When it comes to the outdoor gear and attire industry, there’s no shortage of high-quality, well-established brands that offer premium-built items that can withstand even the harshest weather conditions. However, the extensive range of choices can often make the buying process feel difficult and overwhelming, which is why a thorough understanding of each alternative’s features and characteristics is necessary before making a decision.
Furthermore, since most of these outdoor pieces often require a hefty investment, the decision-making process is crucial in ensuring you’ll get your money’s worth. For this reason, in this article, I’ll provide you with the necessary information to settle the debate: “Rab vs. Columbia – Which Is Best?”.
If you’re looking for specialized gear and attire made for climbers by climbers, investing in a premium Rab piece might be the best choice for you. However, if you’re looking for a wider range of options at a more accessible price point, I’d recommend choosing Columbia or one of its subsidiaries.
In short, the brands mostly differ from each other in product selection and target audience. While Columbia offers a more diversified portfolio of products designed to cater to the general public, Rab is renowned for its highly specialized gear, and attire marketed almost exclusively to professional climbers and mountaineers. Additionally, Rab products are usually slightly pricier than their Columbia counterparts.
In the following sections, I’ll provide you with the necessary information you’ll need to determine which outdoor attire company would be best suited to your needs. I’ll start by taking you through each brand’s history and overall purpose, and afterward, I’ll get into a more direct comparison between the two. Through this comparison, you’ll be equipped with the necessary knowledge required for you to come to a conclusion; however, the final verdict is always up to you.
Who Are Rab?
Rab is a British mountaineering attire company that prides itself on the quality and durability of its products. The brand was founded in 1981 and is fairly well known within the climbing community.
Rab started its business selling hand-made outdoor equipment that quickly became a favorite among locals looking for pieces that would withstand South Yorkshire’s harsh weather conditions. The company’s founder, Rab Carrington, was a climber himself, which allowed him to understand his target audience’s needs and requirements much better.
The product that jump started the brand’s success, their outdoor sleeping bag, is still one of their best-selling products on their site. These bags have revolutionized their industry, as their durable, qualitative, and insulating material is hard to replicate still to this day.
Unfortunately, due to increasing demand, Rab’s products are no longer hand-made; however, the company still maintains rigid quality requirements for its manufacturers. The materials they use are always hypoallergenic and pleasant to the touch, which is why they’ve quickly turned into a holy grail of the climbing community.
As expected, the premium quality comes at an added price. Their sleeping bags can range anywhere from $150 to $1150, while most of their jackets hover around the $200 mark. Having said that, their items’ average CPW is often much more competitive since you’ll be using them for years on end.
What Do Rab Make?
Rab makes climbing and mountaineering clothing and equipment. Their product selection includes down jackets and other cold-weather attire, padded vests, insulating tights, fleeces, and their iconic sleeping bags.
To get a better understanding of the industry Rab operates in, keep in mind that the company’s direct competitors include Columbia, North Face, Patagonia, and other similar brands. Their products’ main common quality is their ability to withstand even the harshest, coldest weather conditions.
Rab also offers many innovative pieces that feature technological components that are expected to revolutionize the outdoor attire industry. Their fluorocarbon-free, water repellent fabric has been incorporated in many of their garments, reducing water saturation to further extents and creating a much more accommodating experience for its wearer. Additionally, Rab also uses synthetic insulation to provide unparalleled levels of temperature control.
Considering these qualities, it’s no wonder how the brand has seen such exponential growth throughout the UK and beyond. Some of their most popular items (which I’ll cover in a moment) can be found used by climbers all over the world. By this point, the company has solidified its place and name within the industry and holds its place even when put against giants like North Face or Patagonia.
According to their website, some of their most popular clothing items include their pull-on jackets, Xenar vest, Xenar Alpine Light Jackets, insulating tights, and zip-up fleeces. There has been a growing interest in the brand coming from women, who are quickly turning into their target audience.
For this reason, some of their best-selling garments are geared toward women, who, just like the men, are thoroughly enjoying the quality, comfort, and unique design that they can purchase through Rab products.
Their best-selling products lean toward the lower end of the brand’s price range. All the previously mentioned jackets, fleeces, and tights fall under the $200 category. While still expensive, these pieces are a long-term investment for which you’ll undoubtedly get your money’s worth.
Who Are Columbia?
Columbia is an American sportswear company that specializes in outerwear and camping equipment. The brand is also well-known for its high-quality ski apparel.
Weirdly enough, Columbia was founded in 1938 as a hat company. However, its mainstream success only started when the business shifted its focus to jackets and other cold-weather attire.
The brand’s focus started shifting around 1960 when the company decided on a full rebranding that included a name change to “Columbia Sportswear.” From then on, the company focused on manufacturing and distributing the highest-quality cold-weather gear for enthusiasts all around the world.
Their outerwear is well-renowned for its breathable and waterproof fabric, making it highly coveted among climbers and other enthusiasts looking to remain active even under the harshest weather conditions.
One of their products’ most iconic features is the interchangeability of their shells and liners, which revolutionized the outerwear industry through its innovative design. These features, along with Columbia’s overall quality and professionalism, led to the company’s rapid but sustained growth, due to which the company even went public in 1998.
As you’ll learn in the following section, following its impressive success, the brand has branched out into three different subsidiaries, all involving different but equally successful endeavors.
What Do Columbia Do?
Columbia Sportswear designs, sources, and distributes outdoor gear and attire. Their product selection includes clothing, accessories, footwear, and equipment made to withstand harsh weather conditions.
