Updated December 31, 2019
ArcTeryx Norvan SL Rain Jacket is one of the lightest, most breathable rain jacket currently available. I can actually wear it comfortably jogging in cool, rainy weather. 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. 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 have been using mine for more than two year biking, running, hiking, and occasionally backpacking without any durability issues, 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 the winter of 2018/19 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 in the summer of 2019. 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. It was sufficiently wet that it took almost 2 hours to fully dry once I was in a dry place without the jacket on.
I love the lightness and breathability of this jacket. It’s the only jacket I can be highly active in and not feel like I am swimming in my own sweat. Unfortunately several hours of a hard rain soaks me as much as if I was wearing a non-breathable shell. I use the Norvan SL when I know I will have a place to dry out at the end of the day / activity. This means multi-day back country trips I typically bring something else.
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 which as light (fragile), not quite as tailored fit, but maybe has a more waterproof zipper.
- 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.
- 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).