Review of Rohan Men’s Aura Jacket

Rohan Men’s Aura Jacket

In brief: ultra-lightweight, windproof and water resistant jacket

What you get:

The Aura Jacket is a very, very light (Rohan say 80g, my scales say 78g for a Medium) windproof jacket made from a thin ripstop nylon/polyamide. It has a full front zip, an external zipped chest pocket, a small inside Packpocket and an adjustable draw-cord hem. The sleeve cuffs are bound with elastic tape and have thumb-loops that can be used to keep the sleeves in place. There’s a slight drop-tail, a hanging loop, a stand-up collar with a reflective “R”, and that’s about your lot (more stuff and you’d lose at least one of those “very”s). Colours are, in the tradition of Henry Ford, anything you like just as long as it’s black.

Reviewer in a Medium AuraHere’s the reviewer (1.73m, 5’8″) in a Medium Aura, the red Bags brought out especially to give you lots of contrast to show off the jacket’s relatively generous length.

Thoughts…

It’s interesting to look at the Aura alongside the Windshadow, especially after looking at the marketing copy for the Windshadow that describes it as “minimalist”, “ultra-lightweight” and “phenomenally packable”. Both are windproof, uninsulated jackets but the Windshadow weighs and bulks more than twice as much, has a merely thin fabric, 4 pockets rather than 2, and a hood rather than not. Perhaps the Windshadow could do with its marketing copy being updated, because the Aura is a better match to it! One thing this underlines is that there’s more than one valid approach to making a windproof top and while Rohan’s have previously been heavier and more fully featured than the Aura there have been ultralight alternatives available from various competitors for a while. As someone who’s had a frill-free Montane Featherlite smock for well over a decade I was interested to see if Rohan had come up with something I’d want to replace it with…
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A selection of wind shellsHere’s a selection of wind shells packed away, past and present. There’s (back row, l-r) a Moving On, Essential Top, (front row) Windshadow, Aura, Montane Featherlite smock, and an apple and a not-Apple for scale. They’ll all go a bit smaller than their baggies if squished, the Featherlite and the Aura really do go to about the size of the apple, the Windshadow just about manages the Aura’s packpocket size, the Essential and Movi a little bigger than that.

At a remarkable 80g the Aura is clearly very light, and it packs down to about the size of a dessert apple (a Braeburn rather than a James Grieve, we don’t have to cheat by selecting especially big dessert apples!). You get to be that light and compact with careful selection of material and selective stripping of features. The fabric is a gossamer-thin ripstop nylon/polyamide that has a similar slick feel to high performance tent flysheets. Those of us that do much camping know just how good these almost see-through fabrics have got so while I wouldn’t expect amazing abrasion resistance for the Aura I suspect it’s not going to tear that easily and ought to be much tougher than one might expect from just looking at it. The fabric is thinner and lighter than the Pertex nylons that have traditionally been used for windshirts like my old Featherlite, and by losing some weight there Rohan have been able to up the feature count a little bit without breaking the very small and light brief, giving us a full front zip and a functional pocket, both of which I like the idea of.

Trying it on it’s happily the case that the overall cut is the one that keeps me coming back to Rohan because it fits on me. If you’ve been a good match to the Rohan tailor’s dummy up until now that still seems to ring true, and on me (long in the trunk for my height) that means long enough (especially in the back with the slight drop tail) without having to go up a size I don’t want.

The sleeves are a good length on me, so the thumb loops don’t make them feel over-stretched if used, so that’s good, but what I was less happy with is how tight and narrow the cuffs and lower sleeves are because it makes rolling the sleeves up a bit of a non-starter.

