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Hands-on Gear Review
Arc'teryx Sabre Review
Cons: Ventilation could be better, expensive
Bottom line: An excellent ski shell for the discerning, long-term skier.
Insulation: Light flannel backer
Waterproofing: Gore Tex
Arc'teryx wins another OutdoorGearLab Editors Choice, this time for a skiing (and snowboarding) shell jacket. The Sabre is the best ski resort men's shell jacket we have ever used. If you are looking to assemble the best riding layering system, start with the Arc'teryx Sabre. It is expensive but will serve you for a decade or more, the entire time protecting in quiet comfort. For two-thirds the price and three-quarters the performance, the Best Buy Outdoor Research White Room should also be on your radar. At a price more similar to the Sabre's, with comparative pros and cons that we reveal below, you should also be considering the Norrona Lofoten jacket. For an all-in-one insulated shell jacket, Arc'teryx also won an Editors Choice award for their seriously awesome, insulated Macai jacket.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Ski Jackets for Men
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Arc'teryx Sabre is a hard-charging layering piece for the discerning skier. Paired with a well-thought-out combination of inner jackets, the Sabre tops off the sort of adjustable layering system that many skiers prefer. If you prefer, though, an insulated ski jacket, the Arc'teryx Macai is a perennial favorite and the other one we have granted an Editors' Choice award to.
The Sabre from Arc'teryx is the best shell ski jacket we have tested. It strikes a great balance, scoring high in all of the metrics that matter for a shell jacket. In order to compare all the products on the market, we had to consider warmth. A shell jacket, though, is never going to be as warm as even the most lightly insulated jacket. Many people prefer that. In that case, we had to score the Sabre low in warmth. All the other scores are near the top.
You don't select a shell ski jacket for its warmth. Those that prefer a layered ski jacket system separate the insulation from the outer shell. Others select a ski jacket that combines insulation and shell into one. The Sabre is for those that prefer a layering system. Their warmth will come mainly from a separate insulated jacket or jackets. Of course, the protection afforded by the Sabre helps keep you warm. Blocking the wind and reducing wetness in your insulation is the job of your shell jacket, and these things keep you warmer. The Sabre does these things famously. Additionally, the fuzzy lining of the Sabre makes it at least slightly warmer than the other shell jackets we tested.
It is best here and now to compare the Sabre to the other shell jackets we tested. The Sabre and the Outdoor Research White Room are similar in terms of warmth. They both are made with stiff fabric backed by a fleecy lining. The Norrona Lofoten and FlyLow Gear Genius are made with thinner fabric and no fleecy lining. They are less insulating than the Sabre.
It is here that the Sabre most shines. This Canadian manufacturer hails from the wet and cold west coast of British Columbia, and their outerwear has always dominated our tests. The Sabre brings Arc'teryx's alpine pedigree to rugged ski clothing with carefully chosen fabric, a good water repellant coating, smooth running waterproof zippers, and a hood that swallows your helmet while locking out the gnarliest of gales.
Overall, no jacket exceeds the Sabre in weather resistance. It is in this category that we have to note one of the advantages of a layering system. Generally, our team prefers insulated jackets for their comfort and the ease of decision-making. However, in the wettest of conditions, you will get at least damp, no matter how good your shell is. In these conditions, having separate pieces to dry overnight is a little better. This gives a shell-only jacket a minor leg up.
The most weather resistant jackets in this particular test are those made with Gore-Tex fabric. This does not mean that Gore-Tex is necessarily a superior fabric. In other contexts, we have experienced excellent weather resistance with other fabrics. The uniting factor with Gore-Tex jackets, though, is in quality control. The licensing agreement that Gore signs with a jacket manufacturer require that the jackets are made well, with everything sealed up. The proprietary, unbranded fabric of the Armada Carson Insulated, for instance, keeps the weather out just as well as Gore-Tex. However, the Carson has weaknesses around pockets and drawstrings that the Sabre does not. The Gore-Tex licensing agreement does not allow these chinks.
