ArcTeryx Norvan SL Rain Jacket is one of the lightest, most breathable rain jacket currently available. I originally purchased the jacket in 2016. I have made some updates my original post based on longer term use. The Norvan SL works brilliantly when biking or hiking when it’s cool (say 55F). When running I can go for 15 minutes before I notice any moisture accumulation. As a reference, this is about the same amount of time before I start sweating when it’s slightly warmer without any shell and the same amount of time as when I am wearing a ArcTeryx Squamish Windshirt. More impressive is that when I stop jogging the moisture / humidity seems to clear out after 10-15 minutes.
The Jacket has been tailored to be close fitting, over a base layer. There is not a lot of room for insulation unless you size up. This makes sense since it was designed for trail running.
I used mine for four year biking, running, hiking, and on-trail backpacking with an ultralight pack. That includes around 200 hours under an backpack with 18-28lbs, and many more with a light daypack or no pack. I had no issues with durability, but people who aren’t extremely careful might have issues.
The one defect of this jacket is the zipper which is water resistant, not waterproof. My first jacket’s zipper leaked very badly. ArcTeryx offered me an exchange or an upgrade to the Norvan Shell which is more expensive. I took the exchange and found the zipper on the replacement jacket was better, but still leaked in heavy rains. In both cases you could easily see light between the zipper teeth.
In late 2018 a new version of the jacket was released with a better zipper and an internal storm flap. ArcTeryx kindly swapped my jacket for a second time. I have found the new zipper is much better, but still not truly waterproof. It has been fine when facing multiple days of stop and start rain, but I found in a continuous rain storm that after 2 hours enough water came in that my Patagonia Thermal weight base under the zipper had accumulated enough water I could start to feel it. The wet strip was 1/4 of my chest wide centered roughly over my sternum continuing down to my waist. It was sufficiently wet that it took almost 2 hours to fully dry once I was in a dry place without the jacket on. This water was from the zipper, not accumulated perspiration. The first time I experienced this it was cool and I was moving at a casual walking pace of level ground.
I love the lightness and breathability of this jacket. This was the first jacket I could be highly active in and not feel like I am swimming in my own sweat. Unfortunately several hours of a hard rain soaks me due to the leaking zipper as much as if I was wearing a non-breathable shell. For people doing shorter runs, the Norvan SL is an excellent, but expensive jacket.
I called ArcTeryx again to discuss the zipper. They told me that the zipper was water resistance, but not waterproof. They wouldn’t take it back as a defect. In 2020 I sold the Norvan SL on ebay and replaced it with a GoreWear H7 Trail Running Jacket. While I don’t like the cut or obnoxious Gore logos, the H7 is as breathable as the Norvan SL and the zipper is truly waterproof so I can stay dry while being reasonably active in multi-hour rain storms.
I have a post about rain gear with other thoughts. If the Norvan SL doesn’t sound right for you, I would recommend looking at:
- GoreWear H5 which is made with ShakeDry, but on a slightly heavier fabric so they should be OK for on trail backpacking.
- GoreWear H7 Trail Running Jacket which as light, not tailored fit but the zipper is waterproof.
- Zpacks Vertice have good specs, and I have been happy with the Vertice rain pants. My subjective experience it’s about the same as eVENT, and not up to the Norvan SL and is still subject to wet out.
- Columbia Outdry Extreme Featherweight Shell is less breathable than the Westcomb Focus LT but resists wet out like the Norvan SL, is more durable than the Norvan SL, and can sometimes be found on sale for around $120.
- Montbell Versalite Jacket is a light weight, full feature jacket at a reasonable price point.
- O2 Rain Jacket is one of the cheapest rain jackets around, doesn’t wet out, and is surprisingly breathable. Years ago I had my first experience of clothing drying under a zipped up rain jacket. This is form people who don’t care about fit, looks or durability (but it is easy to repair with duct tape).