Compare and Contrast
Playing compare and contrast with the tape-bound cuffs on a Windrider (orange) and Aura (black)

You can see above that the Aura’s sleeves are very narrow. I use my Windrider on a practically daily basis and I’ve never felt the sleeve trim was anything other than just about right, and as someone who fiddles with my sleeves a lot I’ve found the Aura’s cuffs very frustrating. I imagine you might well get less wind-flap in a strong wind (light fabrics like this are quite noisy in a blow, and it’s understandable to want to cut that down), but I’d rather have sleeves I can roll up. My wife wondered if a stretch panel at the cuff might be the way to go, and I think that might work, though of course it would add to the weight…

Still at the cuffs, we have thumb loops to keep the sleeves in place. I’ve got quite a few things with thumb-loops and in general am a Fan, but that’s typically in the context of stopping gaps opening up between cuffs and heavy gloves in winter conditions. If it’s both winter conditions and heavy gloves then the Aura is, frankly, quite likely to be The Wrong Answer, and when you add in the fact it’s hard to pull back the sleeves that far even if you want to then I’m not really convinced they have a useful place here. I don’t begrudge them, but I can’t see why I’d bother using them.

There’s a hem drawcord with a single cord-lock. To be honest the only thing I’ve ever found to do with these is fidget with them or occasionally get loops of cord caught on things, but lots of people seem to like them and if you do it’s there and it works. I personally prefer a simple elasticated tape-bound hem, but of course if those aren’t quite right you have no adjustment.

The main zip is, unsurprisingly, a very lightweight one. The end-housing is small enough that I found it relatively fiddly to engage and disengage (with warm hands in still air, far more fun with numb ones in gloves in a gale, I’m sure!) and the wee plastic bendy extension on the very small puller doesn’t inspire my confidence in its longevity. That’s not the same thing as “is too fragile”, but having it in my hands I am left wondering.

Aura main zip against Windrider
These show the end of the Aura’s main zip against my Windrider’s. The latter is not exactly expedition tent gauge but it’s quite a bit chunkier than the Aura’s and I find it easier to get started (and finished) with and it seems to respond better to a quick yank when I have my hands otherwise engaged. But, of course, a chunkier zip would mean more weight…

YKK make good zips, but nothing’s indestructible and I’d prefer to sacrifice a little lightness and have something like the Windshadow’s main zip if we’re going for a jacket rather than a smock. While I’m worried about the longevity there’s no shortage of precedents of light, thin stuff being actually very durable in practice (Airlight, anyone?), but however tough the zip turns out to be there’s no getting past it being a bit of a faff to use compared to bigger ones. The designer is left in the no-win situation of having to decide for lots of people how many grammes saved is worth how much ease-of-use lost, and the prospective buyer will have to decide whether they side with the designer or with me here: try it for yourself and see what you think is the best way to go about it. One option would be to do what Berghaus have done with their new Hyper Smock ultralight waterproof, and that’s to put in a deep (rather than full) zip. By not having to engage and disengage the zip you lose a major point of wear and potential failure and you still keep most of the venting ability. Given that the Aura is mainly to keep off wind, and in any sort of wind it’ll flap ridiculously if left completely open because it’s so light, you probably wouldn’t lose anything much in terms of utility. But as past experience tells us, you probably would lose in terms of sales because jackets sell better than smocks, and at the end of the day Rohan is a business and has to make business decisions.

There are two pockets, the obvious external zipped one on the left breast and a smaller one with a velcro closure in the same place on the inside. The interior one is the Packpocket and lets you stuff the whole jacket in to it quite easily with a bit of room to spare, and there’s a clip-loop in there which will be outside once it’s packed away. The relatively generous size means it’s not an extreme packing job and also means you can fit useful stuff in there when you’re wearing the jacket. The external one is a bit bigger, certainly big enough to be useful, but don’t go bothering it with an OS map because it’s not that big.

Aura PocketThis is a fairly standard Smartphone in its case, laying on the packpocket (it will just fit in). You can see the seam of the external chest pocket to show you its size.

I was well impressed with the pocket in use. In really light jackets having anything remotely heavy off to one side tends to pull things out of kilter, but with my ‘phone (160 g, double the weight of the whole jacket!) in the pocket the close fit to the chest kept it in place and I didn’t really notice it. I note that the ladies’ Aura has the pocket on the breast too, and it might not work as well there depending on exact physique: not one I’m really in a position to call, but one that may be worth the ladies checking out in person.

