We all have a jacket which is our “go-to” jacket – the one you find yourself using most times, even when it may not be the most appropriate, right? Don’t have one? Impossible, but it is probably a good time to upgrade. Let me recommend my go-to jacket: the Arc’teryx Atom LT hooded jacket. I bought this jacket on sale at Ellis Brigham in London not long after I started working on the shop floor, in the summer of 2011, and I got it for 50% off (50% off!!!). It was even cheaper than getting it with the staff discount, all because it was “last year’s colour” – not that I care, I got a great colour. You can pick lots of older colours anywhere, including Amazon.
Since 2011 the Atom LT has been with me through too many occasions to count, from the mundane to the adventurous, and from the appropriate and the very inappropriate, I have had many experiences with it. Over the last 2-3 years it was also used by my wife when the pregnancy belly was too much for her jackets, performing as a low key resource in less extreme conditions. On trips, it has gotten soaked several times and still managed to keep me warm. It has been made muddy, pulled and stretched, been cleaned and even had some baby puke on it; this jacket has been through it all and is still here to tell you about it.
The Atom LT is a classic synthetic insulation hybrid jacket, using polyester-based crimped fibers to create air trapping insulation. The hybrid part of the Atom LT is the hardface fleece side panels that increase mobility and breathability, while allowing a tighter fitting jacket. The Atom LT can be used as a standalone jacket (shell and insulation combo) thanks to the wind proof external fabric (Nylon shell) or as a mid layer under a shell in colder conditions (thanks to the panels and the closer fit).
The Arc’teryx Atom LT has by now become one of the most popular light insulation jackets out there and has a non hooded version too (for the urban “adventurer,” I guess). On some days in a few places (Kendal England, Boulder Colorado and the likes) you will find that most outdoorsy folks around are wearing their own versions.
Arc’teryx is one of the biggest names in the outdoors market, selling high end premium clothing and gear focused (originally) on backcountry skiing and ice climbing. Founded in 1989 in Vancouver, Canada, Arc’teryx started and became one of the industry leaders in terms of highly technical, and very expensive, gear and apparel. For a long time Arc’teryx was famous for manufacturing exclusively in their Vancouver factory, but after an influx of demand they have started also manufacturing in China, Bangladesh and other Asian countries. Now, the “Canada Made” products are high in demand, despite not showing any better quality compared to the Asian counter parts.
I’ll summarise the Arc’teryx spiel by saying that for a very long time Arc’teryx was very much a core product company, using high-end fabrics, membranes and insulations to cater to the winter, off piste athlete. Lately they have been offering more and more products (they even do footwear now!) that cater to other sports. This trend is very similar to what happened with The North Face back in the 90’s when they diluted their range, which leads to some concerns about the future of Arc’teryx’s products.
The Arc’teryx core range (Essentials on their site) offer products in 4 main (now it is about 8 or 9, I’m not even sure any more) activity groups: SV (SeVere weather), AR (All Round), LT (LighT) and SL (Super Light). These 4 activity groups usually reflect how tough a fabric will be, how much insulation will be used and what kind of membrane there is, with the SV offering the most weather protection but the heaviest weight to the SL which focuses on weight saving above everything else. The Atom comes in 2 main versions: the SV (no longer made), AR and the LT. The difference between them is the amount of insulation, the fit and a few features. The Atom LT and AR also come in a hoodless version, but going hoodless in the outdoors is foolish so I won’t even talk about those. The big difference between the Atom LT and AR is that the LT has 60g insulation in the body and hood with fleece side panels while the AR has 120g insulation on the body, 80g in the arms and 60g in the hood.
The Arc’teryx Atom LT comes in an Athletic fit, which means wide shoulder, trim torso and longer cut. I’m 178cm, 38in chest and 30in waist and wear size Medium. It has a great fit on the shoulder and the arm length, but the torso has a bit too much room and a small would have made a better cut.
- Arc’teryx weight: 375g (13.2oz)
- Real weight: 392g (13.8oz)
- Centre Back Length: 70cm (27.5″)
- Sleeve length (neck to cuff): 80cm (31.5″)
- Torso diameter: 114cc (45″)
- Hips diameter: 106cm (44″)
The jacket has:
- Non adjustable, helmet compatible hood (changed in 2014 to have a single cord cinching)
- 2 fleece lined hand warmer zipped pockets
- 1 internal pocket on the left
- Hem “one hand” cinching
- Elastic cuffs
- High collar with fleece lining (upgraded in 2014)
- 60g Coreloft insulation in the body, arms and hood. Coreloft is Arc’teryx’s proprietary synthetic insulation made from silicon coated Polyester crimpled fibres. It is very compressible compared to other synthetic insulation, light and retains thermal properties even when wet.
