The Atom line of jackets by Arc’teryx have an established reputation as warm, light and stylish jackets that are best used as cold weather mid-layers and shoulder season outer-layers. The Atom Super light (SL) is similar in fit and appearance to the Atom LT and AR, but it has much lighter insulation that makes it best suited for high output activities or milder days. Squamish Climbing Magazine has been putting the Atom SL through its paces on snow, rock, and muddy trails over the past 10 weeks, and we’ve found it to be a versatile addition to an admittedly already packed gear closet.
The Atom SL was intended as a lightweight alpine jacket that would keep you warm on shady belays in the summer, but still be breathable enough for uphill slogs in the morning. The Atom SL features light insulation on the core and fleece on the side panels, which makes it slightly warmer than other popular summer outer-layers such as the Patagonia Houdini or RAB Lunar, but lighter and more breathable than mid-layers such as the MEC Uplink. The Atom SL has the same soft, light, and moisture resistant outer shell material as the other jackets in the Atom line. All Atom jackets also have a durable water repellant (DWR) finish that wears down over time but can be reapplied or reinvigorated with heat in the dryer. The Atom SL has a non-insulated hood that fits well over a helmet, and elastic drawstrings on the hood and bottom of the jacket to keep the wind out. The side panels and underarms of the sleeves have a stretchy material that results in a trim fit and easy movement. The Atom SL comes in several of Arc’teryx’s trademark bright and unique colours.
We were initially skeptical about the need for a jacket like the Atom SL; it’s designed for a fairly narrow range of conditions and many people will likely have close substitutes. However, it’s constantly been in the pack this spring and summer, and it’s been the go-to jacket on belays and cooler days. The primary advantage to the Atom SL is that it is incredibly versatile for such a light layer. It is equally comfortable on cool belays as it is on sweaty runs, and you spend much less time changing layers as a result. Although many people will have slightly warmer and cooler layers, it performs exceptionally well within its narrow niche.
Our biggest criticism is that the Atom SL does not have an easy pouch system for stowing the jacket and carrying it on a harness. The best belay jackets generally have a two-sided zipper and carabiner loop on one of the pockets so that the jacket can be stuffed in its own pocket and attached to your harness. This is a very important feature for a climbing jacket that would have made the Atom SL more versatile. We were also concerned about the durability of the outer fabric because it is very light and soft, however there are no visible signs of wear and tear after 10 weeks of hard use, which suggests that it was built to last. Lastly, this jacket is more expensive than comparable products. The priority for any climber should be good outer-layers for the rain and cold, but if you’ve already bought those and have change to spare, the Atom SL is a worthwhile addition.
In summary, the Atom SL is a versatile summer outer-layer or winter mid-layer. Its light insulation keeps you warm when you’re standing still, and its breathable outer layer keeps you cool when you’re moving fast. Any climber who thinks they already have it all should certainly try on the Atom SL.
The Atom SL is available at Arc’teryx Vancouver store and Valhalla Pure in Squamish. $239.95 MSRP