Casey Greene photo.
I’ve owned a lot of windshirts in the last few years. Out of all that, the bottom line is this: if I could only have one windproof to go along with a WPB shell and a variety of insulating layers, I’d pick the Rab Zephyr and be totally content 95% of the time. More significantly, I have only a few, minor things I’d improve about the jacket, taking fabric limitations into account.
The Zephyr is not complicated. It’s a full-zip version of the Boreas with a few needed refinements and welcome extra features. The almost-white fabric in mine is the same as the Boreas, a stretchy light poly/spandex blend. It provides a decent bit of wind protection, and a smidge of warmth (think capilene 3 class), as well as sun and precip protection. This fabric does not have a factory DWR, which means it wets out faster but breathes better. New to the Zephyr is the darker fabric on top of the shoulders, which is a thicker nylon/spandex blend and does have a DWR treatment. It beads water nicely and is impressively tough, adding weather and abrasion resistance to the jacket where it needs it the most. The genius of this fabric is that it breathes quite a bit better than something the Patagonia Houdini, and provides almost as much weather protection. The only place the Zephyr comes up short by comparison is that once it does get soaked, it gains a lot more water as a percentage of dry weight, and is consequently slower to dry. In all-day drizzle a Houdini or Rab Cirrus is often all you need, as body heat will keep the jacket from wetting through. The Zephyr is less likely to do the same, but more likely to keep you dry when you’re working hard. Like I said above, the Zephyr gets the job done better more often. For me.
In an ideal world the fabric would dry faster and not stink, but to my knowledge that technology does not yet exist. One must have priorities, and make choices based on them.
Refinements over the Boreas include more precisely tailored arms, binding at the cuffs, and thumb holes. I rarely use the thumbholes, but they’re unobtrusive and nice to have if you’re caught out without gloves when you wish you had them. The Zephyr hood has binding as well, making the already decent Boreas hood truly excellent. I find the face hole almost too snug when fully zipped, but the fabric is stretchy enough to accommodate a fluffy hat. I appreciate that the hood fits this well without any drawcord or buckles. Indeed, for me the medium Zephyr has an immaculate fit. Trim, with just enough room for a Cap 4 hoody and fleece vest.
The changes I would make concern the pockets and the main zipper. The later is a number 3 YKK, and I’d prefer a 5, both for durability and because the heavier, stiffer zipper would help with smoothness. The main fabric is stretchy enough that this would be helpful. The pockets suffer from a similar issue, and are not as smooth as they could be when used one handed. A 1/3 oz of stiffer binding around the opening of each would be weight well spent. The pockets also need to be set just a hair higher to keep their contents out from under a hipbelt.
The Zephyr went on almost all my trips since I bought it (with my own money) back in the spring. On those occasions it didn’t come along, I was either expecting continuous light precip, experimenting with something else, or regretted not having the Zephyr. It fits well, functions easily in a wide variety of conditions, is built well, and made of tough fabrics (aside from stains it looks new). One of the better pieces of outdoor clothing available at the moment.