The Atom LT Hoody is a new product from Arc'Teryx for winter 2009. It's part of a new range of lightweight garments with synthetic insulation designed primarily for use as mid layers in cold conditions.
Arc'Teryx have long used Primaloft as an insulating material in their products, with the Atom LT Hoody they have used a lightweight version of Primaloft called Coreloft. Coreloft weighs only 60gm/m2 so isn't as warm as heavier insulations out there, but is considerably lighter and more compressible. The Luminaria shell is basically a lightweight, slightly stretchy, ripstop nylon material with a DWR coating on the face and a light PU coating on the inside. This does provide the Atom with pretty good levels of water resistance and excellent breathability. The jacket's lining feels good when worn next to the skin and slides easily over other layers.
A close up of the Atom's Coreloft insulation and Luminaria shell
So far then, nothing out of the ordinary - there are plenty of lightweight synthetics on the market nowadays. However with the Atom LT Hoody, Arc'teryx have added another fabric into the mix - they have used Polartec Powerstretch Hardface on the side of the torso and under the arms. This fabric has similar characteristics to traditional Powerstretch that most people have used at one time or another, but with a special face to the fabric that increases durability and abrasion resistance over long periods. The idea behind the use of this fabric is that it reduces bulk when using the jacket as a mid layer under a shell. It also helps to provide a snug and athletic fit.
Powerstretch panels run up the side of the Atom and under the arms for a trim bulk free fit.
I think it's a good concept. Using different fabrics in different zones of a garment is certainly not a new idea, though there aren't many insulated products on the market like the Atom that uses the concept in this way. The drawback is when you wear the Atom as outerwear - the powerstretch panels are neither as warm nor as wind resistant as the rest of the jacket. However, I think this is an issue only when wearing a baselayer underneath. If the Atom is worn over, say, a soft shell, the difference in wind resistance of the side panels isn't too noticeable.
One comment I would add is that if the Atom is worn as Arc'Teryx designed it - as a mid layer - it would be too warm for many active users in the UK. Perhaps for very cold Scottish conditions, or if you simply feel the cold, it would work. As an extra layer to throw on over other existing layers for belaying and lunch stops, however, it's ideal for UK use. Used as a mid layer for climbing and skiing in places like the Alps or the Rockies in winter it's going to be ideal.
Features wise the Atom is fairly basic - this helps keep the weight down to around 375g for a men's medium. You get a couple of zipped hand pockets that are lined with microfleece and a zipped internal pocket. The garment doesn't come with a stuff sack and doesn't pack into its own pocket - something that would be welcome. I really like the cuffs on the jacket. They are made from a stretch knit material that forms a great seal without being too tight. They are also very neat and low profile when worn under a shell.
Stretch knit cuffs
The front zip seems to strike a good balance between being light but also durable (it's an YKK Vislon#3 for all you zip geeks out there, or is that just me?) I like the way Arc'Teryx often use a more durable option than other manufacturers for the main zip. After all, it's probably the last thing you would want to fail on a jacket when in use. One thing I'm still not sure about, however, is the fact that the front zip doesn't lock. The idea behind this is that the zip runs very smoothly and the jacket is very easy to undo, even with one hand. I'm also informed by Arc'Teryx that a locking mechanism often reduces durability. The issue is that the zip can slide down on it's own a few cm's when in use. It's not a major issue; it can just be a little annoying.
The Scuba hood on the Atom is a pretty simple affair. It has a structured shape, but lacks any kind of adjustment and just has a piece of Lycra sewn into the hem. It's designed to fit under a helmet rather than over it. The lack of draw cords does mean that this works fairly well, though I'm not sure how many climbers out there would want to utilise the hood in this way. Again, I think in very cold conditions this idea would work well, though I suspect most people would find an insulated hood under a helmet in typical UK conditions a little too warm perhaps less versatile than one that is designed to go over.
The Atom's Scuba Hood
For use without a helmet I would definitely prefer the Atom's hood to have some adjustment. Its fine when the wind isn't blowing, but pretty much any breeze will either blow the hood over the face, or off the head completely.
In terms of the fit I think the Atom LT Hoody is going to be pretty much spot on for most users. I found a medium fit me great - I sometimes take a large so this is an indication that it's certainly not an overly close fit. The length is great - it's shortish at the front, neat under a harness and has a fairly pronounced dropped hem - all in all a good fit for active use as a mid or outer layer.
Great to throw on during breaks - RAC Boulders, Snowdonia.
All in all I've been really enjoying using the Atom. It's certainly very comfortable to wear and works well as an overlayer when cragging or bouldering. It's also great for general outdoor use. I've no doubt in cold conditions it would work really well under a shell. I would definitely prefer some hood adjustment though; this is this reason why it doesn't get the full 5 stars. I do however like the concept behind the use of the low bulk side panels - it enables the jacket to feel warm whilst remaining neat and low bulk at the same time. I'll certainly be wearing the Atom LT Hoody a lot this winter so I'll update this review with my thoughts next spring.
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