Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Waterproof breathable shell with a durable face fabric, extremely nice features, excellent hood.
Cons: Expensive, Waterproof breathable shell not necessary for most applications.
Best Uses: Cold and wet conditions. Winter climbing, skiing.
With a Gore-Tex Pro waterproof breathable shell, and features refined almost to perfection, the Arcteryx Fission SL is an eye-opener. For being only 21.7oz overall this jacket is both very warm and fully waterproof. In this review the Mountain Hardwear Quasar Insulated is the only other waterproof insulated jacket, with the Fission SL being warmer, more featured, and more durable while weighing only a couple ounces more. This is not your average synthetic insulated jacket, as the price tag indicates (yikes!), but it will storm proof you like no other jacket in this review.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Arcteryx uses 2.7oz of their ThermaTek insulation in the Fission SL. According to Acrteryx, ThermaTek has a higher warmth to weight ratio compared to Coreloft and is designed to be long lasting. For these reason, Arcteryx finds ThermaTek to be a better choice for their "superlight", but warm insulated jackets. Additionally the insulation is dipped in a hydrophobic solution, making it highly water resistant and warm even when wet. Due to its continuous fiber construction, ThermaTek can be laminated to lightweight face fabrics. This is a significant difference from the "short staple" insulations like Coreloft and Primaloft, and gives ThermaTek better stability within the jacket and a better long term durability.
Overall, the Fission SL is indeed quite warm, but not as warm as the Patagonia DAS Parka. The Fission SL however, offers far better wind, water, and storm protection. In the realm of warmer synthetic insulated jackets, this comparison is a bit like apples and oranges, with the DAS designed as an ultra warm layer, and the Fission SL as a weather proof jacket meant to be moved in.
The Fission SL weighs 21.7 ounces. which is very light when you consider the waterproof shell, and how warm the jacket is. The SL stands for "superlight" which is interesting considering the relatively heavy face fabric used with the GORE membrane. If the Fission SL was truly superlight, it would feature a face fabric more like those seen on superlight climbing hardshell jackets. There are a couple other features as well, like pit-zips, that make the Fission SL slightly heavier than the lighterweight Mountain Hardwear Quasar Insulated. The relatively heavy face fabric does add durability in the long run.
The Fission SL has a two layer shell material: a Gore-Tex Pro membrane is laminated to a 40-denier plain weave nylon that's both tough and lightweight. Were this jacket not insulated it would fall into the medium duty category of our hardshell review. The Pro membrane is Gore's most durable waterproof breathable technology and it was updated in 2013 to be more breathable, which in turn makes you more comfortable. The nylon face fabric is the same one that's featured on the shoulders of Arcteryx's award-winning Alpha FL jacket. The Fission SL benefits from being constructed entirely of this fabric, which makes it very tough compared to the majority of other synthetic jackets we've tested. Arcteryx names this jacket SL for superlight, but when compared to many other lightweight hardshells, its face fabric is built tough to withstand abrasion and the wear and tear of long expeditions - it's not a superlight and dainty fabric. This top-tier waterproof membrane combined with a high quality face fabric is part of the reason this jacket is so expensive.
Bonus: Gore guarantees that the jacket will be waterproof forever. You can return it if you find otherwise. And Arcteryx guarantees the jacket for life, too. See our Hardshell Buying Advice for more information about Gore-Tex Pro membrane and tips for caring for the jacket.
The primary feature here is the Waterproof Breathable outer shell discussed above, but there are several other key features that make the Fission SL a great jacket.
The Hood - The Fission SL has perhaps a perfect hood. it is warm, provides perfect face coverage when the jacket it zipped up, has a stiffened brim, and, most importantly, 4 different hood adjustment points. It is this adjustability that makes this hood fit perfectly for all heads both with, and without a helmet. The front of the hood has two cinch points (one on either side) that tighten the hood around the face, and the back of the hood had a cinch point to tighten front to back circumference. All of this is fairly standard on a well made hood. There is a 4th cinch however, in the back down low by the neck, which adjusts the hood front to back on the vertical axis - lifting the brim up out of your face - when tightened. This 4th adjustment is a perfect, highly functional, every-day-practical touch.
The two hand warming pockets are not as brilliantly functional however. The pockets are fleece lined for comfort, and the zippers are stylishly hidden behind a small flap of shell material, but they are not insulated, and in our testing the fleece lining got wet when the face fabric on the outer shell wets out. On the inside of the jacket are two mesh-drop in pockets that provide great storage for larger items and act as a re-warming stash spot for gloves, water bottles, candy bars, etc. Some jackets like the Patagonia Encapsil cleverly have these mesh stash pockets more to the side of the body, which we feel gives you better vision in the front of your body when the pockets are full, and makes you look less pregnant. We wish the Fission SL had a small chest pocket, but it does not unfortunately.
Although the Fission SL sports a breathable waterproof shell, it will get hot inside at times, especially if you're on the move. For this reason the Fission SL has pit-zips, allowing you to ventilate if need be on the go. The problem here is that if you're physically climbing with the pit-zips open, you're going to get snow, ice, water etc inside the jacket. This is another reason why we feel that although the Fission SL is an impressive design, it has a very narrow use spectrum.
The overall fit of the Fission SL is shorter and more athletic (very much like the Montane Ice Guide), than other warm synthetic insulated jackets like the Patagonia DAS Parka which has a longer, more boxy fit meant to fit over many layers.
There are low-profile Velcro wrist closures, which allow you to really tighten down the wrist opening if its truly wet out. Along the waist hem are two adjustment drawcords.
Winter climbing, ice climbing, backcountry use is wet conditions, anytime you need ultimate protection from the weather and expect to get a bit wet.
This is BY FAR the most expensive jacket in this review. If you do decide to go for it, have comfort in knowing that it is indeed a splendidly designed product, with the best of available materials.
— Chris Simrell and Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 25, 2013
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