Arc’teryx Atom SL Jacket Review

 

This is my first foray into an apparel review.  To be honest, I tend to be cheap when it comes to trail running clothes, with most of my drawers consisting of race shirts and great finds from the aisles of TJ Maxx.  However, I do sometimes think about that old adage “you get what you pay for” and wonder if there is any truth to it.  So here I go, my chance to review a high end jacket from one of the top outdoor gear companies out there: the Atom SL jacket from Arc-teryx.

Product Overview

Out of the box, the jacket looks great.  solid looking construction and stitching.  I love the solid color pattern.  At only 250 grams (about 8.8 oz), it is super light, whether wearing it or rolling up nice and small and stashing it in your running pack.  One nice attention to detail is the “no-slip zip” feature.  It is a zipper with built-in “speed bumps” that prevent it from self opening while running.

On the inside of the jacket, you see the contrast of materials.  The front and back panels use a light insulation, which is great and blocking wind and keeping heat in.  Along the sides, you have fleece, which is designed to help circulation of air.

Inside the arm sleeves, you have the same fleece that runs along the underarms.  The rest of the sleeves swaps out the inner insulation material with a breathable mesh.  This does a great job at blocking out the wind, but regulating temperature and letting air circulate.

In Action

One word, unbelievable!  This is definitely not a jacket from TJ Maxx.  Let me lay out the scene for you.  An early winter day, with 20 degree Fahrenheit temps.  Coming up out of shelter onto a ridge line with full exposure only to be suddenly hit with an unrelenting 40 mph wind that made it feel at least 15 degrees colder.  Within minutes, my double-gloved hands and face started to hurt from the biting cold.  What was it in this hour or so in these conditions that didn’t get cold?  The answer, anything covered by the Atom SL.  I decided to wear only a compression base layer beneath the Atom SL and despite nature’s attempts that day, it lost!  What was even more impressive is that while the cold never got in, it was ventilated enough that I always felt comfortable and never too sweaty.  I attribute this to the correct use and placement of the different materials used.  While this is part of their Spring line, its insulation and super light weight makes it a great winter running jacket.  If I am to be perfectly honest…this may be the best performing taril running jacket I have ever worn.

Shortcomings/Wish List

I have absolutely no issues with the performance of the Atom SL.  Most of my shortcoming have to do with design preference.

  • The hood cinch is located on the back of the jacket around the neck area.  With gloves on, I found it pretty difficult to cinch the hood up and ultimately had to take my glove off to do it.
  • Nitpicky, but I like a snap near the top of the zipper.  Sometimes I like to leave my jacket on, but unzip it a bit.  A snap keeps it from flapping open while running.  I think this is a definite nice to have on, particularly on a jacket marketed for Spring/Summer use.
  • Another thing I like are thumb holes.  This is more of a preference thing though.  The cuff design is effective at keeping the jacket in place and preventing cold air from getting in, but I still kind of like them.

Why Arc’teryx?

One of the questions I ask myself of any product with a premium price tag is, “is the product worth the extra amount of money that I am going to have to pay?”  The cost-benefit here is often a very individualistic decision.  With clothing, there are often a number of factors, short and long term, that one considers when making this decision.

  1. Quality, both in materials and construction
  2. Design/Utility
  3. Style

Being my first direct experience with Arc’teryx products, I can only comment on my short-term experience, but I will also throw in some third-party feedback I have heard from within my network.

Personally (and especially for active wear), I put emphasis on quality and design/utility; I don’t really care how stylish it is if it gets the job done.  From a quality perspective, if it holds up to the demands that I put on it and in the process lasts 3x as long as a competing product before requiring replacement, it is often pays for itself.  Beyond the tangible cost comparison though is the design/utility factor.  In other words, how much attention to detail went into the design and how well does it perform the job I am asking of it.

What I can say about quality is that it seems to be very well constructed in all aspects.  The stitching looks sound and the materials are definitely high end.  I cannot say for sure how time will treat it, but I have high hopes that I will use this jacket for a long time.

As far as design/utility, it was perfect for a cold trail run.  Going back to the saying, you definitely get what you pay for.  This jacket performs, hand down, better than any that I have gotten for cheaper.  Assuming that what appears to be great construction results in this jacket lasting a long time too, I would say that it is definitely worth the investment.

Conclusion

 

I have said already that Arc-teryx is marketing the Atom SLt as a spring/summer jacket.  I think that is appropriate for hiking on a chilly day or for some late season skiing even.  However, as a trail runner or anyone else getting their heart rate up and generating a lot of body heat, this is a great jacket for the winter use to.

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