CGR tests the über light belay jacket from Arc’teryx…
Lightweight, compact, trim-fitting belay jacket with a high warmth-to-weight ratio.
Value for Money****
We’ve reviewed several insulated shells from Arc’teryx; we’ve reviewed the Atom LT jacket for UKC and the Atom SV Hoody for CGR and we’ve found them both excellent, so does the new Arc’teryx Nuclei lightweight belay jacket live up to expectations?
Firstly the word Nuclei: small, compact and lightweight and it certainly fits the bill. If space in your pack or weight off your back is an issue the Nuclei will fit your spec perfectly as it’s certainly light. It feels really light, in fact one of the lightest insulated jackets I’ve ever used. The stated weight was 285g and on the new super duper digital CGR scales the Nuclei weighed in at 297g with the stuffsack and 290g without. So pretty accurate and in any case it certainly felt very light both in pack and on.
The shell material is made from an Arc’teryx proprietary material called Airetica, this a tightly woven and incredibly light Pertex-like shell material which is only 34g/m2 . It felt very soft and the DWR did repel a light shower and snow. It did, however begin to ‘wet out’ after 5 minutes of steady rain when the jacket became damp with the combination of sweat and condensation (it’s important to point out that even a hardshell will do this). It dries out very quick (which is what you are after as no jacket is fully 100% waterproof) and the DWR was brought back into condition with a quick, half hour tumble dry on a medium setting. So very easy to maintain, and as stated before in our belay jacket article: synthetic insulation is much easier to wash than down. The Airetica was perfectly windproof and at no time did I feel cold on mild windy days.
The insulation was provided by the established Coreloft which we looked at in detail in the Atom SV Hoody review. The jacket provides 80g/m2 in the torso area and 60g/m2 in the arms and hood, this provides a good amount of insulation whilst maintaining flexibility for climbing and hiking. The jacket provided enough warmth for rock climbing belays and bouldering days and also provided warmth for winter climbing in, as a mid layer. So a good combination of insulation weights giving mobility and warmth. The fact that the jacket doesn’t have sewn through baffles adds to the warmth and increases wind proof ability.
The cut was great for climbing and hiking in. It is definitely athletic in fit so do not expect it to be a standard type of belay jacket that you throw over all you winter kit for belaying. In fact I would not recommend it for that activity at all, the Atom SV hoody is a much better option or if it’s even colder then the Dually Belay Parka is even better as it’s a full on belay parka. For more information on the different types of belay jacket read our Buyer’s Guide. So I would say that the Arc’teryx Nuclei is a great belay jacket for rock climbing and brilliant for hiking but as a winter climbing jacket it’s much better suited as a climbing layer. For climbing in, the cut was as excellent as you would expect from the Arc’teryx designers. Well cut with little rise when you are extended on those reachy moves. It fitted well under a harness but I would have liked the pockets to have been a little higher on the torso as the pockets were not fully accessible. However you do have to remember the jacket is not exclusively for climbing in and has a more versatile application.
The YKK zips all worked great and were no trouble at all, as usual I would have liked to have seen more glove friendly tabs but they worked OK with thin gloves on. With features cut to the bone there were only two pockets and the lack of an inside or chest pocket was a real drawback for this jacket (although it does make the jacket lighter). There was a tiny internal pocket but this was only big enough for the stow bag to go in and little use for anything else. This, I felt was a serious drawback on what is a brilliant jacket as a third pocket is so useful in climbing situations – food bars, gloves, camera, walkie talkie are all items that I can carry and want access to when climbing. Of course I can, and do, just stuff them inside the jacket, but sometimes I want a little more security than that. And do remember that the side pockets have restricted access when wearing a harness.
The hood was great to have on and worked very well with a peaked hat in hiking/approach situations. It fitted under a helmet very well but was very tight over a helmet, you couldn’t really climb very well when it was used like this. But in the situations I used it as a climbing layer with the hood under the helmet it worked very well. The hood worked very well with a peaked cap and kept any shower off my face.
The gusseted sleeves and articulated elbows worked well with little rise when climbing and the cuffs were fine for pulling over powerstretch gloves or ice climbing gloves with a wrist closure. The waist hem had a single cord adjuster on the right hand side, it worked well enough in the field but was a little fiddly with gloves on, no big deal though. The small internal pocket held a tiny stuffsack into which the jacket fitted to make it extremely compact for travel. I haven’t used it climbing as I’ve often been wearing it. The small attachment point could have been bigger, again this all about being glove friendly for belaying in on the stance.
The Arc’teryx Nuclei is a great 3 season belay jacket that comes in men’s and women’s versions. It would be suitable for rock climbing, hiking, alpine climbing and great as an all day piece for ice climbing and gnarly alpine routes. The quality is five stars, as you would expect from Arc’teryx and it will be great for all of your climbing adventures except for the coldest conditions. Oh, and have I mentioned it’s light…very light…very, very light. There will be many other brands looking at this jacket to see how they can lighten up their own range.
Why not receive our latest reviews and gear news via your inbox by following our blog: perfect for all gear freaks! Just sign up via the home page link in the sidebar. We never keep an email list (too much hassle – we’re out climbing) and we would never, ever pass your email address on to someone else (no, no, no that would be very unethical).