Rab Windveil, windshirt evolution

I’ve written a lot about windshirts over the years, because they’re the most versatile piece of outdoor clothing.  When it comes to the range and frequency of appropriateness, nothing else comes close.  Until waterproof breathable laminates make vast strides in breathability, this will remain the case.  The only question is which windshirt will suit you best.


A decade ago windshirts largely came in one form, the best example being the Patagonia Dragonfly/Houdini.  Woven nylon shells in the 1-1.5 oz/yard range with a DWR and minimal feature set repelled lots of weather without being too hot, and packed down small enough that their was no real penalty associated with bringing one along.  Their shortcomings were first, as mentioned above, a level of water repellancy too low to serve as a meaningful substitute for a hardshell, and second, a level of breathability which was often far too low.  This last became an especially relevant issue when we moved to Montana 9 years ago, and colder temps and high humidity levels made moisture accumulation in my baselayer a more frequent and serious concern.  I went through the Patagonia Traverse, Rab Boreas, and others before finally landing on the Black Diamond Alpine Start.  The Alpine Start has been ideal, largely because it has the lightest fabric of the all the highly breathable, “soft shell” windshirts I’ve tried.  Making fabrics lighter without loosing function is the now of outdoor garments.

The Alpine Start, and soft shell windshirts generally, do have shortcomings.  For one, even the AS absorbs more water and is heavier and bulkier than traditional windshirts.  For another, there are occasions when more windproofing is wanted, particularly in drier places where humidity is low, and the probability of not having a hardshell around for massive wind is greater.  In other words, our current desert locale is a good place for a conventional windshirt.  Last, the Alpine Start continues to have fit and tailoring issues (shortish torso and sleeves, slightly baggy, funny neck and hood) which make it less than ideal.  So when I happened upon a discounted Rab Windveil last fall on our way back from the Colorado housing scout, I knew it would prove a worthy investment.


The Windveil is cut from the same pattern (literally, I would guess) as the Rab Cirrus.  Same skinny torso, same long sleeves, same drop tail, same great hood, same nice chest pockets.  Perfect fit and feature set, in my book.  The new Microlight, which bears little resemblance to the heavier stuff used in the older Montane Litespeed, is as light as the Cirrus’ Pertex Quantum, but quite a bit more breathable, and surprisingly comfortable against the skin.  The smaller packed size, enhanced wind resistance, and especially trimmer fit has had me grabbing it more and more often, particularly on windy days and for mountain biking.

Rab claims the “Super DWR” used on the Windveil will “last the life of the garment”, which in turn apparently led Outdoor Gear Lab to claim this DWR as permanent.  If true this would be exciting, but it appears to be a mere marketing exaggeration.  Having a more durable DWR is good, but as my windshirts have always gotten a lot of use, and therefore more frequent laundering, I’ve always had their DWR wash out before the rest of the garment died.  File truly a truly permanent DWR windshirt, such as the better performing Epics in a lighter package, as one of the areas where more growth in the windshirt market would be nice.  For the moment, it will do to appreciate the continued bending of the breathability and weather protection curve.  We can have both in one to an extent not possible, and hardly considered, a decade ago.



16 responses to “Rab Windveil, windshirt evolution”

  1. Really excited to see you’ll be sharing your thoughts on this long term. It’s looked really interesting to me, although I’ve found a Rab Boreas combined with a Patagonai Houdini to be a pretty nice combo for my needs.

  2. It was the sub-par features of the Alpine Start that has kept me from dipping a toe in the new windshell market. I’ve always liked Rab’s fit, so maybe I’ll upgrade now.

    1. Having owned and used the Windveil now since June last year I would say it’s a fantastic bit of kit. So good my friend just got one after seeing mine in use on recent trips. 5 out 5 for me.

      1. I could perhaps see a #5 main zip rather than a #3, otherwise only improvements could be found in fabrics which do not yet exist.

  3. The Windveil compares well with the vaunted 2010-2012 Houdini, but with a much better fit.

  4. I will check out the Windveil.

    My work wind shirt is the OR Ferrosi in coyote. I work in a garden, so it’s a beater fabric in a low-key color. (Not really worried about the high spandex as I am not really forced to work in wet conditions. The stretch is nice for all the yoga positions weeding and pruning puts me in.)