Rohan’s marketing for the Aura shows a chap out for a trot in one, and it ought to be the sort of thing that appeals to runners and sportive cyclists who may want a bit of weather protection but don’t have either space or inclination to carry much. While walkers benefit from light weight and wind proofing too they spend rather less time on roads where brighter colours and reflectives are popular. As Rapha’s black cycling kit has shown, pushing hi-viz as essential is a gross over-statement, but there’s no getting away from a lot of people liking brighter colours and reflectives on the road. With the latest Elite coming in a sharp green with reflective trim it’s clearly the case that Rohan’s designers are well aware of that, so it seems odd they’ve missed that trick on the Aura aside from a wee square on the back of the collar (if you’ve longish hair or have a bandana/pirate Buff on it’ll be obscured). The Elite originally came in black-only, so for those like me that like brighter colours here’s hoping for a wider selection in the future.

In Action…

Enough with dry, indoors descriptions, how does it do out in the wild? If you’re carrying it rather than wearing it there’s no surprise that it really rates. You can gain more weight by just having a (small!) drink and it’ll squeeze in to tiny crannies (as noted above the Packpocket is effectively over-sized so you can scrunch it up a fair bit more once it’s stowed).

Taking a Go-Ride mountain bike coaching session on a pleasant but cool and windy day the Aura was put through its paces. To start I had it on over a microfleece and base layer for standing around talking-at-people punctuated with short rides, where it demonstrated (as expected) it has absolutely no insulation value to speak of but keeps out the wind very well and lets any other insulation you have on do its job. That doesn’t mean windchill is completely eliminated, but it is substantially reduced and if it’s the wind doing the cooling then a wind shell is a very weight-effective way to keep warm, particularly if you’re active enough to generate a bit of extra heat.

So, when it came to the active extra-heat-generating dirt-crit part of the session I took off the fleece, swapped in to lighter gloves and off I went for 20 minutes lapping of the course. It did start to get a bit clammy inside, but these things are relative and I was working quite hard: in a hard shell I’d have been dripping and very uncomfortable, against which “a bit clammy” is an excellent result. As the temperature started to go up I grabbed at the zip but, no, nothing going on there without slowing down and giving it more attention, there was no point trying to hoist up the sleeves, so I had to sweat a little more than I might have done in my Featherlite. Another thing in my old smock’s favour for coping with sweat is it’s a very long time since I did anything about its DWR, and while a DWR helps keep out dreich and drizzle for a while it also tends to prevent sweat soaking in to the garment to spread and evaporate. It’s a two-edged sword, in other words, and something like a DMC coating will work better on dry, windy days, but not so well on damp ones. You choose, you lose… Rohan seem to have been favouring DWR over DMC for jackets lately, I hope they give us something very light with DMC for the nicer days too at some point: both are good and either gives you a useful garment, though in slightly different ways.

Moisture Management

This shows the opposing moisture management strategies of DMC (the blue Essential) and a DWR (the Aura) with a quick spray of water followed by blowing: one has drops soaking in, the other has them running off. Ideally you’d want a coating that works like DMC when the sun’s out and like DWR when the dreich is around, but neither life nor moisture management coatings are like that…

Stopping off to clean the bikes it was buckets of muddy water, so I rolled up… oh no I didn’t, I cursed the tight cut of the sleeves again, and wished they were wider. It did put the DWR through its paces though, and as I’ve come to expect of Rohan’s DWR, it works well.

Perhaps I’m going on a bit much about the sleeves, but I’m someone who rolls sleeves up and down a lot on pretty much everything with long sleeves that I wear. It’s one of my most frequently used temperature regulation options (Paramo have easy-rolling sleeves as a specific design feature for that very reason so it’s not just me!) and I like the utility it gives for filling up bottles in rivers, cleaning dirty chains etc. without getting my clothes soaked or filthy, and I’d much rather have all that than cut out a bit of wind flap or save a few (and it can only be a few) grammes. Maybe you’re different, feeling that the point of a long sleeve is to always cover the arm to the end, and if that’s the case then don’t let this particular bonnet-bee of mine put you off.

