My trusty MEC Outtathere jacket, purchased on clearance sale using my annual dividend in preparation for Fat Dog 120 ’16, has seen me through a lot of adventures. Its cheerful orange is highly visible, and it packs down into a tiny package. However, its fit is not very sleek, and the Pertex fabric is quite delicate – the lumbar region showed significant wear within a couple runs, and within less than a year, I was repairing significant tears in the facing fabric. Nonetheless, it delivered value for money.
Eventually, though, it was time to upgrade, and the Arcteryx Norvan jacket was a great choice. The headline talking points which drew me are the lightweight Goretex C-knit fabric, the cheerfully visible colours, and the light weight (not as light as some, but still really good).
Goretex fabrics come in two main types (with some variants and oddieties) – 2-ply, where the membrane is bonded to the outer facing fabric and is protected by a separate liner, and 3-ply, where the membrane is sandwiched between outer and inner facing fabrics. 2-ply tends to be cheaper and more breathable, but less durable; 3-ply is typically the choice for premium technical products. The Goretex C-knit Backer fabric is an incremental improvement on existing 3-ply Goretex fabrics; the lighter inner face fabric produces 10% saving in weight, 15% improvement in breathability, and reductions in bulk and snagging when putting it on. The outer facing fabric chosen for the Norvan is a very lightweight rip-stop. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered!
At the end of the day, this produces a jacket tipping the scales at 215g. While not quite as light as the Outtathere, there are many technical features to offset this. These include, roughly from top to bottom…
The hood is a three-panel design, with a slight reinforcement in the brim and elastic rim. While some customers have found the brim gets in the way of their vision or is too big, I find that it works well. The hood doesn’t turn with my head unless the zip is done up all the way, but this hasn’t proven a major problem. There is taffeta patch at the nape of the neck, and a kiss panel – a fold of fabric covering the top of the zip to prevent irritation of the lips, reduce water leakage, and prevent us guys from catching our manly Gary Robbins-style beards. There is no cinch or stowage on the hood – which is consistent with the lightweight, sleek goals of the jacket.
The closure is a mid-to-light YKK “WaterTight” zipper with a full-weight fabric hem to prevent wind and rain getting in or your inner fabrics getting snagged in the zip. In the past, Arcteryx may have opted for a water-proof unhemmed zip, but I understand these had durability issues. The top and bottom of the zipper are reinforced with tabs of double-thickness fabric.
The panel joins on the jacket have been carefully located to avoid pressure or rubbing areas – in particular, the top of the shoulders, the whole of the back, and under the arms. The joins between panels use a flat technique – the edges of the panels are welded edge-to-edge, rather than sewn, with taping to reinforce and ensure the seal. This reduces weight and the potential for chaffing. The design allows for a form-fitting design with minimal excess fabric, and curved arms for a comfortable fit.
There are no pockets on the jacket, except for a small internal pocket on the chest. This is too small for a phone, but you can fit a small MP3 player, a couple credit cards, or maybe your car keys. The pocket has a tiny internal division which can hold a single key, safe from falling out.
Ventilation is improved by pit vents in the armpits. There is no closure – the idea is that you will need ventilation as long as your arms are moving… when they stop, they close the vents. The forward-facing slits will scoop air as you run. There is a small bar-tack sewn at either end and in the middle of the vents to strengthen them, so they don’t tear.
The cuffs are asymmetric. The cuff is longer on the back of the hand to prevent water running into gloves; this section is lined with taffeta for comfort. The front of the jacket is shorter to stay out of the way, and is elastic.
The hem of the jacket is simple. The back lower to prevent riding up, and is elasticized.
The last detail to mention is the reflective details – the Arcteryx logo on the left chest, Gore log on the right arm, and flashes on each wrist and hip. There is only a limited amount of reflective material – I would want more for a road-running jacket – but it is nice touch.
The Norvan comes in an “SL” (Super Light) version, weighing in at a ridiculous 120g. This is achieved through a type of GORE-TEX® with “Permanent Beading Surface” – basically, the Gore membrane forms the outer surface, with no facing fabric. This reduces weight, improves breathability, and eliminates the potential for a wet surface fabric which can contribute to chilling. However, it comes at some significant costs – it comes only in black (although the zippers are coloured to break up the full ninja effect – blue for men, red for women), and the durability is much less. Since I frequently run with a pack, and value visibility (to stand out in photos and so searchers can more easily find me), I decided this wasn’t the jacket for me.
The bottom line for me is that this is a great summer jacket for running, regular climbing, light hiking, and social wear. If I’m hiking with a heavy pack, heavy alpine climbing or ski-touring I would want a heavier jacket, like my Alpha. But, for its designed purpose, I am loving it!