- Luminara Nylon made shell (changed to Tynon 20D in 2014). The Coreloft is shelled in a lightweight, rip-stop style fabric that is very soft and has a “matte” feel to it, making it great as a stealthier item. The nylon weave allows for some breathability too.
- Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface fleece side panels. Power Stretch is an extremely effective fleece in thermal retention as it is very flexible and stretchy. The Hardface finish gives the fleece some wind and water repellence.
The main feature in this jacket is the use of the really amazing Coreloft insulation. The Atom LT is not my first or only synthetic insulation jacket, and I have used all of the Polartec insulations (One/Sport/Eco/Alpha), Thinsulate, and more, and the Coreloft is the most compressible of them all. This great feature comes with a decreased level of warmth to thickness (though it wins in the warmth to weight ratio) and is best combined with other garments.
Most see the Atom LT as a high activity mid layer and not a classic belay jacket (short rest over shell jacket), but I have found it to be too warm to be used while active and treat it more as a standalone item.
How I use it
As mentioned, I used my Atom LT as a full on insulation jacket, and in winter I just combine it with a light down sweater underneath for extra warmth. Most of the time the Atom LT sits at the top of my backpack and is pulled out the moment I stop as a quick break jacket over whatever I’m wearing (even rain shells). The Atom has been on every single one of my adventures in the UK and I plan on continuing to use it for many more years to come.
The fact that both the insulation and the fabric are not affected by being wet and that they dry so quickly if wet, means that I often find myself in the wet British Isles just putting it over my waterproof jacket while it is still raining if I stop for a break and needs some extra warmth.
The Atom LT can comfortably be used on its own in shoulder seasons with nothing but a thin shirt under it. I found that I’m comfortable down to 15°c while sitting and 5°c while in low activity this way. When it is colder than that, I add a fleece or a down sweater and that will boost the temp rate, bringing it to the sub freezing.
Besides outdoors, this is also my most used day-to-day jacket and I’ve worn it to the office, going out (the inappropriate part) or anything in between. It is easily compressible and can be stashed in a pack or tossed anywhere.
After 4 years of use, the Atom LT is still going strong. There are no tears (though I have climbed with it) and there are only a few minor stains. Yes, the baby puke came off easily. The insulation has not lost much of its loft, though it is a bit sagging in high abrasion parts like the shoulders. The low profile cuffs still hold well (no lost elasticity) and the hood has shown no signs of wear.
- Very light and compressible
- Still warm even if completely wet
- Dries quickly and doesn’t suffer any repercussions from being wet
- Great fit, comfortable and (in my opinion) looks great
- Good balance of core insulation (Coreloft) with the high mobility and breathability of the fleece side panels (Polartec Power Stretch Hardface)
- Windproof fabric and wind resistant side panels
- Warm pockets (fleece)
- Long drop tail (hem) for better coverage
- Layers easily over and under other items
- Big, helmet compatible hood
- High, soft, fleece lined collar (mid chin height)
- Non adjustable hood – probably the Atom LT’s biggest problem as it just drops over your head if not wearing a helmet. The hood was updated in 2014 to have a single, around the head, draw cord that solved this issue
- Non lock main zip – this might be seen as a good thing as it can be easily opened to drop hit, but usually it just means that it opens even when not really needed. In 2014 this was fixed using a stiffer collar
- Soft collar (too soft) that drops under the chin easily. This was fixed in 2014 using a stiffener in the collar itself to keep the collar up
- The Tynon (since 2014) fabric, in my opinion, doesn’t feel as soft as the previously used Luminara fabric
The Arc’teryx Atom LT is an expensive jacket (£190/$250), especially compared to others within this category. The high price tag is definitely represented in the quality of the jacket in all aspects, from the fit, to the features and durability. Despite having the jacket working hard for almost 5 years now, it still looks and feels great, usable in every possible way.
Whether it is to be used as a midlayer for lower impact, slow moving, cold activities, as an insulation in combination with other garments for a very warm option or as a throw-on insulating jacket when stopping your activity- this is a great jacket. The fact that it is so effective even if wet and dries very fast, makes it an ideal garment for wetter climates such as the UK or the North West USA. The fact that the Atom LT is so compressible and robust makes it an excellent travelling jacket (not really the original intention) as it can be pulled out and used in any conditions, even if the temperatures don’t always justify it.
If you are after a new insulation jacket, you can find the Arc’teryx Atom LT hooded version on sale in so many places, as the colours change every season and small tweaks are done to the design and features. I would recommend finding a post-2014 version to enjoy a nearly perfect jacket that has solved all the problems I found in my pre 2014 version.