The Vault Regulars

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mountain Equipment Arclight jacket Review.

The Mountain Equipment Arclight jacket was my replacement jacket for the failed Montane Minimus mountain Jacket I reviewed here.

In some ways i have Mark to thank for his comment on my Montane post for me buying this jacket. With my own cash i may add.

This is not going to be a comparative post because the two jackets are completely different. The Montane being Pertex shield +, whereas the Mountain Equipment Arclight is Polartec Neoshell.

The ME Arclight is a shell jacket in the more traditional mould. To the untrained eye it could be forgiven if you thought it was Gore- tex or similar membraned jacket. It feels somewhat similar especially internally but the outside is softer unlike most Gore-tex. Obviously a great deal of thought went into the term “Softshell”.

So what is Polartec Neoshell?
It’s another relatively new material, as the term “neo” suggests, on the market from the people we have known for years who have made superb fleeces. It’s classed in the Ultra Breathable range of outdoor jackets.
Neoshell has oleophobic properties within the membrane and not glued on top of it as with Gore-tex. No, i had no idea what oleophobic was and found out that it is similar to the coatings that you can find on tablet screens like ipad to stop oil and grease from soaking into the screen and what makes removing the stain easy with a screen cloth. However, you need to look after the coating because certain chemicals can remove it, in which case just like the screen will deteriorate the jacket.

Its claimed that this is the first breathable, fully waterproof, temperature regulating fabric ever, but i’m not sure about that because i know that Aclimatise were working with a fabric stating the same message.
Have a look here. I had a prototype on test from Brenig ages ago.

Info from Polartec Neoshell web page.
(Check out Polartec site for more info here if you want to read all about it)

The fabric is stretchy and the cut is not too athletic although they have cut it to avoid a baggy fit. I am told by a good contact that ME have relaxed the fit generally.

Let's leave the fabric data behind and take a look at the jacket.
The colour of mine is Raven or in customer speak, Grey.
It is also available in Gecko (Green) or Cayenne (Red).
Specified weight (Size L 520grams, Medium 490 grams.
Actual weight for size medium 465 grams.(My scales)

RRP is £260. I have found prices to vary wildly on this jacket and I actually paid £118 for mine. For some reason the price also varies at differing outlets depending on colour. Look around for the best deals if you are thinking of getting one. I got mine from Hill and Dale. it was on a special offer at the time and i happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The Hood.
                 It is huge. I think it is the biggest hood i have ever had on a jacket. Its so big i could almost camp in it. It is obviously designed with a helmet in mind, but what helmet i am not sure. It will probably fit most if not all helmets for climbing, cycling, snow sports and probably the Grenadier Guards.

Nothing unusal about the adjustment. It has one rear shock cord volume adjuster and separate shock cord adjusters either side of the face which close the hood off around the face. They use the small ellipse cord grips to retain tension.
The rear adjuster worked well and where the shock cord enters the hood the hole is protected by a flap on the outer fabric.
I have always found that shock cord wicks water which enviably creeps into the lining. I am amazed after all these years of design that a better way of adjusting the volume has never come onto the market. It’s as though everybody are waiting for someone else to develop it instead of themselves and then jump on the bandwagon.

The side adjusters are quite poor. The amount of adjustment is limited to around 50mm each side and once you reach that limit, if it doesn’t suit your face then it’s no good pulling any harder because that is the full adjustment.
The chord does not go across the front of the hood but is restrained adjacent to the peak on each side. I have found that i could not secure the front tight enough to make what i want, and that’s as near to a watertight seal as i can get. I still have tiny gaps where the material bunches up at the sides.
The shock cord is 2mm diameter and has far too much stretch for my liking. I can adjust each side single handedly by just pulling the two cords simultaneously downwards. I am fearful of pulling the cord out if i try to hard. Trying to squeeze open the chord grips is impossible with gloves on and not too easy without.

The peak on the hood is firm and wired. It does not flap around in the wind. I am in two minds about the angle of the peak. Some people may like it or like me some may think it is a little too steep.
Yes, the peak should keep rain and wind out of the eyes and it certainly does this well but i have found it can cover my eyes to the point where i have to keep moving it up or pulling on the back of the hood to see out front.
The easiest way to describe it is to say look at a Household cavalry hat peak. The angle is very similar to this and not at all like the peak on a baseball cap. This angle of peak is there to ensure soldiers hold their heads up, backpackers get a stiff neck.

Household cavalry hat peak.

Baseball cap peak.
In my opinion the right angle for a peak is in between the two.

The hood can be folded up and secured in place at the collar. To comfortably wear it with the hood folded you need to fully release the 3 hood shock cords. It does sit neatly when you do this.
The hood does move with the head when in full adjustment and the height and cut of the front of the jacket sits just under the nose and so provides maximum protection.

