The big test: Insulated jackets reviewed (2018)

If you want to stop on a mountain to drink in the view, an insulated jacket will take away the chill – but should you choose a fleece jacket, a down jacket or a synthetic insulated jacket? Trail headed to the hills to find out...

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The runners up


Haglofs Heron Hood £100

Tester: Tim Butcher

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  • Material Pontetorto Technostretch fleece

  • Men’s S-XL

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Weight 425g (men’s XL)

The fleece fabric on this jacket has a good abrasion-resistant finish on the outside, while on the inside it’s quite fluffy to add more warmth. The hood was the best fitting out of the fleece jackets that I have used too, and so overall it feels very comfortable and ideal to wear as part of a layering system. However it is quite a lightweight fleece, so its use is limited to that of a mid layer in warmer weather. On cold days or for winter in Scotland I’d need either a thicker main insulation layer or an additional insulation layer to stay warm. I also noticed the wind driving through this layer easily. The price makes it feel like a luxury for something that won’t keep you warm year-round. But this lightweight fleece is ideal for walking in the UK from late spring through to early autumn.

Pros

Price, weight, packed size, great hood, works well as a warm-weather mid layer.

Cons

Not warm enough for colder spring or autumn days and so extra layers will be needed regularly and more so in winter.

Buy it if

You want an excellent fleece jacket for walking in warmer conditions.


Rab Alpha Flux £140

Tester: Jon Bennett

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  • Materials Polartec Alpha synthetic insulation

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 328g (M)

Polartec Alpha insulation has a core of lofted knit fibres, so it traps more air than fleece, and offers far more insulation, which makes it ideal as an additional layer to throw on over other layers when the temperature dips. It’s also exceptionally breathable, therefore it works well under waterproof layers. This jacket also gets stretch side panels, giving it a closer fit than other jackets and again making it ideal as part of a layering system. I also liked the way the hood fitted and moved with my head. It’s not the warmest option though. Yes it is great as an additional layer when moving, which is what it is designed for, but when sitting around I’d need extra insulation on colder days. It’s not that windproof either, so expect to need a wind or waterproof shell over the top to stay warm.

Pros

Weight and packed size, price, great hood, works well as part of a layering system when moving.

Cons

Warmer than fleece, but you’ll need extra insulation in cold weather, especially if not moving.

Buy it if

You want extra insulation to wear as part of a layering system while moving.


Arc’teryx Cerium SL Hoody £270

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Materials 850 fill power down, Coreloft synthetic insulation on shoulders and cuffs

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s XS-L

  • Weight 236g (men’s L)

A new jacket using very efficient 850 fill power down, which ensures you get an extremely low weight. But importantly you also get synthetic Coreloft insulation in areas that may collect moisture, which would impact on the down performance, so this is placed on the cuffs and shoulders and also at the top of the front zip. Another huge benefit of this jacket is that you get rear cord volume adjustment on the hood, so it fits really well and moves effortlessly with the head. There is a hem drawcord too – a feature many jackets lack. You also get two main pockets. The main drawbacks are the price and it’s not quite the warmest option. But if you can afford it (and another jacket for colder winter days) this is a great jacket for year-round use.

Pros

Weight and packed size, warm enough for mild conditions, great hood, additional synthetic insulation.

Cons

Price, not quite warm enough in winter, no cuff adjustment, slightly short body compared to others.

Buy it if

You want a very lightweight insulated jacket for spring to autumn and on the mildest winter days.



The top three


Berghaus Privitale 2.0 Extrem Fleece Hoodie £90

Tester: Tim Butcher

This is a modern, practical fleece jacket, but is it warm enough to beat the chill you’ll experience at the lofty heights of a mountaintop lookout?

