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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Gear Review: Salming Trail T1

I have been wanting to post my review of the Salming Trail T1 for a while, but end of the year races and a bit of off-season rest greatly limited the amount of time I have had to review new products, especially shoes (which I don’t like to experiment with too close to races).  After finally getting a few more runs in them recently though, I can go ahead and share my thoughts.

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal affiliation with Salming, however, they did provide me with a demo pair for my review.

Product Description

Salming, hailing from Sweden, is one of the newcomers (relatively speaking) to the US running shoe market.  To date, they offer six different models, with the Trail T1 being their lone trail model.  I have heard great things about their road shoes, so I was interested to see how well their entry into the trail market performed.

Out of the box, the first thing you notice is the rather bold color scheme of the shoe.  Beyond that, you will see a pretty standard shoe that clearly takes a page or two from its road-based siblings.  It has a traditional lacing system and a traditional tongue.  One of the add-ons to the outside of the upper on the T1 is the RocShield, which is a toe guard that wraps around the outside front of the shoe to help protect the toes on those occasions where you catch a rock or root.

SAL_TRAIL_M_032

Specs

  • Weight: 10.2 oz
  • Drop: 5mm
  • Fit: Normal/True to Size

Fit

I would classify the fit of the T1 as true to size.  Its fit and feel feels similar to the Scarpa branded shoes that I have reviewed in the past, if not perhaps a tiny bit more snug.  It does have a bit of a stiffer feel than I expected and the upper doesn’t seem to have much stretch to it, which made me wonder how it would feel in action.  I have narrow feet and the shoes didn’t seem too big/wide, but as I learned in the run, I experienced a bit more slippage that I expected when I first put the shoes on.

In Action

As most of you know by now, I do most of my test runs in and around the varying terrain of Salt Lake City.  Running in the mountains and foothills in the T1s ended up giving me two distinctly different impressions.

In the foothills, where the trails are a bit more groomed and rolling, these shoes performed well.  They were responsive and provided a great amount of traction, allowing me to run with confidence.  I really have no complaints on this type of terrain to call out as they seemed to have been engineered with this in mind.  It was when I took them to the steep, technical trails of the Wasatch where these fell a bit short for me.  For one, I had a bit of slipping in the shoe on the steeper downhills that caused hotspots after only 7-8 miles.  Another cause for concern was the stiffness of the outsole.  They didn’t seem to conform to the terrain as well as I would have liked.  While I had no ankle rolling incidents to speak of, I was not comfortable in the way the shoe flexed when traveling over rocks.  They also didn’t seem to loosen up after about 50 miles on the shoes either, so that is a minor concern for someone like me that has a history of rolled ankles.

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • The upper seems pretty durable, which I would expect from the nylon material used.  And while I have read other reviews expressing some concerns with the feet getting hot because of this material, I didn’t really experience anything of the sort.
  • The outer provides solid, reliable traction on all conditions that I tested (no snow).
  • Pretty responsive, allowing for fast running, despite a weight that is somewhat on the heavier side.

Cons

  • My biggest complaint was with the stiffness of the outsole, which caused some uneven footing on technical terrain.  If you have a tendency to roll ankles, these might not be your best option.
  • While slippage wasn’t an issue on flatter stuff, it was definitely something I couldn’t seem to fix in the T1 on steeper downhills.  It makes me hesitant to use these shoes for anything over ten or so miles.

Recommendation

Score: 3.6 of 5

Overall, this is a respectable first entrant from Salming into the trail market.  While there is definitely some room for improvement, I think this shoe gives Salming a solid foundation to gather feedback and build their future trail line off of.  I would slate this shoe in for those that prefer the feel of a road shoe and spend most of their time on well-groomed, flatter trails.  I will still continue to use these in my neighboring foothills, but will likely find something else in my closet for the more mountainous destinations.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Gear Review: Coast HL27 Headlamp

As I was walking through Outdoor Retailer back in August, I was passing by the Coast booth and their product line up caught my eye.  Having never heard of them before, I decided to stop by and have a chat.  They had a very interesting looking suite of light products, including the Coast HL27.  As it turns out, they don’t specifically target their products toward the trail running crew…you are more likely to find their product line up inside of a Home Depot than your local running store.  Still, the product design and specs all looked promising and the $60 price tag is hard to beat, so after a conversation with their Director of Marketing, I decided to pick up a HL27 to test and review.  Let’s have a look shall we?

DISCLAIMER: None to note.  They were selling them at Outdoor Retailer for a discount, so I decided to buy one to review.  Afterall, you can never have too many headlamps!

