The newish variations of ~100 gram/meter poly baselayers might be my most loved innovation in gear out of the last five years. As someone whose larger challenge with thermoregulation almost always has to do with managing sweat, and rather rarely with outright heat generation (or more exactly, lack of it), the way these thin fabrics move moisture while still providing skin protection and some buffering against the weather endear them across close to 100 degrees of temperature swing. As I wrote back in March, it is one of the first areas I recommend novices spend serious gear funds.
Sun protection on a very hot, no shade August traverse of the Chinese Wall.
Even though truly light poly has been around for half a decade or more, a hoody made from the fabric, with all the right features and most importantly the right fit, has proven ellusive. The OR Echo line gets the fabric right, but in true OR style, punts on 50+ % of the salient details. There are oodles of sun hoodies on the market which have a good hood, and decent or better fit, but for reasons which to this day escape me, almost all are made from heavier, relatively spandex-heavy blends. Fortunately, this year Rab came to our collective rescue with the Pulse hoody.
On the surface the Pulse fabric is identical the micro-grid Patagonia has used in their lightweight capilene for the past few years. The Rab fabric has a softer hand, and performance which is significantly divergent. The current lightweight capilene is tough and dries fast, but has always felt a bit plastic-y, like it is loath to accept ones offering of sweat (rather like the Airshed pullover, but not nearly as severe, a topic for another day). Plus Patagonia has yet to make a hoody in this fabric. The Pulse fabric breathes beautifully and is very soft. On Isle Royale I gladly kept it one for a week straight, with it being as cozy on day 7 as day one. The fabric combines with the hood and cut to make the Pulse as close to being both a good sun layer and a good cool weather layer as I can imagine being achieved.
The hood is roomy and provides full coverage without getting in my peripheral vision. I appreciate the clean, light finish provided by the absence of a zipper or closure mechanism. The baggy finish around the jaw and chin makes for good ventilation in hot weather, but flaps in the wind and lets in the cold. A button to cinch things up is the compromise I’m trying this winter.
The thumb loops are the best compromise I’ve found between being short enough for use without, while at the same time being able to provide real warmth and hand protection with a natural fit. Bravo Rab.
Overall fit is a hair on the loose side of regular. Long sleeves and torso are much appreciated. I wouldn’t complain if the sleeves were a tiny bit tighter, but I can live with them as is without issue.
The only real fly in the ointment is the durability of the fabric, which hasn’t been stellar. Granted, my Pulse has seen a lot of serious bushwacking (where the hood is very nice for keeping pine needles out), but on more days than not in the brush, I’ve put a decent hole in it. For an $80 shirt I’d really prefer better here, but the performance is such that this is for me not a deal breaker.
The Pulse hoody is certainly good enough that I’d gladly trade in 2 or 3 less versatile shirts so I could use it for everything that didn’t involve either serious bug pressure or serious cold. Ideologically and practically, not having to make a choice when dressing for 80+ % of trips is much appreciated.