Similarly, the Norrona Lofoten is very weather resistant. It too is made with Gore-Tex fabric and an impeccable attention to detail. Overall, we say that the Sabre and Lofoten are basically tied in weather protection. The Sabre is made with thicker fabric that better guards the wearer against the wind, while the Lofoten, if worn with matching pants, has an innovative design that allows it to zip into one gap-less suit.
Ventilation is essentially how a jacket can be adapted to different climactic and exertion conditions. At a ski resort, one cannot always readily stash away extra layers without returning to the lodge. It is the zippers and vents that allow one to customize the airflow and protection value of their clothing system. The Sabre does pretty well at this. The pit zips are long and open wide. These are some of the vents we like the most. Even better are vent zips that start nearer the user's chest, for even better airflow. We also wish that the main zipper of the Sabre could be zipped open from the bottom up. In some conditions, this allows for both venting and maintenance of some protection.
The long, forward biased vent zips of the OR White Room exceed the ventilation power of those on the Sabre. The 3-in-1 style jackets like the Top Pick Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1 have far more range of adjustment than any of the other products we assessed. The ventilation of the Sabre is adequate but does not fully lead the field.
For some reason, Arc'teryx adds fewer of the little ski specific features than other manufacturers do. Of the things we look for, in fact, the Sabre has none; no pass clip, no goggle wipe. The pocket selection is nice, though simple. The shoulder-mounted pocket is suitable for your ski pass, while the inside "drop in" pocket is good for stashing goggles while in the lodge.
The clothing from ski-only manufacturers always leads this scoring metric. The Spyder Leader, for instance, has far more of the ski specific features we look for.
Fit and Comfort
Across the board, we liked the fit and comfort of the Sabre. No one on our test team found it confining or clumsy. The cut is generous without getting in the way. In order to optimally fit our lead test editor and to make good fit comparisons, we ordered all of our tested ski jackets in size medium. Some are big for medium, some are on the small size, and others seem spot on in their sizing. The Sabre is definitely on the large side. If you are often "between sizes", choose the smaller size in the Sabre.
The thick-but-not-crinkly fabric of the Sabre strikes a good balance of durability, protection, and comfort. Thin fabrics wear faster and leave the wearer feeling more of the mechanical effects of the wind. Stiff fabrics are confining. The fabric of the Sabre is thick but not as stiff as others. The Best Buy Outdoor Research White Room, for instance, is stiffer than the Sabre. Both of these, however, have a fleeced lining that aids in comfort. The smooth linings of the FlyLow Gear Genius and Norrona Lofoten, if they happen to touch bare skin, are cool and clammy to the touch.
Most everyone likes the look of the Sabre. The cut is generous, but not baggy. The color selections are modern and clean. There is a clear trend in 2018 away from the flashy colors of just a few years ago. Arc'teryx follows this trend with the Sabre, dulling the color palette over the last two to three years.
Stylistically, the Sabre fits somewhere between the alpine look of the Norrona Lofoten and FlyLow Genius and the steezy appearance of the Outdoor Research White Room. It is clearly a skier's jacket but doesn't have the blocky colors and tight fit of the Spyder Leader.
For those that prefer a layered ski clothing system, the Sabre is the best around. If you don't know which you prefer, we generally recommend an insulated ski jacket. However, some longtime skiers, especially those coming from a climbing or backpacking background, will prefer a layered system. In this case, choose the Sabre to top your upper body.
The Sabre is not an inexpensive piece of clothing. In fact, it is the second most expensive shell jacket we tested. The barrier to entry is high. However, the jacket will last longer than any others we tested. Consider years and days of service when you calculate value. That being said, the Best Buy OR White Room is also quite durable at just a little over half the price of the Sabre.
It is difficult to test, score, and award any category of equipment that Arc'teryx enters a piece in. They have a design philosophy, corporate culture, and standard of construction that truly sets them apart. At OutdoorGearLab we work very hard to avoid bias and the appearance of bias. Granting many awards to Arc'teryx clothing lends the appearance of bias, unfortunately. Nonetheless, to withhold honor from such excellent equipment would be even more biased.
— Jediah Porter
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