ME Arclight Jacket. OS map outline can be seen in the pocket.
Fold down hood
The front main zip is a 2 way moulded YKK Aquaguard.
The 2 pocket zips are single way moulded YKK Aquaguard.
The pit zips are 2 way water resistant YKK Aquaguard with laminated and bonded entry.
The inside pocket is single way non water resistant YKK zip.

With the exception of the inner zip they all have zip pull toggles. I found the inner zip to be awkward to grip with gloves on and so fitted my own pull toggle.
I found the main zip and the two pocket zips to be very notchy and i don’t particularly like them, the pit zip and inner zip run smooth.

"A" line pocket zip and main zip

Behind the main zip is a flap to allow water run off if any rain does penetrate the zip. It stays closed at the bottom with a press stud. I must admit that i do hate this concept. Manufacturers now use the zip as a fashion feature, a colour mix. To me fashion is a secondary consideration, i prefer a storm flap over the zip, just like the Bergen from Rab. But i think i am losing the battle.
There is a good chin or nose guard on the top of the main zip.
There is no inner protection to the pocket zips or drain if water gets in.

Pit Zips. 
Now when i see or read Pit Zips i straight away think this jacket doesn’t breathe too well. I can 100% dash any concept of that thought. This is very breathable material. The under arm venting offers additional air movement if required. I have kept the zips half open for most of the time and so far i havn’t had any water ingress through them.

Pit Zip
There are 2 well positioned outer “A" line pockets  and they do not interfere with the rucksack straps. A rucksack hip belt also does not interfere.
They are a very good size pocket with excellent depth and take an OS map with ease. (See photo above showing folded OS map in situ.)
The 2 pockets are outside of the ‘Membrane” and so any water that gets through the zip should not get through to the body.
 The inner pocket measures 12 x 20.5 cm of useable space and is mesh.
Inner mesh pocket with pull tab.

I was a little surprised to see Mountain Equipment’s honesty (I’m not saying they are dis-honest btw) in that they put a notice in the pockets to say that although the zips are water resistant it is possible for water to get through and not to put sensitive items in them in bad weather. I appreciated that, a refreshing change.

Cuffs. Hems and toggles.

I am really impressed with the cuffs. The cut of the cuff is such that the top side is longer than the underside. This allows good water run off and reduces the amount of water ingress that can creep under the hem.
The sleeves also have a pre-shaped triangular opening which i have found excellent for getting over the top of my glove cuff. I have never seen this before on a jacket.
Cuff shape.

The length of the articulated sleeve is just right for me and long enough to cover my outstretched hand. The cuff can be fastened over my clenched hand which i like to do instead of wearing gloves  and the cuff is secured with an adjust to fit velcro tab.
I find the velcro on the sleeve a little to narrow and numerous times i have not secured it right first time. I would prefer a 25mm wide strip here rather than the 15mm.

The bottom hem has a draw cord. In fact it has two. I really liked this idea and again this is the first time i have come across this configuration. The front and back hems can be tightened or loosened independently of each other. The cords located at the sides are also separate outside of the jacket so there are no side loops that can and do easily snag.
The cord and cord grips are the same type as the hood.
The rear hem drops lower than the front and covers the bottom well.

Lower hem individual draw cords for front and rear hems.

Drop down rear tail.

All seams are taped sealed. As can be seen on the image of the roll down hood.

Not overly athletic but not baggy either. Slightly longer than some lightweight jackets.

The above photograph was taken after i returned home from a walk in the rain and wearing a rucksack. For some reason the area where the rucksack straps had put pressure on the shoulders and across the back showed signs of wetting. Maybe the area under the rucksack didn’t have chance to allow water run off but its something i will keep my eye on. No wetting through the fabric took place i add, just the outer shell material.

DWR (from new)
Feel of the fabric.
Small pack size.

Notchy zippers.
Overly large hood. (Unless you regularly wear a helmet and then it will be perfect)

This is one of the best materials i have ever tried so far. The breathability and waterproofing are both excellent, exactly what waterproof and breathable should be. I found that if i put items in the pockets like the OS map or my phone then i got condensation on the items. The movement of hot body vapour is so good.
With a material so good at transferring heat to the outside why block the route by clogging up pockets, it doesn’t make sense. For me the pockets could be eliminated. I certainly will not be putting anything in them from now on.
It does have an initial cold feel for about 20 minutes. Combine it with an insulating layer in really cold temps.
An excellent mountain jacket for all typical UK weathers.
Longer term review to come.

Similar products worth considering.
Rab Myriad.
66º North Snaefell
Montane Further Faster Neo.