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  • Material Stretch polyester fleece

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s n/a

  • Weight 593g (XL)

It’s good

The Privitale is an immensely comfortable and warm jacket at a great price for what you get. Its stretch polyester fleece fabric has a tight knit on the outside to improve wear, while inside the looser knit increases warmth and comfort. The fit is close but as the fleece is very stretchy it does not restrict movement. The hood is particularly well-designed with a close fit, and turns with the head easily. The baffle behind the zip, long sleeves with thumb loops and generous back length protected my 6ft 2in body well to keep out draughts and retain body warmth. A great benefit over many jackets is that the pockets are large and easily accessed while wearing a rucksack. Also as fleece is very breathable this works great under a waterproof jacket as part of a layering system. The Privitale is versatile enough to be worn over a base layer and under a waterproof jacket, so it can be used as your main insulated layer or as back-up insulation.

However

Whilst I’d be happy with this as my only mid-layer on most hill days, I’d still want something a little warmer and with more wind resistance, such as a down or synthetic insulated jacket, for back-up in autumn or winter, particularly for camping on the hill or for bothy nights or for really snowy Scottish mountains days. While I like the price tag, I’d be happy to pay a few extra pounds for a hem drawcord to lock out drafts and retain the great fit if I was lucky enough to lose a few pounds in weight on a trip. But the main drawback here is the weight and bulk of this jacket compared to warmer jackets, as any back-up jacket that is spending much of the day in the rucksack needs to be as light and compact as possible, and others are better in this department. Sadly there is no women’s option either.

Verdict

For me it’s the perfect mid layer, providing reassuring warmth and ease of movement at a great price, but others are lighter and offer more weather resistance.

  • Features 4/5

  • Packability 3/5

  • Weatherproofness 3/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 76%


Montane Icarus / Phoenix £150 

Tester: Jon Bennett

Does the latest Primaloft Thermoplume insulation make this jacket ideal for taking on the hill when extra warmth is needed at a reasonable price?

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  • Material Primaloft Thermoplume

  • Men’s S-XXL (Icarus)

  • Women’s 8-16 (Phoenix)

  • Weight 605g (M)

It’s good

New for 2018 and made from the latest Primaloft Plume insulation, which is said to offer similar levels of performance to 550 fill power down. Not surprisingly perhaps, this was very warm – in fact the warmest jacket we tested. The outer Pertex Quantum Eco nylon shell fends off wind and moisture well, and is also reasonably breathable so you don’t get sweaty. This jacket feels pretty warm and cosy, with a good length, well-insulated hood, and elasticated cuffs and hem to lock out draughts. The two main handwarmer pockets are well placed to allow access even when a rucksack is worn, and there’s a third useful GPS receiver-sized zipped chest pocket. So this jacket is ideal for stopping for a brew on the hill or sitting around a bothy or campsite, with the added bonus that the synthetic insulation won’t be impacted by dampness as much as a down jacket. It’s as warm as a down jacket too, but with a far less chilling price.

However

It costs more than a fleece and is quite heavy and bulky too. So while great in terms of warmth, you may think twice about carrying it regularly in your rucksack. It’s not as breathable as a more open-knit fleece either, so isn’t so great for walking with. Also, while the fit was good, the hood doesn’t move quite as well with my head as the hoods on some other jackets, and the cuffs didn’t fit as neatly as they could. As there is no Velcro adjustment on the cuffs there is no way of tightening or loosening the fit here to allow the cuff to fit over gloves. The hem is elasticated, but again has no additional adjustment. This jacket is great in terms of warmth but it could be too warm for mild autumn days, so with its extra weight and bulk this is one for colder days only.

Verdict

Great for stopping out on a cold, British winter mountain, with a price that’s more attractive than a down equivalent. But the weight and packed size are drawbacks.

  • Features 4/5

  • Packability 3/5

  • Weatherproofness 5/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 80%


Mountain Equipment Arete Hooded £160  

Tester: Graham Thompson

Down insulation is extremely efficient, so is this lightweight jacket the best option for stashing in your rucksack as a back-up jacket?

