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Tested By Tiso | Rab Cirrus Alpine Jacket

Best suited for: Cold days and changeable conditions

Location: Arrochar Alps, Scotland

Weather: Typical Scottish winter day, but dry

The wind is biting and the icicles are growing longer. On the lower slopes, water tumbled down the overgrown approach path, but up here at the 800m contour, everything is frozen under a sugar-dusting of snow. I’m in the locally loved Arrochar Alps, a group of hills which tower over the small village of Arrochar at the head of Loch Long, testing Rab’s new Cirrus Alpine Jacket.

Described by Rab as providing ‘warmth and protection in changeable mountain conditions’, I was eager to test the jacket during this early cold snap of winter. I’m planning to photograph the sunrise over The Cobbler, identifying the shoulder of Beinn Narnain as the best vantage point. Arriving at my chosen spot around 8am, and exposed to a bitter north-westerly wind, my priority is to layer-up before setting up the camera. I pull out the Cirrus Alpine from its bright orange stuff sack and throw it on. The wave of warmth feels almost instantaneous.

Positioning my tripod to get the shot framed, the sun finally appears from behind a bank of cloud, casting the iconic peaks of The Cobbler in a pale-pinkish hue. It’s a glorious sight, which is well worth the 5am rise. As any hiker, climber or photographer will tell you, being able to carry out intricate tasks while comfortably warm is essential, and the Cirrus Alpine certainly delivers.

Using Cirrus High Loft synthetic insulation, a collaborative development with Thermore, Rab have mimicked the lofting performance of down, while promoting the benefits of synthetic fibres in a jacket which is versatile, efficient and most importantly, warm. I’m an advocate of synthetic insulation over down in Scotland’s mountains, with the advantages of being warm when wet, fast-drying and durable making it perfect for soggy glens and freezing summits alike. Sure, some down jackets will achieve a higher warmth-to-weight ratio, but when you factor in the fickle conditions of the British hills, synthetic just feels more reliable. Furthermore, the CA’s insulation, outer and lining is made from 100% recycled materials.

Satisfied I have the shot I’d envisaged, it’s time to pack up and get moving. I want to top Beinn Narnain, Beinn Ime and The Cobbler today, and with a deep area of low pressure moving in from the Atlantic later, I can’t afford to hang about. Scrambling up through broken crags and past the prominent buttress of The Spearhead, I top out on Narnain’s summit plateau and into a slamming wind. Mobility is difficult up here, but zipped-in and hooded-up, I’m fully shielded. Rab use Pertex Quantum as the face material on the majority of their insulated jackets, and for good reason – the 30D ripstop nylon is resilient and windproof.

Looking across the void between hills, whispy cloud is scudding off the higher summit of Beinn Ime. The long plod up its southern flank is accompanied by light snow, but by the time I’ve reached the summit ridge, the wind has dropped and there is a brief lull – not quite alpine conditions, but enough respite to enjoy the expanding vista. The highest peak in the Arrochar Alps, the view from Ime’s summit is astounding. To the north, the snowy slopes of Ben Nevis glisten under the midday sun, while to the east, Ben Lomond stands proudly above Loch Lomond - the Trossachs and Forth Valley stretching far into the horizon beyond.

The Cobbler now beckoned. I’ve had some of the best hill days of my life when this iconic Corbett has been in full winter condition, and while the summer months will see its slopes green and serene, the dark days of winter give it a more exciting edge. Just weeks before the first lockdown, we had climbed Great Gully in pristine nick after a long-awaited consolidation of snow – the sharp peaks and steep crags giving it all the atmosphere of a mountain twice its size.

It could be months before those classic conditions return, but when they do, the Cirrus Alpine is equally equipped for climbing gullies as it is long hillwalks: the snug, elasticised hood will fit under a helmet, the side pockets sit slightly higher to accommodate a harness, the cuffs feature stretch panelling to fit over gloves or mitts and there’s a handy phone-sized inner breast pocket. On the rare occasion when you’re sweating under a beating sun, simply stuff the jacket back in its sack.

Today, standing on top of The Cobbler’s summit pinnacle surrounded by the gathering gloom, there was a feeling of anticipation for the winter ahead. As the wind whipped around me and I zipped up my jacket, I was looking forward to those rare alpine days on Scottish mountains, but felt completely prepared for the time-honoured slog through rain, sleet, and sideways snow.

Rating: 9/10

The Good

  • Environmentally friendly - the insulation, outer and lining are 100% recycled
  • Cirrus HL is a high lofting synthetic insulation that mimics the lofting of down while boasting all the benefits of synthetic - warm when wet, durable, quicker to dry and easy to care for
  • Pertex Quantum face fabric is windproof, weather resistant and resilient, made from 30D ripstop nylon
  • Relatively light and packable - weighs in at 516g and comes with a stuff sack
  • Climbing compatible features - under helmet elasticated hood; harness-friendly pockets and easy-stretch cuffs

The Bad

  • There are no design flaws to mention, but it's worth acknowledging the advantages of down compared to synthetic insulation
  • In general, Rab's range of technical down jackets will achieve better warmth to weight ratio. Down is warmer, lighter and more compressible than a synthetic equivalent - but this is relative to the fill-power of down
  • While synthetic insulation will retain warmth when wet, it can start to lose its warmth when you are stationary for extended periods - belaying while climbing for example
  • It's also worth bearing in mind that despite having a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating to resist light showers and damp, the Cirrus Alpine is not a waterproof jacket

For more information about insulated jackets, check out our How to Choose an Insulated Jacket guide.

Rab Product, tested by Colin Brownbill Tiso Staff Member @corriesandcrags

Thanks to Colin for testing our kit in its natural habitat. Colin has been working for Tiso since 2017. His main expertise in-store is in footwear but you'll otherwise find him in the mountains. His other passions include music, photography and whisky.

Rab At Tiso

Tiso are proud to work alongside Rab to bring you the best range of outdoor gear in Scotland. Whether you want to test yourself in the hills, keep warm on the dog walk, or hike throughout winter, we've got you covered. Pop into your local Tiso store to see the full range. See More Rab