip for more venting. It’s called the “Momentum” and tacks on two ounces. There’s also a “Latok Tour” with pit zips, but now we’re up to 25 ounces.”
The above-mentioned article points out that in Department of Defense testing, the design of a garment has as much to do with its breathability as does its materials–meaning, pit zips and mesh-backed pockets can make a jacket constructed of PU-coated material feel as breathable as a non-vented eVent shell. This tweaks on the pocket construction of Rab’s jackets–the trade off of waterproofing versus more-breathable mesh-backed pockets. I’d vote for the latter on newer versions of Rab jackets…but I’m not living in Sheffield or Seattle. Make two versions? Probably out of the question.
Bottom line for me is there are times you need a hard shell–alpine climbs in the summer, riding the Monarch Crest or over to Winter Park, any time getting soaked to the bone might end up with you blue and shivering on a ledge somewhere. Rab’s Demand gives me a breathable-enough hard shell I can wear without overheating. Add vented pockets and I’d call the thing nearly perfect. As it is, it’s light enough and compact enough to force into a jersey pocket, and in a backpack it stows happily out of the way. The fit is spot-on and its construction has proven bomber. I also own a Rab Super Dru, and after two season of use it looks like the day I bought it down at Neptune’s.
Rab’s making great apparel out of some of the best fabrics available. I skied this winter in their “Alpine Tour” pant and loved its light weight and ample venting, too. I’ll write it up heading into ski season next fall. My better half owns a “Neutrino” puffy of theirs, too, and it’s proven to be warm and durable. I haven’t used their soft shells yet, but I’d kill to see one crafted of Schoeller fabric. Possible? Pretty please?
In short, we’re a Rab family. Their stuff works, it fits, and the designs (born of uber-hard man Rab Carrington’s time in the mountains) make sense to climbers/skiers/outdoor junkies. Not too many frills and useless gizmos. Great stuff and I think worth our hard-earned money. Thanks, Rab!