Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review + Sleep System

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Rapha’s Explore Down Jacket is a lightweight, packable layer that’s designed to work equally well on and off the bike. After a few months of use in a variety of environments—from sunny Arizona, to rainy California, to cold and windy London—Lucas shares his impressions on what’s worked and what hasn’t. Find his full review here…

Introduced back in October 2018, the Rapha Explore Down Jacket is a lightweight, packable jacket that’s designed to work equally well on and off the bike. After a few months of wearing mine on chilly nights around camp, during morning commutes, and while hanging out around town, I’ve put together some thoughts on how it has performed and how it fits into my kit.

Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review

Features and Construction

The Rapha Explore Down Jacket is built from a woven nylon outer fabric that’s packed with ethically sourced, high loft 850-fill-power down. The down has been coated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to help it retain some additional warmth when wet.

Given the jacket’s impressively low weight—my large weighs in at just 244g (8.6oz) with the stuff sack—the nylon shell feels somewhat fragile. If snagged, I could see a thorny branch ripping it wide open on a hike-a-bike or while fumbling around the woods in the dark, but that’s the tradeoff of diving deep into this end of the ultralight vs. ultra-durable spectrum. I don’t believe Rapha used an unusually thin outer fabric relative to other options on the market, but it does feel more delicate than the fabric on the older jacket it’s replacing. That said, it’s also one of the lightest and most packable down layers I’ve used to date.

  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review
  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review
  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review

Despite being relatively minimal, the Rapha Explore Down Jacket crams in a lot of small features that will make sense to most cyclists. The cuffs and hood have elasticated openings that help keep the cold out, and hidden cinches around the waistband ensure a snug fit. There are two zippered outer pockets that are comfortably placed, plus two inner pockets that I’d never use for anything of importance as they’re wide open at the top.

The removable hood uses a two-piece, snap-on design, which is probably my least favorite feature of the jacket, as it adds some unnecessary bulk to the collar, making it more noticeable than I’d prefer when zipped all the way up. Plus, if I’m wearing a down jacket, odds are I’ll be using the hood at some point, and my preference would be a more streamlined, one-piece hood. I think it would look better and it would certainly save a bit of weight. I’m willing to be in the minority here, as I know a detachable hood is a selling point for many buyers.

  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review
  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review

Rapha’s choice of a two-way main zipper on the Explore Down Jacket means venting while riding is easy, as is accessing pockets on your inner layers. A simple zipper garage and small, hardened pulls keep the zipper ends from flapping up and hitting you in the face while bombing down hills, and reflective logos on the chest and lower back offer some added visibility. Taken together, all of these small touches make for a well thought out jacket.

Performance

If you’re searching for a full-on winter jacket, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But if you’re in the market for a layer to throw on at camp after a long day of riding in milder weather, the Explore Down Jacket could be a great option.

I’ve worn it comfortably on lots of cool nights around camp in Arizona and California in temperatures down to around 40°F. However, I was pretty cold when I tried to wear it as my only outer layer in Colorado, with daytime temperatures of about 32°F. According to the Q&A on Rapha’s site, the Explore Down Jacket is suitable for temperatures in the 32-60°F range, but I think the lower end of that spectrum is rather generous unless you’re wearing a lot of additional layers.

I brought this jacket on a trip to England earlier this month, where I had the chance to test it in wet and windy conditions (in typical British winter fashion). I found the Explore Down Jacket surprisingly wind resistant, despite not being specifically designed or marketed as such. I was also happy to see water beading off the outer fabric when I wore it in light rain, though anything more and I likely would have thrown on my rain shell or ducked inside somewhere.

  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review
  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review
  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review
  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review
  • Rapha Explore Down Jacket Review

It packs down to just 3.5” wide by 7” tall—about the size of a small water bottle—meaning it fits easily into a handlebar bag, frame bag, or small backpack. As such, I’ve been hauling mine with me almost everywhere these past few months, and it’s saved me on a number of occasions when temperatures suddenly dropped when I was bikepacking or stayed out later than planned while running errands around town.

As for durability, I’ve yet to lose a single feather in the time I’ve been wearing it, the exterior is still free of holes, and the zippers are running smoothly. I don’t expect it to last forever, but it’s passed the initial break-in test. Conversely, the stuff sack started coming apart at the seams after just two weeks of regular use, which is disappointing given the price of the jacket, though I’ve actually been meaning to see how much smaller I can get it to pack using an ultralight compression sack, anyway.

Rapha Explore Down Jacket

Fit

I’m 6’3” and weigh around 175 pounds (190cm/79kg), and with my tall and lanky frame, I often have a difficult time finding clothes that fit just right. Jackets are inevitably either too boxy or the sleeves are too short. In a perfect world, I could find shirts and jackets in size a medium body, but with large-length sleeves. Thankfully, the Rapha Explore Down Jacket is the rare garment that fits in that sweet spot. My large is snug in the body, but the arms are long enough to work, even while riding. It’s a tad on the boxy side, but then again it’s stuffed full of down, so that bit of boxiness equates to warmth.

Despite my earlier note about not loving the two-piece collar/hood design, the hood itself is very comfortable. It has a generous opening and an overall size that doesn’t feel like it restricts range of motion. I’ve slept in it on several nights and didn’t find anything that caused discomfort, such as an oddly placed seam or button.

