Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody Review
Cons: Not as breathable as a softshell, very expensive, almost no extra features
Our Analysis and Test Results
Our Minimalist Wet Weather Top Pick got only a color change this model year, and that's probably for the best. No other running jacket that we've tested in the last several years offers such a high level of weather protection while remaining as 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 Repellent (DWR) treated fabrics. While it's light on features, not as breathable as others, and more fragile than we'd like, the Norvan nevertheless impresses with its lightweight, well-fitted, waterproof design and intelligent construction.
The Norvan SL doesn't have built-in breathable mesh panels or zippered vents. Nevertheless, 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 many of the non-waterproof jackets we tested. Features were cut to make the jacket as light as possible, and those included the extensive venting that many other waterproof jackets employ. While the Norvan is by no means stuffy, some breathability features (even if they cost some extra weight) would have gone a long way to improve the wearing experience.
The bulk of the running jackets that we tested have 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 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're also likely to have poorer breathability and a heavier weight.
While the Norvan does have superb weather protection, its protection against more solid threats like grabbing tree branches, scratchy rocks, and bouncing backpacks leaves a lot to be desired. The GORE-TEX Shakedry material is amazing, but it is fragile compared to heavier jackets. Brushing up against hard objects can leave a visible mark on the jacket.
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. The seams of the jacket are taped and nearly flush from the inside. This gives the jacket an incredibly smooth feel and eliminates the potential rubbing one might experience with a jacket with chunkier seams.
Even more so than most Arc'teryx products (and even other products in the Norvan line), the Norvan SL has an extremely lean cut. While there is some give to the fabric, the body is narrow in general and the shoulders and back can be tight for heavier builds. If possible, this is a jacket to try on first. Otherwise, size up to be safe.
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 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.
Finally, if you do plan on packing this jacket away, be sure to use the stuff sack. Unlike heavier, sturdier jackets, this jacket can (and has in our testing) taken damage from other objects it was packed away with. This is not a jacket to haphazardly stuff into a backpack. This is a high-tech piece of kit that requires a degree of care and reverence if you want it to stick around in your wet weather rotation for a while.
Features and Visibility
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. While we'd love to see more reflective area considering it only comes in a slick charcoal color, it is at least a step up from most other ultralight offerings we've tested.
The Norvan also has an easy to use adjustment cord for the hood. 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. It's also one of the lightest waterproof garments on the market, period. The GORE-TEX Shakedry material is extremely light, and the construction is top-notch, as is expected from Arc'teryx.
On the other hand, it can be difficult to justify the cost of the Norvan SL as anything but a specialized and very niche piece of kit. It's not a daily-use garment due to its lack of features and relative fragility, and it has no pockets of its own to store the kinds of things many of us take on our daily runs.
With the best weather resistance in an ultralight running jacket coupled with a top-notch build and fantastic comfort, it's no wonder the Norvan SL is an incredibly solid performer. The main drawbacks are the detached and easily misplaced stuff sack, the standard YKK zipper which is a weak point in an otherwise waterproof jacket, the general lack of creature comforts and versatility, the fragility, and of course the price. Despite this, the high level of weather protection in an uncompromising package makes the Norvan a great companion when skies are grey, and you're itching to move.
— Nick Bruckbauer & Walt Handloser
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