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  • Material 700 fill power down

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16 

  • Weight 370g (M)

It’s good

The use of 700 fill power down inside this jacket ensures that it is very lightweight. It also packs down small, and both of these features make it great for stashing in a rucksack just in case you need it on the top of the mountain. The level of insulation is less than the heavier, synthetic Montane jacket featured here, but more than fleece, making this a great general-purpose jacket for autumn and spring. And for me it is just about warm enough for mild winter conditions too. The outer is a lightweight Helium 20 nylon which fends off wind better than fleece and keeps some moisture away from the down. The hood and cuffs are only elasticated, but you do get a hem drawcord so you can fine-tune the fit more easily than some others. There are just two main pockets and these are placed low to make them good for hand-warming. The price is also more attractive than some other down jackets you could consider!

However

For the depths of winter you may need something even warmer if camping in snow or sitting around for long periods high on a snowy mountain. As the Arete uses down, lots more care is needed to ensure this jacket stays dry, as its insulating performance drops off dramatically if it does get wet. Also, of course, this is not as breathable as a more open knit fleece, so it’s not one for wearing while walking. While the fit is okay, the hood disappoints in this area and did not turn easily with my head. Also some adjustment on the hood and cuffs would be a real benefit. The pockets are okay, but again on other jackets these are placed higher or are bigger or there is a third chest pocket. There are some niggles with this jacket and you can get lower-priced fleece or synthetic jackets if cash is tight. 

Verdict

Ideal for stowing in a pack year-round just in case it gets chilly, but some lower-priced jackets are warmer or perform better if damp.  

  • Features 4/5

  • Packability 4/5

  • Weatherproofness 4/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Arc’teryx Epsilon LT Hoody (2015)

Features

The Arc’teryx Epsilon LT Hoody is a good all-rounder in terms of features, so you get a medium-weight fabric that offers medium level of insulation, wind and water resistance – potentially ideal for general hill and mountain use. There are two well-placed main pockets and a hood with face and volume adjustment. The 566g weight is reasonable too, so overall a good feature set for walkers. 5/5

Fit

The men’s comes in sizes S-XXL and the women’s in XS-XL. Mine fitted me slightly closer than some others (but it was an M rather than an L), but I could still wear it over a thin fleece. There is no adjustment at the cuffs, apart from elastication; but they fitted me fine, and the cuffs and hem didn’t ride up. The length is average, while the hood fits and moves well. 5/5

Comfort

The polyester double-weave fabric offers good airflow, making the Arc’teryx Epsilon LT Hoody ideal to wear under waterproofs, but it is also windproof enough to make it comfortable on the hill. Inside you get a polyester grid fleece layer for just the right amount of insulation for year-round use. There is a little less stretch here than some fabrics, but overall this is very comfortable. 5/5

In use

The two pockets are positioned high enough to allow access to them while wearing a rucksack hipbelt, and they are large enough for maps. The hood fits well and moves well with the head with its stiffened peak providing good protection, even though it isn’t wired. I would really like a third chest pocket, and Velcro adjustment tabs on the cuffs may improve fit for some, but overall the Arc’teryx Epsilon LT Hoody is great. 5/5

Value

The priced is appropriate for what you’re getting here, which is a good set of features and materials for the hill. 4/5

Verdict

The Arc’teryx Epsilon LT Hoody is not perfect, but this product offers most of what is needed from a soft shell jacket when heading into the hills. It wins Trail’s ‘approved’ accolade. 4.8/5

Review by Graham Thompson

First published in Trail magazine September 2015

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Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody (2014)

Features
The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody has seen a major improvement since Trail reviewed it in March 2013: the hood now has a rear volume adjuster. The two pockets on the body are still just too small to take an OS map, though, and access to these is also slightly obscured by rucksack hipbelts. Like most jackets in our test the cuffs are just elasticated, but a nice fin of material improves the fit.
4/5

Fit
This jacket is available for men in sizes S-XXL and for women in XS-XL. Polartec Powerstretch side panels improve fit and comfort a little, and the wrists fit neater than most. The new hood fits really well too.
5/5

Comfort
Overall the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody is a very comfortable jacket with a good weight (386g size L), nice detailing and those stretch panels. I’d ideally like some soft brushed fabric at the chin to make it super-comfy, and the hood drawcord is less comfortable than would be ideal.
4/5

