This jacket is one of the brand’s bestsellers. Together with the Atom jacket – which is kind of another, a little thicker, version of this one – they are definitely in their top 10 best selling products. And there’s quite a few good reasons for this.This is my favourite kind of jacket, one you can wear comfortably almost every single day. It’s a great top layer piece and when it gets seriously cold and windy it will be a great mid layer piece as well. My jacket is the LT – lightweight version.
The face fabric is something Arc’teryx talks about a lot. They have designed it specifically for this jacket and it’s called Fortius Air 20. Obviously as the name suggests the goal was to create a fabric that is durable, light and breathable, trying to push as far beyond the industry standard as possible.
It is light. Seems very delicate and does not give an instant feeling of confidence that it will withstand much abuse when used as an outer layer. It does though live up to their claims quite well. I’ve used it – as outer layer – pretty much every day for several months, for hiking off the beaten path, climbing, snowboarding and mountain biking so it got more than a fair amount of beating. I brushed it against branches, trees, rocks – you name it. I managed to tear two tiny holes in it. That’s how I learned about something they don’t talk about – the fabric is rip stop. The holes are there for many months and they do not get any bigger.
How about the insulation? They use Coreloft Compact – 80g version for most of the jacket and 60g for the hood and sides of the jacket. Why they used less insulation there? You would usually wear at least a beanie when it is cold and sides of your body are somewhat covered by your arms so putting a little less insulation here and there is not really compromising. On the other hand – the front of the collar has double insulation which you can frequently see in this type of jacket. There’s also breathability – thinner insulation layer allows more breathability and both your head and armpits are two areas where you want as much breathability as possible. How warm is it then? Down to about -4C it’s prefectly ok when there’s no or very little wind used with only a t-shirt. With moderate activity, like a brisk walk , you can go easily down 2-3 degrees more. The extreme example: I took it for a run once when it was a -17 or -18C, a short 6k/4M morning run in the woods – no wind chill involved then whatsoever. Only a longsleeve base layer underneath the Proton. First 2-3 minutes – jacket fully zipped up, hood on, then hood down, zip slightly open. After 10 or 12 minutes I seriously considered taking the jacket off. I did not boil in it though – it did not feel like all the sweat stays inside, I simply felt too warm. My bad – it was a little too intensive workout for this kind of jacket. I don’t get to run in this cold weather too much though so I simply overkilled it.
Is it breathable then? Most of the activities I used this jacket for are I would say medium intensity. It does cope with excess moisture and heat very well in such scenarios. With very intensive activities – hard climbing, pedalling up a steep hill – which I did many times in it – it might struggle but I have never had any other jacket that would be more breathable while giving this much insulation and wind protection. I also have the FL – fast and light – version that I use a lot for biking but it always finally gets too cold to stick to it and then I have to switch to this one. For biking though I almost every time use a thin windproof jacket on top – it provides quite some wind protection but speed makes you feel every gust of wind much stronger.
For a relatively simple jacket – in terms of construction – it has quite a few nice features and details.
The fit is quite slim or you could call it close to the body. You can put it on another layer and still feel comfortable, as long as this another layer is not very thick. A thin fleece jacket would be ok, but a down layer would be in my opinion a little too much. The hem is longer than in previous version (great for climbing, biking, skiing etc.) – I even tend to sit on it while biking – only by an inch, but it feels instantly warmer. The cinch cords inside the hem can be easily tightened with one hand, even with gloves on – it takes just a second to do this. Here’s the first issue I have with the jacket. Loosening them is quite tricky, almost impossible to do with one hand and definitely impossible to do with gloves on. I get that you don’t usually tighten and loosen them every few minutes but I believe it is possible to design it so that it is easy to operate both ways. The sleeves don’t have the usual elastic cord on the edge, or a velcro – instead there’s quite a wide elastic cuff. It did not stretch a bit overtime and – though I might be overthinking it a little – the whole cuff feels a little less bulky thanks to this.
Both hand pockets are insulated. A great detail is that insulation covers the zippers which would otherwise allow cold air to get inside easier. Pockets are reasonably big – thick gloves fit inside easily. There are two slim flaps on the inside of the main zipper which when it’s closed, cover the back of it tightly giving some wind protection that the zipper alone would not have. While frequently you would see a wider single flap in this place, it would always get in the way, get stuck in the zipper, fold away etc. – switching to two slimmer flaps gets rid of all these problems. The zipper has a few „stops” near the top that you can use when you want to have the zip open just a little bit – it will not open further so easily „by itself”. There’s another issue I found, and this one is more essantial. This feature is pretty much gone after about a year of fairly intensive use. The „stops” are almost not noticeable now and simply don’t work as good as when it was new. Another thing is that placing one just an inch away from the other does not make much sens to me. It would be better to have one somewhere on the chest, so I could have the jacket really „open”. The zip does not open when walking so easily but still – the feature that was there is gone. And it was a nice one I used a lot.
The chest pocket has a reflective logo – nice touch – and is not insulated – which I think is a good thing. I carry my energy bars or snacks there and they don’t melt as they would in hand pockets. Not sure if this was the idea behind it since because they decided to use a different fabric for it, there was really no other way to do it than putting this piece of fabric on top. Even if it was not – I like it the way it is a lot. The last, third issue I found is about this very pocket. Both side pockets, with zips fully open, have still some „depth” – about 5cm/2” – left, so if you have any small item inside the pocket it is not likely to fall out unnoticed. The chest pocket zip opens almost to the very bottom. All depth that’s left is about 2cm – less than an inch. If you tend to carry any valuables inside, they might fall out. I used to carry my car keys until they fell into the snow when I was reaching for a snack. Maybe that was not very wise, but this is the pocket I use the least so it was logical for me to put the keys there. Putting valuables in the backpack is also worse idea I believe than having them on me all the time. If the zip was just a little shorter – the problem would be gone. A small carabiner inside like you can find in your backpack would be even better.
A great feature – my favourite one – is in the hood. I am quite sure this one is not a design accident – it is very well thought through. The hood is quite big, it will easily fit over my climbing helmet, but my bicycle helmet is just a little too big for it. If you use a big climbing helmet – this is something I would check before buying. The feature I am talking about is the cinch cord – or rather how it is placed. It runs around the hood just below your ear line. You can tighten the hood around the helmet with it but the best thing is that when not wearing a helmet, you can tighten the cord on your head and the hood turns into a beanie, how cool is that?. I know this might look stupid but it works. I can have the front open while keeping snug, warm, beanie like cover on top of my head and having back of my neck protected as well. It feels great – I have actually discovered this by accident after good few months of having the jacket, but better late than never, right?
The current version is slightly lighter than the previous one – men’s M weighs 375g, thanks to using lighter version of both face fabric and insulation and it is quite packable – I would say to about the size of a middleweight down jacket.
There’s no point discussing overall quality of this jacket – with such a reputable brand it should not be an issue at all, and it is not. This piece does what it is supposed to do – and at least in my opinion – extends expectations by quite a lot. Even with the small issues, I would not change my decision and would definitely get one again.