It weighs less than a pika but can keep you warm in the alpine, according to its makers. Editor Vince Hempsall cuddles up to the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody.

Since 1989, Vancouver, BC-based Arc’teryx has been at the cutting edge of outdoor gear and apparel design. It was the first to use heat laminate technology in climbing gear, creating the legendary Vapor harness. It then applied that technology and a new style of form-fitting foam to the Bora backpack, which also enjoys mythic status, and then upped the ante when it created the Alpha SV jacket (The SV stands for “Severe weather”) incorporating new textiles and tech to create a lightweight but bombproof shell. In recent years, the company has continued to walk the line of grams versus burl in everything from its backpacks to its footwear. (Check out our review of the Arc’teryx Konseal approach shoe.) For this honest review we don the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody and hurl some burl at it to see if the micrograms add up.

Snapshot: Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody

  1. Pros: It’s so light! It weighs the same as a banana and Clif bar — and neither one of those are going to keep the wind at bay.
  2. Cons: This isn’t a robust item. Wear it hiking, running or under a shell but don’t take it on its own to the crag.
  3. Price: $260 Cdn
  4. Who Should Buy: Trail runners, alpine hikers, mountain bikers – anyone who plays outdoors and wants a light layer on hand that doesn’t take up much space.
  5. Who Shouldn’t Buy: Urbanites who never get out of the city: this is technical clothing, not a show-off piece.
  6. Helpful Hack: It easily stuffs into one of the hand pockets.
  7. Author’s overall rating: 8/10

The Test

Since it’s arrival at my house in the mountain town of Nelson, British Columbia, I’ve hauled the micro-light Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody on alpine climbing missions, into the forest for mellow hikes, on long and short mountain bike forays, to the crag for afternoons of rock climbing, and on many many occasions, around the block with a stroller and a toddler.


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The Verdict

An employee at Arc’teryx once emoted about the frustration she felt when writers and gear reviewers use a product doing a sport it wasn’t designed for and then rate it poorly. I share that story because the feature photo of this review shows me at a crag wearing the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody and preparing to jump on a sport climb. Technically the Atom isn’t designed for this kind of activity and it showed: during that day’s outing I scuffed the forearms on the hard gniess rock and tore a seam on the right wrist. So don’t let the picture fool you: I wouldn’t recommend wearing the Atom as an outer layer while cragging or alpine climbing. That said, I do highly recommend the it as a mid-layer for cool to cold temperatures or as an outer layer on chillier days when you’re exposed to the elements but not scraping up against any of them.

The best feature of the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody is its warmth-to-weight ratio. This piece only weighs 269 grams but the insulation in its core is so robust, I was practically sweating in it on cool mornings while walking the kids to the forest trails near my house. The secret to its insulation is the “highly crimped, multi-denier siliconized polyester yarn that has undergone a special process which reduces the thickness of the material by 50%, without reducing its insulation value by the same amount,” says the company’s literature. In short, they’ve created a lightweight, breathable, thermally efficient 100% polyester fibre that feels great and packs up to the size of a softball.

This is the size of the Atom SL Hoody when it’s balled up.

There are other great aspects of the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody aside from the insulated core. For example, the articulated elbows, gusseted underarms, and fleece stretch side panels are why I took it rock climbing in the first place. So comfortable and moveable! As mentioned, though, the exterior fabric isn’t designed for that kind of abrasion. But the fabric’s flexibility and the snug, yet pliable cut, make this an extremely wearable piece that, although highly technical, found its way into my day-to-day wardrobe. (The irony that I’m wearing the Atom SL Hoody while sitting in a climate-controlled office and writing this is not lost on me.)

The final feature that I really like about the hoody is its well-designed minimalism. There are only two hand pockets but they both have zippers so you can lock stuff away. There are only two drawstrings, one at the waist and one on the hood, and both are easy to use with one hand. The stiff visor on the hood is small enough that it doesn’t impede packability. And the sleeves are cut such that the fabric extends out to cover the back of your hand but recedes at the junction of your wrist and thumb to allow for maximum movement.

The only downside I noted about the hoody is the thin fabric of the hood itself: it doesn’t really keep the wind at bay. The one time I was caught in an alpine squall with the Atom SL and donned the hood, I felt like I was covering my noggin with tissue paper. The solution was wearing a ball cap underneath the hood but it might be worth revisiting the layering to allow for a bit more wind-resistance.

That’s a minor detail, however. Overall, I very much like the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody and it’s now part of my regular attire, whether I’m hiking in the alpine or typing in the office. Just don’t wear it as an outer layer when rock climbing.

The Deets – Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody

    • Coreloft Compact 40 synthetic insulation in the core
    • Fleece stretch side panels
    • Articulated elbows and gusseted underarms
    • Two hand pockets with zippers
    • Stowable, adjustable, low profile uninsulated hood
    • Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish
    • Weight: 269 g (9.5 oz)
    • Colours: Black, Elysium, Microchip, Helios
    • Sizes: XS – XXL
    • Price: $260 Cdn

Author’s Note: Mountain Culture Group is not paid for these reviews. They are honest expressions of our opinions. In some instances we are given the product to keep but that does not sway our assessment. If we dislike a product and feel it would score a rating of less than 5/10, we simply won’t review it.