Gear Review: Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket Review- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Over the last three months I’ve been testing the Arc’Teryx Acto FL Jacket and the results are in. Simple and efficient design makes this a great piece as an approach soft-shell for both ice climbing and back-country skiing.

How I Tested

Starting in November I wore this jacket on multiple early season ice climbs including the season’s first ascent of Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs. I wore it during one of three trips up the Black Dike at Cannon Cliff and on a half dozen ski tours on Mount Washington including one summit day where temps where in the lower teens and winds were 45-65 mph. I’ll go over the details in the order I feel they are most pronounced.

Breath-ability

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Close up of the fleece “backer” that gives this soft-shell a broad range of comfort and excellent breath-ability

The most noticeable feature of this jacket is how well it breathes. The highly air-permeable Aerius™ fabric is no joke. It is difficult to overcome this jacket’s breath-ability even when you are crushing your uphill approach at Munter Rate 6. This level of breath-ability is really important as this “minimalist” piece does not have any side zips for ventilation. It does not need them.

Water-Resistance

As is common with soft-shell style jackets this piece is not water-proof, but has a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finish. I found this to be adequate on the early and very drippy first ascent of Standard this past Fall. The second pitch had a steady light shower thing going on and I made it to the end of the pitch with only a little bit of “wet out”. If freezing rain or rain is in the forecast I’d reach for one of my hard-shells, but for cold & active this has just enough water/snow resistance for me.

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
First ascent of a drippy Standard Route for the 2018/19 ice season- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Durability/Abrasion Resistance

While it is always hard to comment on this after only 2.5 months of testing I can attest that I scummed my way up the chimney section on the Black Dike and bushwhacked though some dense pine trees in Gulf of Slides and on Mount Willard and have yet to put anything on this jacket that shows it has been on some adventures, so I’m going with yes, it is durable and abrasion resistant!

Hemlock™

I’ll admit I did not read any of the manufacturer’s description before starting my testing. I like to have no preconceptions when I start the review process. So it took me a moment to figure out why sections of the bottom hem felt like they had a four 4 inch long cylindrical foam/gel-like straws sewn into it. This was something I hadn’t seen before it and I think it’s quite an excellent idea. This feature is designed to prevent the jacket from coming un-tucked from your climbing harness when making repeated over the head arm-stretches (ice climbing). It is an elegant and effective design choice and one I think will appear on many technical soft-shells that are specific to wearing under a harness.

Pockets

In keeping with the fast & light minimalist design the jacket only sports two high “cross over” hand/chest pockets. The few times I wore this jacket casually I missed hand pockets but that’s not a fair dig as this is not a jacket designed for casual wear, it’s designed for sending it in the mountains at a quick clip!

Hood

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket Hood

Arc’teryx did make a clever design choice with the hood changing the material here to lightweight Tyono™ 30 nylon StormHood™. This material is less breath-able than the main material used in the jacket but much more wind-resistant. The informal “try to blow through the fabric” test makes it seem twice as wind-resistant than the main material. The hood fits perfect without a helmet on, which leads me to one of my only negative marks on the jacket. The hood is really a tad snug when worn over a helmet. If you have a low profile helmet like the Petzl Sirocco or Black Diamond Meteor III it would probably work, especially if you are a small or medium sized helmet vs my XL sized melon. I do like the stiffened visor when wearing it without a helmet though!

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
A bit snug while wearing a helmet

Sizing/Fit

Following the Arc’teryx size chart I went with a size large based on my 42 inch chest. Other than the hood being snug when wearing a helmet the arm and waist cut felt great. I would layer my Merino wool t-shirt and a light fleece or wool hoody under the jacket. I could easily put my big puffy belay jacket over this when needed. I especially liked the snug elastic wrist cuffs that kept both spin drift and occasional drips running down my arms.

Weight/Pack-ability

Arc’Teryx listed this at 440 g / 15.5 oz. My home scale on my size large weighed in at 490 g / 17 oz. This puts the jacket towards the heavier side of “minimalist” jackets but I’m not sure that could be helped given the base fabric used. I’d take the a few extra ounces for the amount of comfort-range this piece affords. While the jacket isn’t super pack-able I haven’t really had a reason to not be wearing it during day missions.

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket Review- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Summary

Arc’teryx designed this jacket as a minimalist piece for fast & light missions alpine missions and while not the end-all-perfect piece the Arc’Teryx Acto FL Jacket comes darn close to perfection. While I would like to see the hood enlarged a little bit there’s really not much I would change given the end-goal. If you are in the market for a super-breathable rugged soft-shell give this one a look!

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links help support the content created here. Thank you!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody protects against wind and light rain and is so ultra-light and pack-able that there are few reasons why you should not pack this little piece of insurance on every outing.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review- photo from blackdiamondequipment.com

Buy on Amazon

Buy on Backcountry

Last summer my long time friend and climbing partner Tom turned me onto this piece which coincidentally shares its namesake with my own website. We were exploring a back-country cliff during the peak of black-fly season and despite it being a rather warm & humid early summer day he donned this jacket to provide some protection from the onslaught of blood-suckers.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Black flies attempt to carry Tom away

I remarked that he must be sweating like crazy wearing a hoody like this in such warm weather and he re-assured me the piece was so light & breathable that he was actually quite comfortable. He took the majority of the leads that day while I donated a pint or two of blood to the insect world.