In summary, the Aura is a good bit of kit that does what it promises to do while weighing and packing away to almost nothing. I’ll take my Windshadow/Windrider if I expect to be wanting a windproof on for most of the trip, but as a just-in case and/or I’m in minimalist mode the Aura will do almost as good a job (just as windproof but without so many places to put stuff) with substantially less baggage footprint. But… I’m left feeling it could have, should have, been a great piece of kit, and it falls short in my eyes simply because the sleeves are too narrow and the zip is too fiddly. Lack of alternative colours and reflectives aren’t deal-breakers but the zip and especially the no-roll sleeves mean I’d personally leave it in the shop (and I’d identified both as issues within a couple of minutes of putting it on, so it really would fail for me in the changing-room). My day-job is IT, and it’s a truism in that field that Version 1.0 is a useful proof of concept but you want the next release where they’ve tidied up the loose ends if you can wait. If the next version of the Aura has the same cut for the body but wider sleeves I can easily roll back past my elbows and a slightly chunkier main zip I’ll be very interested, even if it weighs a little more. I can take or leave the hem draw-cord and thumb loops but if it also comes in some nice colours and has a bit more reflective trim I’d go from “very interested” to practically sure to replace my old Montane Featherlite with one, but for my particular requirements we’re not quite there yet. But it shouldn’t take that much tweaking before we are.

rohan spark reviewNote from Rohantime: It is the intention that all first reviews of new Rohan gear on Rohantime will be undertaken by Rohanists who have an understanding of outdoor gear, the fundamentals of keeping warm, dry and safe on the hills, an appreciation of  Rohan’s core values and how they are expressed in the clothing and a working knowledge of similar products that are available. These reviews, will represent a fair and balanced evaluation.

Reviewed by Peter Clinch

 

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3 Comments

  1. Terry Carter says:

    Makes a pleasant change to read an honest balanced review that presents the pros and cons. Well done Mr Clinch and Rohan.

  2. Peter Clinch says:

    It was tricky doing this one… the Spark was easy to review because everything was just how I wanted it, while with the Aura my particular modus operandi was at odds with the design: that’s not a bad design, it’s simply one that’s not best suited to me, and it reinforces that There Ain’t No Such Thing as a truly objective personal gear test! Gear really is personal stuff, and I do hope my issues with the jacket don’t put off the many people for whom it will be an excellent match.

    I’ve noticed since I did the review that Rohan market the Aura as wind resistant and the Windshadow as windproof, though in action I didn’t find noticeably more coming through the lighter jacket while riding around in the cold. One of those it’s difficult to tell subjectively cutting between garments in random, real weather, and I’d be interested to know the objective differences measured in the lab in this case.
    I’ve also realised I’d forgotten about the Ether windshirt when talking about current DMC garments, so I lose a couple of points for proof-reading and accuracy there. Mea culpa (don’t have an Ether shirt, waiting for a nicer colour!).

    I did ask Sarah if she wanted me to forward the test garment on to someone who would find it a better match to their particular likes & requirements, but she’s evidently decided publishing “warts and all” is the best course, which even if you share my mixed emotions over the garment scores very well for integrity!

    • Rohan Design Team says:

      Ref: Ether windshirt in a new colour

      The fabric properties meant the mill could not produce it in another colour. In fact the mill have decided they are no longer able to produce the fabric and we will sadly not be able to continue the Wther windshirt or the Ether trousers next year.

      We are looking at alternatives, but it is unlikely that our development and testing will be complete in time for spring summer 15 (certainly for trousers).

      We are planning a long sleeve Aura shirt. We have only done this in short sleeve and the properties lend itself to a technical long sleeve shirt (sun protection and ultra light weight).
      We haven’t the official results to confirm whether the 3d weave has a similar wind resistance –
      Rohan Design Team