In The Box and Specs

In the box, you have the headlamp with 3 AA batteries included.  The design of the headlamp is a three strap harness with the battery pack on the back of the head, similar to the Petzl NAO.  The lamp is a single LED center-mounted light, which tilts to adjust the aim of the light.  It includes a pretty simple interface, with an on/off button and a dial, which allows you to quickly adjust the light output.

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Price: $60 Retail

Light Output: Variable, 1 lumen -> 330 lumens
Runtime: 93 hours -> 8:30 hours
Beam Distance: 7 meters – 129 meters
Weight: 6.9 ounces

Fit

The fit of this headlamp is actually quite nice.  It’s three strap harness approach fits securely to the head with no movement, all the while not feeling too tight or restrictive.  The light unit on the front has a relatively small footprint, which is also nice.  It is slightly curved to conform to the shape of the forehead as opposed to having an awkward boxy feel like some others I have tested.  If I was to complain about anything regarding the fit, it would probably be the battery pack.  I like that they don’t use a proprietary battery pack because of the flexibility.  At the same time, the tradeoff is that standard batteries tend to take up more space, resulting in a larger battery pack.  In my use of this, it didn’t get in the way of anything (like my hat or Orange Mud rear bottle pack), but it definitely feels a bit bulkier in the back.

In Action

First, the back yard test.  I usually take this picture as a means of getting a general idea of the light output, range, and spread pattern.  As you can see, the light output is pretty solid at the max 330 lumens.  It has a super wide light spread and throws light outward to a decent distance.  The HL27 does not have a beam mode, offering only a flood light option.  [UPDATE on 10/15/2015: Even the best reviewers make mistakes, especially when they rip open the product out of excitement and don’t thoroughly read the instructions.  The HL27 does have a spot mode, controlled by turning the bezel right in front of the power button.  In fact, it is great, because it also takes a dimmer approach that allows you to go from flood mode to beam mode and anywhere in between depending on your need.  Apologies for missing this initially.  I have updated the pictures to include one of spot beam mode.]  In the comparison pictures below, you will quickly notice the difference between the HL27 and the Petzl NAO (at 535 lumens).  You can definitely see a difference between each of the pictures, but my feeling here is that this comes down to a matter of preference; Assuming that the distance that the light casts forward is acceptable, I kind of prefer the wider light coverage because it gives me a more comfortable feeling of my immediate surroundings.

 Coast HL27 (Flood)

 Coast HL27 (Spot)

NAO Light Output Petzl NAO

Second, is the run test.  I took this out on a few runs, including the first part of the Bear 100 recently and I would say that for a lamp that was not designed specifically for running, it did a fantastic job.  To revisit the flood vs. beam light approach, I found the lamp in flood mode to provide ample light output.  I never felt like I couldn’t see obstacles in my immediate path without having to adjust my speed and was always able to a good bearing on where I was.

My absolutely favorite part of this lamp is the way in which you can adjust light output on the fly.  Most lamps I have used either allow you to program in a few light output modes or automatically adjust the light output for you (i.e., reactive lighting).  The HL27 incorporates a dial, right behind the on/off button, that acts as a dimmer switch.  This dial allows you to quickly go from 1 to 330 lumens and everything in between…I love this flexibility and level of control.  The second great aspect is the battery life, which provides 8+ hours of use on max output.  I do wish it had a battery life indicator though so I didn’t have to use fully charged batteries on each run to feel comfortable that I wasn’t accidentally running on low batteries.

Overall Thoughts

Pros

  • 8+ hour battery life on full light output is hard to beat.  In most cases, if you are also tuning the light output throughout the run based on what you need, it should last the duration of the night.
  • The light output and flood-to-spot dials offer full flexibility and control to the runner in regards to controlling real-time light output.
  • Overall value.  For $60, this is a feature-packed headlamp!

Cons

  • No battery life indicator to tell you when you are close to going dark.  This is key for many trail runners since the last thing you want is to be caught in a remote area in the dark.
  • Large battery pack adds bulk and a little bit of weight to the lamp (about a half an ounce heavier than the Petzl NAO).
  • Although I didn’t experience any issues in my initial use, the tilt mechanism on the lamp seems to be a bit fragile.  We will see how durable it is with continued use, but worth calling out.

Overall, the Coast HL27 is solid running headlamp.  $60 for a 330 lumen headlamp with 8+ hours of battery life is phenomenal.  At half to a third of the cost of other comparable brands on the market, this lamp is a great option for the cost sensitive trail runner that isn’t necessarily bothered by the specific con’s that I called out.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!