Or if you have lots of Christmas money left then:-
Jottnar Bergelmir


Jules said...


There seem to be some good features tempered with some less so - for example overly long sleeves, massive hood and no stormflap would be a deal-breakers for me - probably individually, let alone all in one garment. :-)

However the fabric's seemingly excellent breathability is a real boon - as long as the wetting-out experienced is just as a result of rucksack strap pressure points and not indicative of some more worrying fabric characteristic (which, according to your test, appears to be fine) .

I think if I were looking for something like this, I'd investigate other products by other makers but in the same fabric to see if some of the design issues could be eliminated! I do wish that someone somewhere could actually make jackets for British conditions, and in shapes/sizes that reflect a more "normal" build, not mountain athletes. After all, "large" doesn't just mean "tall" - it can mean "rotund" as well! - and were not all racing snakes!

Dawn said...

Rather like the Jacket Alan. It will be interesting to see how it fairs long term.

AlanR said...

Hi Jules,
I have tried to provide a true reflection of the jacket and that includes what's bad about it. For me the long sleeves are a positive, I much prefer not wearing gloves for as long as possible. Climbers and skiers undoughtably prefer a long sleeve because of the reach factor.
The material is perfect IMHO.
Size wise its OK. I know ME jackets usually don't suit me as i am no racing snake, so I was surprised as anyone to find that a medium fitted me well. I did expect to have to size up and then put it back on the shelf.
If I hadn't already got this one I think I would have gone for the 66 North. Check out the you tube video if you have time.

AlanR said...

The weather we have had of late has been ideal to test out the weatherproofing and breathability. I have purposely been out in the heaviest downpours. If it was going to leak it would have. I am confident it will be fine. Yes Dawn, I will do a follow up in 6 months to see just how it is fairing long term.

AlanR said...

I have now tried the 66 North Snaefell and i take back my previous comment. I would not swop the ME Arclight for the 66 North. Or the Rab Neo Stretch as well. The Swedish designer of the 66 North may be a jolly chap but the design is Jolly well hopeless.(Except the zips which the buyers will take credit for)

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan,

great review - I've got the marmot nabu and I love its breathability and the way the inner wicks the sweat away too, but I'm looking for a lighter (even less insulated) jacket for the summer - does this fit the bill?

Really interested in how the inner feels - you mentioned it looks and feels a bit like goretex on the inside, but does it have that plastic bag / cold feel inside or is it soft and wicking?

Also you mentioned you went for a medium, can I ask about your height and chest measurement? Just trying to figure out what the sizing is like.



AlanR said...

Hi Jay, 1st, there is no insulation. Its a very breathable material so you don’t get much of that overheating you get with all Goretex materials.
2nd. No it doesn’t feel like a plastic bag or a crisp packet as with some Goretex Pro or OMM eVent materials. My 3 layer goretex jacket has a similar feel but that is much much heavier. The ME is far lighter.
3rd. It wicks extremely well but it doesn’t feel inside like a Paramo or any jacket that has a loose inner.
I bought it for 3 season use and would take it on any summer backpack because it’s light, its cool, breathes well and is waterproof in those summer downpours we get.
4th. Size. I am 40 chest, 5ft 8’ tall and am not racing snake. 34 waist. It fits me well as long as i only have 2 layers under it. I couldn’t put a down jacket under it nor would i want to as i said, i bought it for 3 season use.

Best bet, if you can is nip into an outdoor shop and check out the material before you buy. Its better than Pertex shield 2.5L in my opinion depending on what you want to use it for.
Hope this helps.

Unknown said...

Your blog is really helpful.
I'm 6"2 (186cm) and 160lbs (72kg). From your experience, do you think that i would have to prefer M or L size ?

Thank you very much.

AlanR said...

Hi Alexis, 72kg is light for 6’ 2” so i guess you are slim. I would suggest Medium but you could have a look at Mountain Equipment Size chart on their web site.

Nozza said...

The Arclight is a good jacket but the hood is ridiculous unless you're wearing a helmet. It is MASSIVE and without a helmet it's acres of crinkled up fabric catching the wind and rain and generally looking stupid.

AlanR said...

I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Hey Alan

Nice Review - I am really interested to buy an Arclight on sale.
One question.
One some pictures the zippers seem to have a slightly reddish colour. Is that right or due to the flash an they are as grey as the neoshell material itself?
Thanks in advance!

AlanR said...

Hi Matt, Thanks for the comment. No the zippers are not reddish in colour although they are not grey or jet black. They do have a deep purple hue though, which has probably been enhanced by the flash. The colour does not detract too much if at all, i even had to go and take a second look myself just to make sure i was right.

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