With that history in mind I was quite enthusiastic when Black Diamond provided a sample for review.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Fresh out of the plastic

At home impressions were quite positive. For starters this jacket is ridiculously light-weight weighing in at 7 3/4 ounces on my home scale!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
That’s light!

Black Diamond lists 7.1 ounces (202 grams) in their Technical Specs.

In addition to being one of the lightest soft shell hoodies on the market the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody is also super pack-able and easily stuffs inside its reversible zippered chest pocket!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Pack-ability!

When crushed into a ball its the size of a youth softball. It also has a convenient sewn loop to allow attaching it to the back of your harness just in case the clouds get a little darker.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Extra protection when you decide to leave your pack at the base of the climb

My first real test of the jacket this July on an ascent of that classic east coast alpine climb, The Whitney Gilman Ridge. Dry cool air and a 15-20mph breeze led to quite comfortable climbing conditions, until we got held up by a slow moving party on the notorious “pipe pitch”. We weren’t going anywhere for awhile so out came the hoody’s while we waited for the traffic to clear.

Buy on Amazon

Buy on Backcountry

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
It was serendipitous that I was climbing with Tom, the guy who preached about this jacket to me last summer. He had upgraded to a new color of the same jacket!

So what is this thing made of? Well technically it is “Schoeller® stretch-woven with NanoSphere® Technology (80 g/m2, 93% nylon, 7% elastane)”.

Since most people probably don’t know what exactly that means let me break it down. First off, this Schoeller® fabric is super thin. The 7% elastane gives the fabric a noticeable stretchy feel.

Second, the NanoSphere® Technology is a high end Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment that also boasts a “self-cleaning” property. You can read more on this technology here. This jacket is clearly not intended to be water-proof but it certainly has shed light rain and mist on a few blustery days while climbing in Huntington Ravine and on Cathedral Ledge. At 7 ounces I consider this a fair trade off and when the forecast calls for a significant chance of rain I will pack a more substantial shell like the waterproof Eastern Mountain Sports Storm Front Jacket.

But the breath-ability! This is the most breath-able wind shell I have tested. So breath-able that it is wearable on hot & humid days as a bug protection layer! This feature makes it ideal for high output activity in blustery conditions. Trail running, fast-hiking, XC skiing, peak-bagging, or any time you want to go fast & light! And the weight! Even if the forecast looks like this:

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Not the North East

When it only weighs 7 ounces, and packs into the size of a softball, there’s really no question in my mind like “should I bring this?” It’s been living in my summer climbing pack all season and I’ve been surprised at the amount of times I’ve actually dug it out to be more comfortable, rain or shine!

Ok, let’s finish looking at some of the smaller but important features and move on to our summary shall we?

The Hood

It fits over a helmet as shown in the photo above, but also thanks to a one-hand-adjustable shock cord & cord lock on the back it can be cinched down to conform to your melon without a helmet on as well. This tightening option also helps the hood turn with your gaze so you don’t get blind-sided by a wild moose on the loose.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Well fitted hood
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Adjustable helmet compatible hood

The only pocket on this ultralight piece is the reversible chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack when turned inside out. A reversible zipper and sewn nylon loop add utility and convenience.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Chest pocket reverses for easy storage

My first concern with this jacket was the lack of an adjustable cuff at the wrist. I’m sure this saved a small amount of weight but when climbing I really like a snug wrist cuff.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Elastic wrist bands

I have a pretty small to medium sized wrist and I found this cuff to be a bit too loose. My solution is to just slide it up my forearm until it feels snug. It’s definitely a utilitarian type look, and I’d prefer a traditional velcro adjuster in future models.

I measured the back length at 28 inches, and given the stretchy characteristic of the Schoeller® fabric it is sufficiently long enough to stay tucked into my harness even when making long over the head reaches.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Back length of size large = 28 inches
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Topping out Whitney Gilman Ridge on Cannon Cliff, Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Summary

Tom was right. This is an ingenious piece and it will be a part of my kit for as long as it’s produced. It’s not waterproof, but that’s ok, it’s not meant to be. Think of it as a highly breathable wind shirt with a hood. Able to shed light precipitation. Able to cut cold breezes when you thought August on Cannon would be t-shirt weather. Able to pack up into a a neat little package and live on the back of your harness for those “just in case” type days. From cool weather running & cycling to fast & light alpine climbing this is a well designed piece of gear. You should check it out for yourself!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

If you do check it out you can order from these retailers:

Buy on Amazon

Buy on Backcountry

Doing so will help support this blog and my efforts at providing fair and accurate reviews of clothing and gear designed for adventure in the mountains.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this review please like, share, subscribe, comment, or just send me some positive karma.

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart

Disclosure: Black Diamond provided this sample for the purposes of this review and this post contains affiliate links.