A focus on long-term usability
As an airsofter, outdoor enthusiast, and as an individual who likes nice-looking clothing, finding something that fills all those requirements is often a challenge. While there’s more than enough high-end camouflage clothing and even more flashy-colored outdoor stuff, Arc’teryx, and especially its Law Enforcement and Armed Forces division, really knows how to make stuff that looks good on the street, is non-reflective in the field and is highly usable while out in the wild. I finally bit the bullet about eight months ago and spent 210 euros on this baby. Fair enough, it’s not cheap. But then again, you get what you pay for.
The Atom LT, in both the civvie and LEAF version, is a highly versatile synthetically insulated jacket with a 60g/m2 Coreloft filling. This makes it just warm enough for spring and autumn use on its own. Both sides and armpit areas are constructed from Polartec fleece instead of windproof material, which creates a highly breathable area in crucial locations. The hood, while having only one drawstring, has a slightly roomy fit. Its insulated filling makes it highly capable of retaining body heat, which is great when stationary in colder conditions.
One of the most important design decisions Arc’teryx made with the Atom LT is to incorporate drawstrings on the hem. This is where the LEAF version really differs from the civvie version. While the civvie version only has one draw adjuster, which is not secured in such a way that it points up, the LEAF version has two, and they are not hanging out from under the jacket. This is a very nice, very well designed detail. Another such indispensible feature is the stretch fabric used for the elastic sleeve cuffs. While perfectly capable of closing off your arms from cold winds, they are never too tight. The fabric used for the outer layer is not waterproof, but it is treated to be slightly water-repellent. Take care when washing, as some detergents will be detrimental to this capability.
While being extremely lightweight, I’m still amazed by how tough this jacket is. The stitching is top notch and the outer fabric is not liable to pile, as most fleece material, for example, is. The zipper, while being next to weightless, is strong and responsive. It only very rarely gets caught in the fabric. One issue I have with it is that it tends to run down an inch or so from its top position while in use. Not a really serious problem though.
The fabric is reinforced with rip-stop pieces of polyester on sensitive areas such as the inner pockets and hand pockets and most importantly around the elastic hem drawstring. I have seen enough non-reinforced polyester and/or Gore-Tex jackets to know this is a game-changer in terms of durability. Overall, this is one hell of a tough midlayer. Important to note is that I wouldn’t use it as an outer layer in the bush. I wouldn’t think this fabric is tough enough to withstand bramble thorns, for example.
I’m 1,78m at 73kg with a slightly muscular physique and a Medium has a slightly roomy fit for me. Not too baggy though. This is great, because as I have mentioned before, on its own this jacket is perfect for spring and autumn use. In the dead of winter I really do need a good warm fleece underneath and a hardshell jacket on top to keep me warm and, more importantly, dry. Length-wise it just about touches my hips, which is also great as this keeps it from peeking out from under most of my shell jackets. However, most of my fleeces and sweaters are slightly longer which is kind of a bummer as this makes it slightly less usable as a fashion piece outer layer – the operative word being slightly! As said before, the hood offers enough room for the hood of a fleece worn underneath, also great for winter use. Its brim is fairly small so the user will be able to retain as much body heat as possible.
Some of the details mentioned before are specific to the LEAF version. One other such detail is the holes provided on the inner pockets through which communication equipment wires can be led in order to create a snag-free outer layer. This is a great detail for LEOs or soldiers, but for the average civilian user it is not that important. Of course, you could use it for your headphones. Another nice touch is that the usual reflective Frog Skeleton Arc’teryx logo is replaced with a non-reflective one, as remaining invisible is often important to the intended user.
As said before, I use this jacket for virtually everything. It’s great as a mid- or reinforcement layer during the winter months, or as a stand-alone garment on chilly spring days or evenings. Furthermore, its subdued looks make it an extremely nice-looking puffy jacket which does not make you like a marshmallow. This one is usable in the outdoors, on the city streets and out in the field while airsofting. I have used it almost every day since I bought it and it doesn’t have any signs of wear and tear to show for it.
Time for the bottom line!
Good subdued looks
Lightweight and packable
Could be better
Zipper could use a stronger closing
Hood could use more adjustment possibilities
Would I recommend this jacket to anyone in the market for a nice-looking and durable midlayer? Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. This is one of my top purchases from 2014 and I intend to enjoy the hell out of it for years to come, whatever the environment and use. Buy if you have the money.
Where to buy
I ordered mine through http://www.leafgear.com, which is a Dutch distributor. Their service and delivery is top notch. But various other webshops, most notably in the UK and US, also sell Arc’teryx LEAF items. While the civilian versions are widely available through outdoor retail stores, LEAF items are generally a niche business for specialised stores.