Insulation
Polartec Coreloft insulation is used, and it provides good warmth for year-round use, when this jacket could be worn on summit evenings around camp, or as part of a layering system in winter. The side panels of Polartec Powerstretch however provide less insulation, so in certain circumstances you may find these areas are not quite warm enough.
4/5

Value
The price is higher than most, which is disappointing.
3/5

Verdict
Great performance overall for year-round use, with the rare feature of an adjustable hood. The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody’s main drawback is the price
4.0/5

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2014

 


Arc’Teryx Epsilon LT Hoody (2014)

There’s a lot to be said for simplicity. It’s something Arc’Teryx is very good at: making products that seem minimalist but sport features that feel very considered. The Epsilon LT Hoody is fairly light, highly functional and understated-looking, with performance that is pitched just right for most regular conditions. So this is for those who prefer to have a basic, useful jacket that in all likelihood will be worn all year on (and off) the hill as an outer jacket in summer and under a waterproof jacket in winter. You get two huge handwarmer pockets that will easily take an OS map and sit just above the line of a rucksack belt. The lining is a durable microfleece grid that traps air in cold weather, and there is mesh lining with pockets to aid warm-weather venting. The outer is a tough windproof nylon with a small amount of stretch and a superb DWR (durable water repellent) finish. The Arc’Teryx Epsilon LT Hoody feels very well cut: despite being short compared to some the tail is just the right length and though the cuffs aren’t adjustable, they are semi-elasticated, flat and comfy. The helmet-compatible hood is excellent, offering great movement with the head and an effective stiffened peak. The zips run silky-smooth, and the sleeve pocket is tiny but takes some credit cards and a key or two. While the jacket is less roasting than the Rab Vapour Rise Jacket, Montane Sabretooth Jacket or Outdoor Research Alibi, it’s well suited for year-round use as a layering piece, or an outer in summer.

Specifications:
Outer fabric bonded nylon poly grid
Weight 557g (size M)
External pockets 3
Internal pockets 0
Hood? yes
Pit zips? no
Men’s sizes S-XL
Women’s sizes XS-XL
Website www.arcteryx.com

Verdict

Versatile enough to be worn year-round, for hillwalkers the Arc’Teryx Epsilon LT Hoody is a refined, unflashy and functional choice with premium brand appeal. It won Trail’s ‘Best Value’ award.

Review by Simon Ingram
First published in Trail magazine September 2014

 


Arc’teryx Gamma LT Hoody (2013)

Arc’teryx describes the Gamma LT Hoody as a jacket for everyday use that is ‘equally at home in the mountains or around town’. I think this sums up the jacket quite well: it’s very much an all-rounder that doesn’t excel in either environment. On the hill its feature set is slightly spartan compared to others, with just two pockets, no cuff adjustment and no pit zips. However the features that you do get are well-designed. So the pockets are nice and large, and they are placed high on the jacket to allow easy access while wearing a rucksack. The hood is very good, being compatible with a climbing helmet yet capable of being drawcorded down to fit around the head both neatly and with good movement. The peak on the hood is large but stiff enough to resist distorting in the wind. I was also pleased to see that the Arc’teryx Gamma LT Hoody is longer than most – indeed it’s longer than many waterproof jackets – making it ideal for protecting the user in the hills. One drawback is that there is no cuff adjustment at all, while not having a third chest pocket could also be viewed as a minus if you like to keep a small guidebook or GPS receiver to hand. It has a high price tag for what you get as well.

Material Burly double weave (50% nylon, 43%polyester, 7% spandex)
Weight 643 (size L)
External pockets 2
Internal pockets 1
Pit zips no
Men’s sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes XS-XL
Website
www.arcteryx.com

Verdict
The features you get in the Arc’teryx Gamma LT Hoody are well-designed but it could do with some enhancements to be ideal on the hill, particularly given its higher-than-average price tag.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2013


Arc’teryx Phase AR Hoody (2013)

Base layers with hoods are not that common and won’t appeal to everybody. However, if you like the idea of the all-over protection that a hooded base layer provides, the Arc’teryx Phase AR Hoody is one of the best. It wicks moisture, insulates and is tailored for an active fit with flatlocked seams for added comfort. The clever combination of materials ensures it dries quickly and offers UPF 25+ sun protection while silver ions encapsulated into the fibres minimise the odours often associated with man-made fabrics. But it’s the snug hood that fits easily beneath other hooded clothing or headwear that makes the Phase AR Hoody perfect for active wear in ear-bitingly cold environments. It also makes you look like a proper mountain ninja, which we happen to think is awesome.

