Rab also cut weight by not putting zippers on the hand pockets; instead, there’s elastic. Without zippers, these pockets are arguably useless for holding things, but personally, I don’t like putting objects in those pockets anyway because I tend to crush whatever’s in there. I also like having my hands in the pockets with nothing else. For me, the elastic was much more comfortable and a nice change from zippers. (Having said that, Rab’s 2011/12 version of the Microlight will feature zippered pockets, so you’ll have to decide whether that’s a plus or minus).
Despite showing small feathers at the seams initially, the Microlight held up well and still hasn’t lost any significant amount of down. It should also be noted that the zipper is on the left side (European style) and has a tendency to snag. But overall, I like the Rab for its hood and greater warmth than the Nano.
The North Face Diez jacket differs from the Microlight in a number of ways: no hood, plastic zippers (zippered pockets too), and a tighter fit. Of all the jackets I tested, I’ve had this one the longest. I’ve worn it as a stand-alone puffy, a true mid-layer, and as a belay jacket. It took a beating and took it well. It didn’t show feathers out of the box, and only lost a few over months of wear.
At 11 ounces, the Diez was the lightest jacket I tested, but again, it doesn’t have a hood, so you’ll have to decide whether you need one or not. (The jacket in The North Face line that is most similar to the Diez and has a hood is the Redpoint Optimus Jacket. But it’s made with PrimaLoft, like the Nano, so you won’t get the same warmth that down provides.)
The Diez has a great, solid plastic, YKK zipper, which doesn’t snag when zipping up the jacket—a big bonus. It was also the warmest and most windproof of the three jackets. If it only had a hood, I would be sold.
All three jackets pack conveniently into chest or waist pockets, and are almost exactly the same size. The Diez is the easiest to pack down, while the Nano and the Microlight are a little more difficult to get into their pockets. All three have carabiner loops to attach to a harness or pack.
The Diez has an alpine fit, which keeps it tight to your chest and is perfect for layering. The Nano was a little more loose, but very minimal in profile, while the Microlight was the roomiest, yet still worked well when compressed under a shell.
These jackets are all great for their specific applications, and you’ll need to decide what you really want out of a mid-layer.
If you’re looking for a jacket to use on the move, get the Nano. If you need a warm mid-layer that can also double as a cold weather puffy, the Microlight is your best bet. If you’re making a summit push or spending long days in freezing weather, where you need maximum warmth with the lightest weight (and don’t need a hood), go with the Diez.