Arc'teryx Norvan SL Hoody - Women's Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Ultralight, breathable, redefines versatility as a very adequate wind shirt
Cons: Thin, no pockets, not suitable for high mountain use or severe weather
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Our Analysis and Test Results
As hardshell that doubles as a wind shirt, the Arc'teryx Norvan sets a new bar in versatility.
The Norvan feels like a wind shirt, which makes it hard to believe it is actually a waterproof jacket. It's made of GORE-TEX with SHAKEDRY technology, a new material that eliminates the need for a face fabric. This explains how the Norvan is so lightweight and breathable, yet is still able to withhold the standard of waterproofness we have come to expect from GORE products.
An important thing to remember with waterproof-breathable fabrics is that they will not breathe as well if the pores of the material become clogged with dirt or sweat. Additionally, if you operate in a humid and/or warm climate, the principles of diffusion will restrict how efficiently water vapor (or sweat) is wicked from inside and pumped outside of the jacket. If the breathability of the fabric is compromised, you'll still get wet, but from the inside as your sweat accumulates. Gross! Can't blame the jacket for that, though. Arc'teryx is careful to note that "the Norvan SL is an ultra-minimalist jacket created specifically for high output trail running in wet conditions". The "high output" is the operative concept here, as you need body heat to help pump the water vapor out of the jacket. Consider that motivation to pick up the pace!
Compared to similar ultralight jackets we've tested over the years, this GORE product is a major winner. It's soft to the touch on the inside, whereas some fabrics can feel clammy. It feels just like a wind shirt, which we love, and is useful as one as well. With other lightweight shell jackets in the past, we would still bring a wind shirt with us on our fast and light missions in the mountains. With the Norvan, however, we are so happy with its performance in dry conditions that it fills the use of two jackets at once! Remarkable.
The material is not the only thing that makes the Norvan an exceptionally weatherproof jacket, with several features contributing to its effectiveness. The sleeves have an elastic cuff that descends a little more over the hand; this design helps flick water off the sleeves instead of allowing the drips to get inside. The hood has a slight brim, which blocks raindrops from your face and eyes. The bottom hem is also elastic and shaped to provide a snug fit, while the water tight front zip has a chin guard that keeps water from entering through the front zipper; pretty crucial feature for a shell jacket!
Hardshell jackets tend to be either stiff or clammy; both functionally limit your mobility when wearing the jacket. The stiffness resists motion, which is intuitive; as for clamminess, this causes the material to stick to you, also inhibiting mobility. The solution is a careful balance where the jacket is stiff enough to elevate off your skin and supple enough to move with you, with an interior texture that does not get sticky when it's humid inside the jacket (i.e., when you're sweating).
Several companies have tried using a stretchy fabric in the make of hardshell jackets, but this has not yet proven to be effective. Fortunately, this does not mean you can't move comfortably in a hardshell. Arc'teryx has mastered the art of movement in hardshell jackets by carefully mapping their panel design to support complex movements. The result? You are free to swing your arms vigorously when running, hiking, or skiing, and you can raise them high over your head when climbing or tossing your kids in the air.
We often appreciate raglans sleeves for improved shoulder mobility (think of those old school baseball shirts). The Norvan has a more traditional sleeve design, but in our overhead reach test, the jacket moves well, and the bottom hem only raises up minimally with the move.
The Norvan is one of the most breathable hardshell jackets we've ever worn. Made of GORE-TEX with SHAKEDRY technology, GORE has figured out a way to eliminate the need for a face fabric on this material, making it thinner, lighter, and exceptionally breathable.
It's almost as breathable as our favorite wind shirt and is an excellent layer for fast and light missions as well as unsettled weather forecasts. When it's dry, cold, and windy, it makes for a great wind shirt; when the sky cracks open and it starts to rain, it sheds water and keeps you dry.
A size small weighs in at four ounces, which is phenomenal. It's so light we wondered if our scale wouldn't register the weight, or if we would have to use our more sensitive kitchen scale! This jacket blows the socks off the competition; or rather, perhaps, blows the pockets off? That is to say, the jacket is super streamlined and simple, which is part of the way Arc'teryx has kept the jacket so lightweight. The other component is the lightweight SHAKEDRY fabric technology, which eliminates the need for a face fabric. Ideal for trail running, this jacket is one of the lightest and most breathable shell jackets we have tested.
We discussed several features in the Weather Protection metric above, as they relate to waterproofness. This jacket is extremely lightweight and streamlined, with a feature set to match.
Here are the jacket's key features:
- Simple, elasticized hood with brim and single drawcord adjustment.
- Elastic cuffs with similar "brim" to shed water.
- A rain flap just inside the front zipper, which eliminates the need for a stiff and sticky waterproof zipper.
- Elastic bottom hem for secure fit and coverage.
Here's what this ultralight specialist jacket doesn't have:
The Norvan is a simple jacket that makes itself useful because of its light weight, high performance, and durability.
Stiffer fabrics snag less; this has long been an effective trait of Arc'teryx hardshells, making them resistant to rips and tears when you're hiking through the forest or climbing around abrasive rock. Durability is a critical factor in hardshell jackets, notably because a damaged jacket won't keep you dry (it can also quickly become a safety issue if you're a backcountry mission or expedition). These jackets are necessary companions on most extended trips outdoors and you need to be prepared for the (sometimes likely) chance that the sunny forecast is wrong.
The Norvan is one of the softest and most supple hardshells we have tested from Arc'teryx, so we caution the user to avoid being too scrappy in it. For example, it's not your best choice for scrambling or skiing dense trees. It is, as advertised, best for trail running or similar activities. The thinner fabric may wear out sooner, so we would try to avoid wearing this jacket when carrying a heavy backpack. Heavy weight may wear out the shoulders quickly, and this is a pricey enough jacket you may want to avoid excessive wear and tear.
The Norvan takes a different approach to versatility. Other shell jackets are thoughtfully featured and useful as a hardshell in different types of wet weather activities. The Norvan, however, is restricted to warmer temperatures or very high output activities (like running). It is, however, phenomenally versatile in that it effectively eliminates the need for a wind shell, which is another one of our favorite jackets for fast and light activities.
In the hardshell realm, the Norvan has a relatively decent price tag, though it does have limited versatility. Arc'teryx is notoriously expensive. That said, this is a brand that consistently holds up to its high price tag; the items are durable, comfortable, long-lasting, and reliable. We do want to note that this is a niche jacket that is most suited to trail running. However, the material also performs impressively well in dry weather, which adds tremendous value. The Norvan is the first lightweight shell jacket that doubles well enough as a wind shell that we would leave our beloved wind shirt behind if we really wanted to streamline our layers.
The Norvan is yet another excellent product from Arc'teryx, this time specifically designed for trail running in wet weather. The fabric is very lightweight and breathable, limiting its use as a hardshell for more severe weather or high mountain use. However, it introduces another concept of versatility; in dry weather, it doubles impressively well as a wind shell. We loved this jacket for regular use in high-output, wet-weather activities when all we needed was a light running pack or just the clothes on our backs. The Norvan is a reliable jacket that excels on long runs in an ever-changing internal and external environment.
— Lyra Pierotti