Material 87% polyester, 13% polypropylene
Colours black, blue (men’s); purple, red (women’s)
Sizes S-XXL (men’s); XS-XL (women’s)
Weight 183g (size men’s L)
Website www.arcteryx.com

 

Verdict

Of the base layers we looked at, the Arc’teryx Phase AR Hoody is the best for protection.

Review by Ben Weeks
First published in Trail magazine Spring 2013


Arc’Teryx Atom LY Hoodie (2013)

The Arc’Teryx Atom LY Hoodie is a comfortable, very light jacket that is warm and well- (if not exceptionally well-) featured, and cut to fit for maximum movement with stretchy, microfleece-lined sides. Arc’teryx puts a lot of emphasis on fit; if the clothing suits your body shape, it will fit you like it was made for you – helped by subtle stretch and contoured seams – and this is no exception, for better or worse. The hood fitted well, but there’s no adjustment, and the wafty sides could fill with cold air in a head wind. Overall the roominess is ideal: enough to throw over your waterproof, but not so much that the jacket is baggy when used as an outer layer. The three pockets (two zipped handwarmers and an inside pocket) won't take an OS map. The Arc’Teryx Atom LY Hoodie is short with a scooped rear, which – while not as long as some – will appeal to anyone looking to avoid draughts when bending over. The ‘Luminara’ outer fabric is crepe-like, quiet and breathable, and better at repelling water than its appearance suggests. It’s also deceptively durable, like a super-soft Kevlar. Insulation is Coreloft, which squashes down well, but there’s no stuffsack. Styling is typically understated, which will appeal to some.

Weight 374g (size S)
Outer fabric Luminara stretch nylon ripstop, Polartec PowerStretch Hard Face
Insulation 60gsm Coreloft (100% polyester)
Stuffsack/packable? No
Adjustable hood? No
Men’s sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes XS-XL
Website www.arcteryx.com

 

Verdict

The Arc’Teryx Atom LY Hoodie is probably the most comfy insulated jacket in our test, but more features – an adjustable hood or stuffsack, for instance – would justify its price.

Review by Simon Ingram
First published in Trail magazine March 2013


Arc’teryx Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody (2102)

Soft shell jackets come in various materials, and to optimise performance Arc’teryx uses a combination of two materials in the Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody. So you get a durable, weather-resistant fabric in the high-wear areas (light grey panels) and a lightweight, quick-drying, more breathable fabric in the main body (dark grey panels) to encourage better condensation control. The result is a very lightweight jacket that is also very abrasion-resistant and very stretchy. The fabrics are not as water-resistant as others, but they are more breathable so this is a very comfortable jacket to wear if it is not bucketing down. The sleeves are well-cut to allow great freedom of movement, and the hem is longer at the back. The chest pocket accommodates a guidebook, compass or GPS receiver while the lower pockets are fine for the hands or an OS map. The hood cannot be rolled away so this is not great for biking or running, but it provides good protection when used for other activities. This combination of features makes the Arc’teryx Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody just the job for use away from heavy rain, such as when scrambling and climbing as well as for use in more general mountaineering and hillwalking in windy, warm weather.

Material Fortius 1 stretch nylon and TerraTex nylon
Sizes S-XXL (men’s); XS-XL (women’s)
Weight 384g (size men’s L)
Website www.arcteryx.com

 

Verdict

The Arc’teryx Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody is the best choice for scrambling among the soft shells jackets we looked at.

 

Review by Graham Thompson

First published in Trail magazine August 2012


Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody 2010

The Arc’teryx Atom LT is a hybrid insulated hoody that combines Coreloft polyester insulation with side panels made from Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology. The advantage is that this garment provides warmth without restriction for the more active user.

