Looking for an easy-to-pack, no-nonsense rain shell that works for high-output activities or just walks around the block? We tested Arc’teryx’s ‘superlight’ Gamma SL Hoody to find out if it fits the bill.
Despite my mother’s best wishes, I’ve been wearing the same hoodie for a week straight. Some of you might write this off as lazy, but I’m here to convince you otherwise.
The Gamma SL from Arc’teryx — available in women’s and men’s — is a great shell for a variety of spring activities. It has the chops for ski touring and trail running, it remains fashionable enough for nights out, and it’s even comfortable enough for evenings on the couch.
This hoodie represents the “super lightweight”(SL) version of the brand’s Gamma series, coming in at nearly half the weight as its “lightweight” (LT) cousin. The notable drop in weight brings up obvious concerns around durability and weatherproofing, some of which proved valid.
But no jacket is perfect for all uses. I found the SL to be great for most high-output endeavors, but less so when the weather gets really wild.
In short: I tested the Arc’teryx Gamma SL Hoody ($225) for a few weeks in a range of activities. From trail runs to ski tours and a few climbing sessions, I found the softshell rain jacket surprisingly durable given its comfort and stretch.
And while it worked great for light precipitation, it shouldn’t be your primary weather defense if things become particularly nasty.
Arc’teryx Gamma SL Hoody Review
Best Uses: From Cardio to Computer Time
The Gamma series is a collection of softshell jackets built to be weather-resistant outer layers or stretchy, insulating midlayers. These jackets are comfortable and breathable, using permeable textiles and light DWR coatings.
The lightest version to date, the SL is designed for long days in the mountains and intense aerobic activities, when a layer needs to breathe well. In fact, I found this hoodie is so comfortable that I kept wearing it during the day while I worked, even after a vigorous testing session.
Material: Tons of Stretch
Made with a proprietary four-way-stretch weave, the Gamma SL feels surprisingly durable out of the box. And after a few weeks of testing, it still shows no signs of wear and tear.
I’ve taken it out on a handful of long runs, a couple days of rock climbing, and five long ski tours. Thus far, I haven’t done any serious backpacking with a large pack, but as far as I can tell, the jacket has reinforced construction on the shoulders to handle such activities well.
The Gamma SL also uses body mapping with two different materials: a more durable nylon for shoulders, arms, and hips, and a thinner and more breathable material for the chest and armpits.
The downside of this slimming down is that the jacket wets out faster than a more burly hardshell jacket. This isn’t a huge issue for an hour or two in light rain or snow, but it could become a real bummer if you wanted to use it as your only outer layer on a long, wet outing or a multiday adventure.
It’s a great tool for many uses but does require a quick check of the weather before you head out for the day.
While I liked the materials and feel, the aspect I liked most about this jacket is its cut. The Gamma SL offers enough room to throw a light fleece or puffy underneath, yet avoids looking boxy or baggy when worn with only a base layer.
It fits tight enough to avoid snagging on trees or becoming a huge nuisance with a harness. But it remains comfortable and quite stretchy. The neck offers a ton of room (even for a bearded guy like me who itches easily), and the hood fits over most hats and helmets — great for skiing and climbing.
While many windbreakers I’ve used feel skin-tight or super bloated, the SL hits that sweet spot in the middle.
To me, perhaps the most important quality of any soft shell is that it cuts out the BS. Less is more — just a couple pockets with a durable fabric that’s easy to pack. Windbreakers like the SL need to be quick to take off and put on.
With this in mind, the Gamma SL (women’s and men’s) stands as one of the best soft shells I’ve tested. It fits easily into a running pack, cuts wind on a ridge while skiing, and carries a few snacks for the middle of a high-output run.
I’m excited to keep testing the SL and recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a superlight, soft shell for the mixed conditions that spring throws your way.