This new fabric does away with traditional shell construction—which sandwiches a waterproof-breathable membrane (ePTFE) between two sheets of fabric—in favor of a two-layer construction, with the membrane on the outside. By ditching the face fabric and making the membrane more durable, Gore is able to make a material that’s lighter and more breathable and less likely to wet out than its competitors.
Gore’s not the first to this game. Earlier this year, we reviewed Columbia’s OutDry rain jacket, which uses a proprietary fabric that operates on the same principal. The OutDry Extreme Diamond shell worked great, but it wasn’t built to be super lightweight, coming in at 13.4 ounces. The Arc’teryx Norvan SL weighs just four ounces, making it ideal for athletes who move fast and light in the high alpine. Here are my first impressions of the piece.
The Good: The best super lightweight, breathable rain jacket in its class.
The Bad: It’s thin, and as such, not as durable as other rain shells. If you need a jacket to slog around in, go for something more abrasion resistant (which will also likely be cheaper).
The Verdict: The Norvan SL is an awesome choice for high-output activities in inclement weather. The jacket is made for running, but I found it performed just as well biking and hiking.
- Price: $299
- Weight: 4 ounces
- Intended For: Running, biking, high-output activities
- Construction: Gore-Tex Active
- Size Tested: Men's Medium
- The Test: Two weeks of running, riding, and ski touring in Vermont, Wyoming, and British Columbia.
Size and Fit
The jacket is trim, but not skin tight, and I found it fits true to size. If you usually wear a medium, get a medium.
As with all Arc’teryx products, the detailing on this jacket is superb.
The cuffs are cut long on top of the hand and gathered with elastic binding by the palm. They kept out drizzle, keeping my baselayer dry, and never rode up.
The hem of the jacket has a slight drop tail, with thin elastic binding on the edges. Though the new Gore Active isn’t stretchy, this binding is intended to help the jacket move with you. It didn’t ride up when I was running or when I stopped to retie my shoes.
A tiny fabric patch at the top of the full-length YKK zipper prevented chaffing when I had the hood up. Like the hem and cuffs, the hood also has stretchy binding along the sides in order to keep it snug on the wearer’s head. The hood's brim, which forms a little shelf, was stiff enough to divert rain from my face.
The inside of the jacket has a suede-like texture, so even on bare skin it didn’t feel clammy. The outside is also textured, with a matte finish.
The jacket doesn’t have any pockets. If you need to carry a bar or your keys, make sure you have a pant or baselayer pocket.
The fabric isn’t designed for high abrasion or abuse. I didn’t cause it any damage in the course of my testing, but I didn’t abuse it either. The fabric is thin, and looks like it would rip without much force.
The jacket packs down smaller than an orange. And it comes with its own ultralight stuffsack. When I wasn’t wearing it, I shoved it into a pant or jersey pocket as a featherweight insurance policy.
Waterproofness and Breathability
Above, I discussed the science behind the new Gore-Tex Active material. I found it to work flawlessly, beading water and shedding it as soon as I gave the fabric a shake.
The breathability is superb, too. I wore the Norvan SL throughout a strenuous hour-long hike in Jackson Hole: other rain shells would have left me soaked in sweat.
Last year, Columbia introduced its OutDry rainwear. But Columbia wasn’t going for an ultralight piece. The Norvan SL is significantly lighter—and the fabric more fragile—than Columbia’s jacket. The North Face, Gore Running, and Gore Bikewear are all introducing jackets this season using the new Gore-Tex Active, although Arc’teryx claims its offering is the lightest.
Buy This Jacket If...
The Norvan is a high-performance steed, with a price tag to match. If you spend a lot of time moving quickly in the high country and need an exceptionally light rain shell, this is a great pick. If you spend more time strolling or commuting in the rain, go with a more durable option (with pockets), like the Columbia Extreme Diamond shell.