Design
As this is intended for active users it has been designed to keep weight down, while maintaining insulation and mobility. The insulation is Coreloft, which benefits from a high loft retention, meaning it can expand and trap plenty of air within its fibres to provide a high insulating value. But it is also very compressible, so this jacket can be packed down small into the corner of a rucksack. This extremely efficient insulation is combined with side panels that are made from Polartec Powerstretch. This is used to provide greater freedom of movement. Also the garment is designed to remain extremely breathable, to allow it to be worn under waterproof jackets without increasing condensation. You get a hood, elasticated cuffs and hem drawcord too.

On the hill
The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody immediately feels very lightweight and compressible, and it packed down smaller than similar designs we looked at. It was also a relief to find that the main zip was not a stiff, water-resistant type, but an exquisitely free-running design that makes this extremely easy to vent on the move. As with most Arc’teryx clothing the contoured sleeves were an incredible fit with the elasticated cuffs gently hugging my wrists. The fleece sides meant that I felt colder in this area, which was a strange sensation when the rest of my upper body was so warm while wearing this jacket. The hood does not have any adjustment for fit and on my head it did not fit closely and did not move with the head. As with many jackets the pocket access was not ideal as rucksack belts easily obscured the lower pockets.

In the lab
The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody provided 2.9 TOGs of insulation, but it is lighter and more compact than others, so this indicates the quality of the insulation and its ability to trap air extremely efficiently. Of course if the insulation is quashed down under a jacket it may not maintain this loft as well as bulkier jackets and this may be why I did not feel it was as warm as the lab test suggested.

Fabric Luminaria with Polartec Powerstretch with Hardface side panels
Insulation Coreloft polyester
Sizes S-XXL (men’s); XS-XL (women’s)
Weight 408g (size men’s L)
Made in Thailand
Stores in the UK no info provided
Stockist details – tel. (0114) 258 6688; www.arcteryx.com

Verdict
The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody is incredibly light for the features;  hood provided. But the hood has no adjustment and did not fit or move well; fleece side panels create cold areas; high price tag. If weight is your top priority then this is excellent, but others offer better overall performance.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine March 2010


Arc’Teryx Rho LT Zip 2009

Arc’Teryx has long been known as a purveyor of quality kit: they put a lot of thought into the workmanship of their products, and keep their gear lean and nonsense-free. The Arc’Teryx Rho LT Zip base layer is supremely comfortable: its fit is on the close side, forcing the soft-feeling microfleece layer against the skin for excellent wicking action; and it’s infused with silver to react with sweat and reduce odour (or, as Arc’teryx puts it, ‘backcountry stench’). The zip is a good length, the seams are in an off-the-shoulder position so they don’t rub and the sleeves – despite being a close fit down – don’t ride up. It shifts sweat brilliantly, stays warm when wet and is particularly good for hot, sweaty conditions. It looks good, too. But the Arc’Teryx Rho LT Zip base layer has been designed with both skiing and mountaineering in mind, which means certain features present in, say, the Montane are missing and others are unnecessarily present. That pocket might be useful for a ski pass, but walkers will find it annoying as it sits right beneath your rucksack strap and is too small for anything much beyond a credit card. At this price every feature has to excel, and while this may seem a small gripe and it is generally very good, a shirt that costs £75 really has to fry the competition. You get what you pay for in terms of quality, but it’s not enough: a lower price would have made it a more serious contender.

 

Fabric Rentex Powerflex (90% polyester 10% Lycra)
Colours black, mahogany, dark titanium, gold (men’s); black, hemlock, wasabi, Bermuda blue, white tea (women’s)
Sizes S-XXL (men’s); XS-XL (women’s)
Weight 175g (men’s size S)
Made in Canada
Stores in the UK 18

Verdict: The Arc’Teryx Rho LT Zip base layer is very comfortable, made to exacting standards and great for summer, but pricy. 

 

Review by Simon Ingram
First published in Trail magazine October 2009