One note on fit: Rapha says it’s a unisex jacket, but I suspect many women might have a hard time finding a size that fits exactly right, so I’d recommend trying before buying if possible, or consulting Rapha’s fit guide, though it may not be particularly helpful.

Rapha Explore Down Jacket

Traceable Down

All of the down in Rapha’s jackets is provided by ALLIED Feather & Down, suppliers of high-quality, ethically sourced, fluorocarbon-free down insulation. ALLIED helped pioneer TrackMyDown.com, a resource that allows consumers to see exactly where their down is coming from. According to TrackMyDown, it looks like the down used in the Explore collection comes from grey geese on smaller collector-based farms in Hungary, Poland, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine, and has a measured fill power of 905, notably higher than Rapha’s stated fill power of 850.

When using animal products for my clothing, I appreciate knowing something about where they originated, and it’s nice to see Rapha using traceable down from ALLIED in this collection—a practice I hope more brands will adopt. To date, around 100 brands are participating in TrackMyDown to provide transparent supply chain information to consumers.

Rapha Explore Sleep System

The Explore Down Jacket debuted as part of the Rapha Explore Sleep System, a two-part sleeping kit that consisted of the jacket and the Explore Sleeping Bag, an elephant’s foot-style bag with an 850-fill down lower half and a lightweight nylon upper half. The Explore Down Jacket was intended to function as the upper half of the sleeping bag, and the two made for an impressively compact and light kit.

It’s a clever idea, but I think Rapha missed the mark with the now-discontinued Explore Sleeping Bag. Rated to just 59°F, its range of applications is limited to summer use, and only in ideal conditions. For the $330 they were asking, I’d personally buy an ultralight quilt. Although it wouldn’t pack down quite as small, you’d surely be able to use it comfortably in a significantly wider range of temperatures, especially when paired with the Explore Down Jacket.

Intrigued by the idea of such a tiny sleeping system and thinking I could tough it out, I tried using the Explore Down Jacket and Explore Sleeping Bag together on a few nights that dipped down to between 40-50°F, and was unsurprisingly never able to get comfortable. Instead, I found myself giving up and climbing into my Western Mountaineering MegaLite bag in the middle of the night or early morning.

  • Rapha Explore Down Sleeping Bag
  • Rapha Explore Down Sleeping Bag

Like the jacket, the Explore Sleeping Bag was well made and had a number of sensible touches, but ultimately I couldn’t see myself shelling out that kind of money for a bag that’s only effective on the warmest of nights. It will be interesting to see if Rapha releases an updated version of the half sleeping bag, or perhaps a full bag, though that’s undoubtedly an area where they have lots of tough competition.

Aesthetics

Personally, I find this to be a very good looking jacket, especially in dark green. Unfortunately, it seems that color has been phased out, but it’s still available in black, navy, orange, and plum. With the possible exception of orange, I think all of the colors work quite well for wearing around the city without looking overly technical.

Subtlety isn’t always Rapha’s forte, but I’ve been enjoying many of the products in their newer adventure-focused collections. Especially with their recently announced plans to move into the mountain bike space, I’m curious to see how their choice of colors and designs will evolve as they continue trying to appeal to folks outside of the road world.

Rapha Explore Down Jacket

Pricing and Availability

Full retail on the Rapha Explore Down Jacket is $295, but it’s currently on sale in a variety of color/size combinations. Assuming you can fit into an XXS, you can snag one for as little as $147. At the time of writing, orange and plum jackets are on sale for $206 on the US site.

Without question, $295 is a lot of money to spend on any piece of outdoor apparel. Frankly, if you’re willing to sacrifice some packability and weight savings, there’s no need to spend that much on a packable jacket. If all you’re looking for is a lightweight layer to wear around camp, there are a lot of options at more attractive price points.

On the other hand, the Rapha Explore Down Jacket offers a unique set of features for someone who wants a down jacket to wear on and off the bike. Details like the two-way zipper, reflective accents, and cut designed with cycling in mind all add up to a jacket that I think justifies its price tag, assuming it ticks all of the boxes for you. For me, it’s money well spent, especially if you can pick one up on sale.

Pros/Cons

Pros

  • Super light and packable design means there’s no reason not to bring it with.
  • Filled with ethically sourced, traceable down.
  • Lots of small, smart features that add up to something unique.

Cons

  • Expensive at $295, but on par with competitors.
  • Delicate construction that often accompanies ultralight gear.
  • Model Tested Rapha Explore Down Jacket (large)
  • Fill Power 850-fill-power down, 90/10
  • Weight (as tested) 244 grams with hood and stuff sack (large)
  • Place of Manufacture Vietnam
  • Price $295
  • Manufacturer’s Details Link

Wrap Up

I’ll be the first to admit that I think Rapha makes some pretty goofy pieces from time to time, but this isn’t one of them. The Explore Down Jacket is a no-nonsense, stylish, packable, warm jacket that delivers on its promise of working equally well on and off the bike. I’ve worn it in a wide variety of conditions and environments in the past several months and it has held up to everything I’ve encountered. If $295 is in your budget for a lightweight down jacket that you plan to wear on the bike and around camp, this one’s well worth considering.

You can find additional details or purchase an Explore Down Jacket at Rapha.com.

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