Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Very water resistant, lightweight, small packed size
Cons: Not as breathable as a softshell, very expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
No other running jacket that we've tested in the last several years offers such a high level of weather protection while remaining so light as the Arc'teryx Norvan SL. While it isn't as impenetrable as a traditional raincoat, it comes in at a fraction of the weight and blows away typical running jackets with Durable Water Repellant (DWR) treated fabrics. While it's light on features and not as breathable as others, the Norvan impresses with its lightweight, well-fitted, waterproof design and construction.
While the Norvan SL doesn't have built-in breathable mesh panels or zippered vents, it breathes surprisingly well for its single-layer waterproof fabric. Through the years-long process of testing dozens of running jackets, our testers have spent countless hours inside hot, clammy running shells. Many designs just aren't breathable enough to shed perspiration and dissipate heat quickly enough to maintain a decent level of comfort inside. Despite the Norvan lacking mesh panels or underarm vents, we rarely experienced the miserable clammy/sticky feeling you get with fabrics with truly poor breathability.
While the Norvan SL provides respectable breathability for such a high level of weather protection, it's not as breathable as other materials without a waterproof GORE-TEX membrane. Other features that make this jacket so effective in wet weather — like the omission of underarm mesh panels or zippered vents — also make a noticeable difference in its overall ventilation. As is the case with this jacket, there is usually an expected trade-off between ultimate weather protection and top of the line breathability. The Norvan indeed sacrifices some breathability for higher-end weather protection but does an admirable job of balancing the two.
The bulk of the running jackets that we tested all have synthetic materials with some type of DWR treatment applied to give a boost in weather resistance. Our experience with these jackets shows that DWR works well for repelling very light precipitation or for keeping dew from rubbing off and soaking in on chilly mornings. The Norvan SL, on the other hand, is made from a GORE-TEX Shakedry waterproof/breathable membrane that far exceeds the performance of the typical DWR-treated jacket.
Even during a jog around Salt Lake City in a mix of rain and snow with just a long sleeve polyester base layer and the Norvan SL over, we remained almost completely dry after two hours. The only notable weakness in the Norvan's GORE-TEX armor is the zipper, which does let a bit of moisture through. There is an extra half-inch layer of waterproof fabric behind the zipper intended to help fortify the protection in this area, but we found that water can still seep through in certain conditions. Some online reviews we've read share the same experience. However, this level of protection is a significant boost compared to other jackets in our lineup, making it well suited for days when the weather is uncertain and wearing an actual rain jacket would be too bulky and cumbersome.
Despite the fantastic weather protection that this shell provides, unless you are a real ultralight geek and are willing to experience some discomfort in a downpour, the Norvan probably isn't a replacement for an everyday rain jacket. The main difference between traditional heavier-duty rain jackets and the Norvan is the zipper. In contrast to the Norvan's traditional YKK zipper with a fabric strip behind it, heavier-duty rain jackets are equipped with YKK Waterguard zippers that have an integrated polyurethane tape on the outside to prevent water from even reaching the teeth of the zipper. While traditional rain jackets provide better weather protection, they also will likely suffer from poorer breathability and a heavier weight.
Comfort and Mobility
True to the Arc'teryx reputation, the Norvan SL provides a well-tailored performance fit with a great range of motion and sleeves that are long enough to stay put even when performing activities that require a lot of movement. The jacket provides consistent coverage and protection during other dynamic activities with variable body positions like biking, hiking with poles, and climbing. Nearly the entire jacket is put together with flat taped seams as opposed to sewn seams. This gives the inside an incredibly smooth feel and eliminates the potential rubbing one might experience with a jacket with chunkier sewn seams.
While the fit and finish of the Norvan SL are top-notch, the GORE-TEX Shakedry material is loud and crinkly, and the feel of the material against the skin is not as comfortable as other softer fabrics. As a daily running jacket in mild conditions, we would likely opt for something with a little softer material and more creature comforts. When faced with harsher wet conditions, the ideal fit and comfortable mobility of the Norvan keeps you protected without compromising fit and performance.
At a measured 4.6 ounces in a men's size medium and able to pack into a small stuff sack about the size of a grapefruit, the Norvan SL is incredibly portable. What is most impressive about the lightweight and small packed size is the amount of weather protection the Norvan can dish out. While it's among the lightest jackets we tested, it is also significantly higher performing in inclement weather than any other contender. Weather protection like this typically comes with a significant weight penalty.
While many running jackets have a built-in pocket that doubles as a stuff sack, the Norvan SL has no pockets. Instead, it comes with a small detached stuff sack that's just the right size to allow easy packing without leaving extra space, making it a tidy package for stowing in a running pack. The major downside of having a standalone stuff sack is that it's easy to misplace without any way to carry it on the jacket itself. Keep this in mind if you're prone to losing small objects.
The Norvan SL has reflective tape along both wrists as well as the hem around the bottom of the jacket. The chest logo and GORE-TEX lettering are also reflective. Even being black as night, the Norvan SL offers great nighttime visibility.
The Norvan also has a built-in hood adjustment cord, which makes it easy to adjust the hood on the go to help ensure optimum protection from the elements. As a minimalist shell without any pockets, this jacket is light on extra features but provides simple, dependable, ultralight weather protection.
The retail price of the Norvan SL can be quite shocking, coming in at over three times as much as some other jackets in our review. However, this is the most weather-resistant running jacket that we tested. The GORE-TEX Shakedry material is extremely light, and nearly the entire jacket is put together with taped seams making it very comfortable and watertight (except for the zipper). If you're willing to shell out a few Benjamins for the lightest, most protective garment in our lineup, you'll love this jacket. Others who want better value and can sacrifice a few ounces or some weather protection will have plenty of other options to choose from.
With the best weather resistance in a running jacket coupled with an ultralight build and fantastic comfort, it's no wonder the Norvan SL is our Top Pick for Wet Weather. The only drawbacks are the detached and easily misplaced stuff sack, and the standard YKK zipper which is a weak point in an otherwise waterproof jacket. While not perfect for every situation, the high level of weather protection makes the Norvan a great companion when skies are grey, and you're itching to move.
— Nick Bruckbauer & Brian Martin