    My backpacking wind shirt in warmer weather is the Arcteryx Squamish. 100% Nylon. (Opinions on this one Dave?) Compared to the Houdini I owned, the Squamish is more breathable, more comfortable next to skin, better fit, better hood, better zipper, better cuffs, more durable in theory, etc. No comparison but admittedly the price is heart attack inducing for a wind shirt. (I got my first one on the REI Garage at discount plus 20% off. Ended up scoring a nice “Bourbon” colored Squamish for about $85 this year.)

    My winter wind shirt has been the Hill People Gear Wind Cheater with Coyote Ruff. It’s heavy for a wind shirt but the pockets are nice in winter when warmth and keeping things warm near your torso count. (I can keep things warm in the pockets regardless of wearing a fleece midlayer. Alcohol, lighters, batteries, phone, etc) The pit vents are nice for changing weather or going uphill. The hood is a true, 3-way adjustable winner. When paired with the ruff in cold temps my noggin/face stay warm and my lungs happy. The fit is “Alaskan”. My small allows me to layer a fleece and puffy. (Although I only wear a puffy under it when casually touring/sight-seeing- never wear a puffy when truly exerting myself.) The long drop tail keeps the butt toasty.

    I like more neutral tones even in a wind shirt. I like that I can wear them around town on mild days and my vain self doesn’t feel technical or sporty even if the garment is.

    Thanks for consistently posting interesting thoughts Dave.

    1. I think the Windveil and Squamish are comparable, though reportedly Arcteryx has changed the fabric recently so I’m not sure that still holds true. The Squamish is quite a bit looser fitting. I get a medium in everything including the Windveil, and can only fit a base and 100 weight fleece under it.

      I’ve wanted a Windcheater (I like the First Spear pockets) since they came out, but can’t really justify it due to the weight.

  5. I just dropped off my Patagonia M10 for warranty repair. Its been great at 8.4oz, not to crinkley, great protection and pretty packable. Its probably going to to be a month before I get it back and since the summer is starting here in CA I think I can manage.The only bummer is sometimes I miss handpockets. But I’ve been super curious about windshirts for the all the reasons above. For most of what I do it’s probably fine. Alpine Start on pro-deal or Windviel at retail? I will need a hardshell, been thinking about the updated M10 or maybe a C-knit Montbell or BD Helios…

    My current quiver looks like, :

    M10 ( maybe coming back)
    BD Hot forge hoody (not as warm as I hoped, lots of convient pockets, a little heavy)
    Patigoina Down Vest
    Montbell Merino flannel

    Any thoughts?

    PS. Thanks for the Getting in to Packrafting Post. squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    1. For Alpine Start v. Windveil, first decision point is how much breathability and wind resistance you’ll want. Pretty large differences there. For me the Alpine Start complements a hard shell better for trips and environments where you’ll always have both.

      I have a Helios and it is pretty nice. Haven’t really put it to much of a test, which should change once we get to MT.

  6. What size Windveil do you have? Im a med in most , but looks like med is sold out everywhere. Wondering if a large would be huge?

    1. From one of the other comments:
      “I get a medium in everything including the Windveil, and can only fit a base and 100 weight fleece under it.”

    2. I have a medium. Large wouldn’t be huge, except maybe in having long arms.

  7. […] a lot of wind has no substitute, including (at least for me) a hardshell.  The sadly discontinued Rab Windveil continues to be my all time favorite here, due mainly to fit and features but also to toughness.  […]

  8. […] I’ve been revisiting classic pieces, like the Rab Windveil and Patagonia Capilene 4, that firmly prioritize not only dry time not very low moisture […]

  9. […] moisture so fast that there is a lot of foregiveness in layering.  One can, for instance wear a relatively not-breathable wind layer, to guard against stronger winds and to take advantage of the more limited moisture […]

  10. […] chasing minute performance gains which may or may not exist, and that something like the standby, nylon windshirt is the more versatile option and better investment.  And it is hard to argue against that.  No […]

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