Like Rab, Columbia is one of the biggest brands currently operating in the outdoor attire and equipment industry. However, the two can often differ in product selection and price points. Columbia Sportswear offers a much more diversified product portfolio than its competitor at a generally lower price point.
For this reason, it’s safe to say that Columbia has taken on a less specialized approach and is marketing its products to the broader public. This approach, along with the company’s family-based image, has led to immense commercial success. Today, their products are well-known worldwide for their quality, longevity, and performance.
As I previously mentioned, Columbia has now become a parent company branching into three subsidiaries, all successful on their own rights. In fact, some of them have become so popular; you might have already heard about their products. The brand’s daughter companies include Sorel, Mountain Hardwear, and PrAna.
Sorel is the very first Columbia Sportswear subsidiary. The brand was founded in 1962 and quickly became widely known for its high-quality, expertly-crafted footwear. The company has managed to evolve its processes and designs through the year in a way that maintains relevancy to the general public.
They’re still regarded as a brand whose products are guaranteed to provide premium construction and protection for your feet.
Mountain Hardwear was established in 1993, playing a significant role in Columbia’s rise to success. Given that the parent company started straying away from more specialized mountaineering gear, through this subsidiary, they managed to keep their original customer base looking for professional climbing equipment they could depend on.
PrAna is evidence of how Columbia’s vision has always been ahead of its time. Founded in 1992, the brand has catered for years to those looking for sustainable, environmentally-friendly attire. Their items are geared toward travelers and yogis, covering a whole untapped market for their parent company.
What Is the Difference Between Rab & Columbia?
The main difference between Rab and Columbia is the product range they offer and the target audience they market it to. Both brands provide similar quality and durability, but Rab’s products are more specialized while Columbia caters more to the general public.
In the following sections, I’ve conducted a more thorough comparison between the two brands, discussing their qualities and characteristics in an effort to point out their biggest differences and similarities.
Given that I’ve already gone over the brand’s product selection and price range, I’d want to take a closer look at its manufacturing process and material quality in an effort to get a better understanding when it comes to the nature of its items. Here’s what you need to know about Rab:
Rab materials are lightweight, structured, and equipped with a wide range of innovative technologies. Additionally, their fabrics are always ethically sourced, which further justifies their premium price range.
The company’s mountaineering gear is waterproof and hypoallergenic, which has made it an all-time favorite among professionals and enthusiasts alike. Furthermore, the insulating technology they use in their products is unparalleled and achieved through the production of a handful of innovative synthetic blends that are remarkable when it comes to their heat-retaining qualities.
Rab prices hover around the mid-to-high price range and fall slightly on the upper end of their industry’s average. As expected, highly qualitative, ethically sourced, specialized mountaineering attire isn’t going to be cheap; however, it doesn’t have to break a hobbyist’s bank either, and Rab manages to perfectly maintain this balance.
Their clothing is priced around the $100-$200 range, while their sleeping bags can be bought from as low as $150 to as high as $1150 (depending on their thermal insulation and other features). However, when it comes to climbers and mountaineers looking for products geared specifically towards them, the price is more than justified.
Continuing with the last sentence’s line of thought, Rab’s climbing clothing and equipment are best appreciated by frequent climbers. Both experts and amateurs can appreciate a good Rab piece; however, the general public might be looking for a broader range of designs offered at a more accessible price.
Columbia is a globally-renowned brand, which is why I’m sure that even without reading the previous sections, most of you will still have some general knowledge regarding the company’s nature and the products it manufactures. However, in the following sections, I’ll provide you with some more specific information that could facilitate your decision-making process.
Just like Rab, Columbia implements innovative technologies in its already high-quality materials. Their Omni-Tech range of original, weather-resistant technologies has set the brand apart from its competitors, making their products that much more comfortable and long-lasting. Their insulating, water-resistant fabrics are ideal for those living in harsher weather conditions.
Columbia’s price range is similar to Rab’s, albeit slightly more on the affordable size. Most of the brand’s clothing items are priced at around $25-$150. On the other hand, their gear rarely surpasses the $300 mark, granted Columbia doesn’t sell any sleeping bags, which makes the equipment price difference between the brands understandable.
Columbia caters to the general public, and the growth of its subsidiaries further proves its incentive to broaden its target audience. Their range of designs, materials, and prices speak to a significant number of people, making their target audience much more extensive than Rab’s.
Which Is Better?
Columbia is better for those looking for casual, weather-resistant gear and attire without any specific expectations when it comes to performance. Rab is better for climbers and mountaineers looking for products that are designed for their activity.
When it comes to quality and features, you generally get what you pay for. This means that by paying a bit extra for a Rab piece, you’ll likely get more comfort and a longer lifespan out of your purchase. However, for those not looking to test their products to their limit, the quality difference might be worthless. For this reason, through this article, I’ve repeated time and time again the importance of choosing a brand that fits your needs and vision.
Furthermore, even though the brands operate within the same industry, their product selection may vary. For example, those looking to purchase a sleeping bag won’t have any luck finding one shopping at Columbia. On the other hand, pieces such as jackets and tights can be found in both stores, meaning that your choice will come down to your functional and aesthetic preferences.
Speaking of preferences, Columbia is the way to go for those looking for a wide range of products to choose from, as their clothing items are much more varied in both type and style. The company is also widely preferred by those looking to find high-quality pieces on a budget. Columbia’s site also organizes frequent sales and outlets, which can be much rarer when shopping on Rab.
However, those who want to optimize their climbing performance will need the added quality and features that Rab provides in its clothing. While you’ll have to make a heftier investment, the performance material is worth every penny. Additionally, if you suffer from allergies or skin conditions, Rab would be the better option for you.