Adventure journalist Matt Coté tests just how light you can go with a mid-layer while moving around the Selkirk Mountains in an Arc’teryx Atom Super Light Hoody.
Arc’teryx has long been the most ubiquitous outerwear brand in its native British Columbia—as common as cedar trees. Based at the foot of Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains, the design-focused company has been pumping out thoughtfully crafted pieces for every kind of weather and environment in its moody home province since 1989. The Canadian company’s designs have proven to work equally well from the rainforests of North Vancouver to the peaks of the Himalaya. But in the temperate wilds of the Kootenays, versatility is key. So I tested the superlight version of their classic Atom mid-layer to see just how minimal you can go in the Selkirk Mountains.
Snapshot: Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody
- Pros: Fits close but loose, comfortable, super light, packable, sheds snow and moisture well
- Cons: It’s lightly insulated, so gets hot quick when you’re moving, but cools down fast when you’re not
- Price: $250 Cdn
- Who Should Buy: Ski-tourers and mountaineers who run hot and need space savings when they stuff their layers in their packs
- Who Shouldn’t Buy: People who get cold easily, or live in very cold places
- Helpful Hack: Pair it with a robust shell and you stay nice and warm
- Author’s overall rating: 8/10
I’ve been ski touring and ski mountaineering with this layer since early November, mainly in the Selkirk Mountains, with a few forays into the more continental Purcells, and one good stormy spell on the damp, wet Coast. I’d always run soft shell as my mid-layer previously, but soft shell is bulky and doesn’t do a good job shedding snow and moisture. That was the main condition I wanted this layer for—uptracking in storms—and in the wind. I’ve put nearly 40 ski-touring days in the Arc’teryx Atom SL hoody to date, and its shone in all but the coldest of conditions.
Here in the Kootenays, there is a broad, happy mid-range of weather when there’s no better layer to have with you than this one. If the sun’s shining, or you’re moving, the insulation really activates. It’s cleverly crafted with stretchy breathable material under your pits that articulates and helps release your own moisture. When it’s windy, it does a better job cutting the breeze than a soft shell does, though the hood is fairly minimal and doesn’t realistically do much for cold or wind.
Where it shines most is in its packability. If real-estate is important to you, i.e. your pack is crammed with a lunch, crampons, rope and all your regular backcountry tools, it’s sometimes tough to strip down to your base layer and stuff your others inside your pack. The Atom SL, however squeezes down to almost nothing. Given its lightweight and minimal volume, it punches well above its weight in warmth, and is surprisingly tough. Brushing up against rocks and trees, thus far, hasn’t seemed to bother the garment at all. Arguably, this piece might be for gram counters, or people in more temperate regions. Sometimes, if the sun has a lot of punch, it’s also a bit too hot and not breathable enough. Other times, if it’s very cold, it’s not enough. If you carry a micro puffy with you, though, this makes a perfect under layer for that. Or toss a shell over the Atom SL, walk a few steps, and it turns into a mini furnace.
Maybe one of the nicest things about it is that it’s also easily washable if you do sweat in it. If you’re only going to have one mid-layer, and it gets cold where you live, the Atom SL might not be for you. If, however, you’re going to have a quiver of layers, this might become your most versatile and well-used one.
- Lightly insulated Coreloft™ Compact hooded jacket with air permeable side panels.
- Synthetic insulated mid layers
- Sizes: XS – XXL
- Weight: 260g / 9.2 oz
- Fit: Trim fit, hip length, cengre back length = 74 cm (29.1″)
- Activity: All Round
- Price: $250 Cdn