For the previous few years I’ve been using Rab clothing and equipment quite a lot. My Rab kit has had my back countless times and kept me safe through some rather harsh conditions. From trips into the rugged mountains of Tasmania and New Zealand, across to Nepal to climb in the Himalayas. In short, Rab have certainly earned my trust. My personal experience has always been that Rab produce top quality gear, built by climbers for climbers. So when during a recent trip to the UK an opportunity to visit Rab head office in Derbyshire arose, I obviously jumped at it.

A Taste of Grit

Fittingly the home of Rab isn’t far from the beating heart of British climbing – the Peak District which is where much of the famous Gritstone can be found. So first things first, I made plans to get on some rock! Luck was on my side with a lovely sunny spring afternoon setting a marvelous scene for climbing at Britain’s premier crag, Stanage Edge. Locals Anna and Ollie whom I’d met through Rab, were kind enough to introduce this eager Aussie to the dark arts and sheer joy (or was it pain?) that is climbing on the undeniably rough grit.

Tackling my first ever lead in the UK, The Right Unconquerable (HVS 5a or about Ewbank grade 16) which was first climbed by local legend Joe Brown way back in 1949. A very worthy route for the title of classic for sure! Photo: Anna Clark.

Needless to say I was impressed. With this abundant playground right their backyard, it’s clear to see how the Rab continues to be a furnace for adventure and stoke. Well when It’s not raining at least… Luckily for me that famous rain wasn’t an issue and we climbed until sunset. A little sore but full of smiles we ambled back to the van to continue my tour through picturesque British countryside. A traditional English pub meal and pint was the next port of call, at a traditional English pub of course.

Appetites satisfied, we then packed bivvy gear and drove along quaint country lanes to a place called Robin Hood’s Stride (I alone found this very amusing). Miraculously the weather gods continued to favour the venture, the starts were even out. A marvelous was night spent around a campfire chatting to new friends and among some big boulders. To say the trip was off to a good start, would be an understatement.

The next morning, we awoke to another glorious sunny day, which made packing up camp a joy. I was treated to a hearty breakfast provided by my gracious hosts, thanks for the hospitality Anna and Ollie! Soon I was off to visit Rab’s head office and down filling facility at Somercotes. Hetty and Adam from the marketing team met me and gave a quick tour. We then adjourned to the showing room, which is basically an cave of wonders filled with all the upcoming Rab range of clothing. To set the mood introduce me to Rab’s new branding direction they played The Mountain People film (below).

Design and Innovation

When It comes to innovation and pushing the limits of what’s possible to achieve with outdoor gear, Rab is right up there at the front of the pack. As a company they work very closely with suppliers often collaborating to create incredible new technology. At the heart of their mission is a desire to keep outdoors enthusiasts as warm, dry, cool, safe and comfortable as possible in the harshest conditions. This has always been a focus for Rab, and I was stoked to learn more about what, but more specifically who, is behind this continual hunt for improvement and excellence.

One key member of the Rab team who’s tasked with keeping wheels of change moving, is Design Director Tim Jasper. Tim joined the company just over 4 years ago, but has been in the industry for almost a quarter of a century. We chatted about various topics but one that caught my interest in particular. was a shift from making not only top performing clothing, but a desire to make it also look good. In his words the Rab’s deigns were ‘very agricultural’ when he arrived. I quick glance through the range now and you’d not think that was the case. So if you find yourself thinking… ‘wow that’s a practical but also amazing looking Rab jacket’ Tim and the team are clearly on the right track. For example the amazing Kinetic Plus Jacket (my review) is a prime example of a ground breaking technical garment, that in my opinion at least also looks damn good!

Another element of the design team whom I met was Product Designer Ben Manwaring. One of the most impressive garment’s I’ve seen from Rab recently is the hyper-light Zero G down jacket. So naturally when I discovered that the Zero G was one of Ben’s projects, I was eager to hear more. Ben explained that in a nutshell “the aim was to create the best warmth-to-weight down jacket we’ve ever made. With all the alpine features you need”. What makes a jacket like this possible is a combination of an incredibly light 7 denier Pertex Quantum outer shell, married with the absolute fluffiest 1000 fill-power Nikwax Hydrophobic Down.

Speaking of down, the entire place was full of it. Little clusters of white warmth-inducing goodness were floating around like weightless snow. This is of course because much of Rab’s down sleeping bags and expedition down clothing are filled under the same roof. It was impressive to see the craftsmanship that goes into hand-stuffing every single chamber of an expedition weight sleeping bag with a exact quantity of down. Of course, the bulk of the models are filled with an automated process, which is equally impressive in a totally different way.

Upstairs we visited the expert sewers who work constructing the expedition clothing, but also carry out repairs and modifications. What struck me, aside from craftspeople with obvious skill with sewing machines, was the fact this still felt somewhat like a small homely workshop. Photos of families and friends plastered the walls, speaking of community and commitment to the brand. I learned that some of the ladies have been with Rab since the early days.

Another hallmark evident at Rab was the desire to find a solution, from pioneering a new technology, right down to the little things like the above example. This customer had evidently lost some fingers to what one only assume was frostbite given his winter weight climbing gloves. He’d sent them in, along with a traced outline of his hand. A careful modification was underway to shorten several fingers and improve his already reduced dexterity whilst using his Alliance Gloves/Mitts. Sometimes it’s the smallest simplest solutions that count.

Of course a personal highlight was seeing the new season ranges. OK, yes I do look like an overdressed kid in a candy store in the above photo.  Apologies for the tease, but I can’t actually give much away on what to expect. Naturally it goes without saying that there is definitely more great clothing on the horizon. Sure the styles and colours aren’t quite so agricultural anymore, but the gear definitely still works. It just looks more stylish these days!

To finish off the day we went to the movies. Kidding, we went climbing again but this time to somewhere a bit less iconic. Our destination was the Wild Cat Crags, which overlooks the rather quaint village of Matlock Bath. The rock there is limestone, so a pleasant change from the rough grit. Fun fact I also learned that we were just up the road from the oldest factory in the world, credited with being the birthplace of the cultural revolution. I was swiftly learning that history is ever-present when climbing in the UK. The climbing was fun and soon the darkness approached, thus ending my time with the Rab folks. Big thankyou to everyone who entertained my visit, in particular Hetty and Adam (above) who spent basically the entire day hanging our with this eager gear-nerd and Rab enthusiast.


About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. He loves spending time in the outdoors whenever possible - be it hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or just being on the road - He'll take any excuse to get into the mountains! He also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude valley, Brisbane. Drop in and say hi!

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