Nothing is more important in your adventure travel than packing the correct gear for the job. Whether this is the right set of cams for a pitch through Joshua Tree or a comfortable pair of all purpose shoes for exploring Venice, the wrong gear can drastically affect the way you travel and ultimately can make or break a trip.
Skiing, in particular is a sensitive topic for me. Having spent each winter on a different hill for the past dozen years, I’ve always struggled to find the right gear to keep me warm – keep my fingers and toes correctly insulated, my face dry and my head covered, and I’ve constantly been let down by the performance of my gear.
Four years ago I finally found a system that worked well for me in the Salomon Advanced Skin line of jackets, a two part series that is extremely waterproof and just as warm to boot.
Technology has advanced, since then, however, and on a recent ski excursion to Snowbird in Salt Lake City I decided to take a look at the newest state of the art. Arc’teryx’s Atlas AR jacket, their top of the line insulated mountainside system was where I started
Key requirements? It needed to be lightweight, warm and waterproof. But with technology as advanced as it is today, all jackets should have these features, right? So I’ll take a look through some of the finer details of the jacket, what takes the technology above and beyond the competition, what areas I’d like to see improved and explain what justifies the $400 price tag.
Among adventure gear brands, Arc’teryx has long had a reputation as one of the best designers and manufacturers. Zippers are taped and seamed, and zippers are well and thoughtfully built to be waterproof and not invasive. So regardless of how much snow or sleet you splash onto them they won’t let in moisture. The Atlas AR is no exception, with two hip pockets, a left sternum pocket, two inner compartments and a left arm pocket.
Outside, the jacket is large and well styled with smooth Gore Windstopper material on the outer faces. At 6’3″, the Large was almost too long for me, although I suppose that’s important for keeping snow out of your pants when you wipe out. The tall collar has a zippered compartment from which a hood can be extracted, adding an additional layer if conditions are hazardous, but this also limits your side-to-side visibility, so if you’re bombing down the mountainside you probably want to keep this down.
Inside, the waterproof shell is insulated with lightweight, PrimaLoft media. This means that you get the waterproof, lightweight benefits of a regular shell but you also have insulation inside of the jacket so that you don’t need an extra fleece layer. It also means that you’re going to be warm on the mountainside. With the weather at about 30 degrees I wore a base layer, long sleeve t-shirt and sweater underneath my Atlas AR jacket, and by the time I reached the chair lift I was roasting.
It’s misleading in a way, because the jacket is so light and compactable, but that little amount of insulation in the jacket goes a long, long way.
It’s also got a standard powder skirt, draw strings at the waist and nifty sleeve skirts for wrists so that you don’t get snow up your arms.
One interesting feature of the jacket is the Recco avalanche beacon. A small black patch on your upper right arm is where the passive beacon sits, and in case of any emergencies, anyone (presumably, the ski patrol) with a Recco detector should be able to find you under the snow by tracking this beacon. Pretty cool, if you’re skiing in avalanche zones, but probably not necessary if you’re riding on the paltry hills of the Midwest. Unfortunately, I was not able to test the Recco avalanche beacon.
Taking the jacket down the hill, the first thing that you’ll probably notice about the Atlas AR is how windproof it is. If you tuck your face into the tall collar, you can barely feel an external effects on your body, and I took more than one run in this manner.
The tall collar is great for this use, but with it in close proximity to your mouth, it does tend to build up moisture and if your neck is small like mine, it’ll scoop up snow pretty quickly while you’re tomahawking down the hill. Many jackets have a felt or cloth material right at the collar to keep your face warm and dry, but the Atlas AR doesn’t have this. Any resulting moisture around your neck area will therefore just bleed down the inside front of the jacket.
This can be a bit of a concern if you’re carrying your phone or camera on the inside of your jacket. I usually keep my electronics inside of my jacket or well positioned in case (when) I fall, but I found that the outside pockets were in sensitive places and the inside pockets were moist, so I ended up keeping most of my equipment in my jeans. Comparatively, in my Solomon jacket there is an external clavicle pocket where I tend to keep my camera.
Otherwise, the jacket performed well on and off the hill, keeping me warm, away from wind, and providing a wealth of places to store gear. Oh and on top of that, it looks great. Even though my demo model was Oscar-the-Grouch-green, I got a lot of compliments.
Would I buy one? Maybe not for the $400 off the shelf, but if it was a good price at the end of the season I would seriously consider it.