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Hands-on Gear Review
Arcteryx Fission SV Review
Cons: Synthetic insulation will break down with time
Bottom line: A moderately insulated, wet weather thorough-bred, the Fission SV is purpose built for wet and cold climates.
Total Weight (pounds): 1.99 lbs
Down Fill Power: Synthetic Coreloft
The Arc'teryx Fission SV is a niche jacket built for wet weather. You can see why this is true based on its feature list: a full Gore-Tex shell, carefully crafted and engineered wrist, waist, and hood closures, and synthetic insulation. Read on for more detail on how the Fission stacks up, and read our entire review for a comprehensive comparison.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Winter Jackets for Men of 2018
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Arc'teryx Fission SV is an excellent jacket, with a unique configuration. A high-price-point synthetic insulated model will have limited appeal. But for those that dig it, there's nothing like it.
We evaluated a healthy, deep field of winter jackets. With combined centuries of experience tromping around in diverse winter climates, our testing team has strong and clear opinions on quality. In overall scoring, only two products exceeded the performance of the Fission SV. Both of those earned awards.
In comparison to the entirety of our tested field, the Fission sits squarely near the bottom of the middle. The design is svelte, and the insulation is synthetic. These attributes combine to limit the overall warmth but enhance other attributes. It is similar in warmth to the Patagonia Jackson Glacier and warmer than the REI Co-op Down Hoodie. In most ways, this jacket is best compared to the Woolrich Bitter Chill.
Both are from companies highly regarded for their cold weather gear, and both are insulated with synthetic fill. The Woolrich blends syn fill with wool and is a little warmer than the Fission SV. If you need something even warmer, we like our Top Pick for Extreme Cold, the Canada Goose Expedition Parka or the Best Buy for Cold Conditions, the McMurdo III. In short, the Fission is not the jacket you pick for absolute warmth.
If the Fission compromises on warmth, it pulls no punches for weather resistance. The full Gore-Tex shell engineered hood, and the clean, welded and seam-taped construction make for the most weatherproof design in our test. In this way it is similar to the Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Camosun and three-in-one The North Face Arrowood Triclimate. However, Arc'teryx goes a step further by equipping the Fission with synthetic insulation.
If the inside gets wet, either through sloppy use (zipper left open, jacket left out in the weather inside-out) or from sweat due to exertion, the synthetic insulation performs better when wet than does down, and dries more readily. In the end, the beefy shell and synthetic insulation combine to make the Fission lead the pack in wet and relatively warm winter conditions.
Arc'teryx is regarded as making excellent fitting garments. Across categories and for years now, OutdoorGearLab has lauded the comfort of their products. The fit is careful, generous, and accommodating, and the cut is close enough to stay out of the wearer's way. The materials are carefully chosen to optimize both protection and comfort. In these ways, the Fission is no different. The one comfort compromise the Fission makes is in the shell fabric.
To make it as weatherproof as possible, the shell fabric is thick and stiff. While this is good for weather resistance, it makes for a "louder" and more crinkly wear. In contrast, our Editors' Choice Men's Ski Jacket, the Arc'teryx Macai is also entirely weatherproof but uses a softer, "quieter" shell material. This softer material absorbs water and stains sooner than the stiff material of the Fission. Similarly, the Camosun is made of a crinkly shell material that compromises some comfort for weather protection.
There are jackets with more features, and there are jackets with fewer. As is seeming to become a theme with our review of the Fission (except for regarding weather resistance), it comes out right in the middle. The Top Pick Canada Goose Expedition leads the features category with all the right pockets, hood and wrist seals, and even a powder skirt.
The Fission SV has a carefully tailored selection of pockets, Velcro wrists, and an excellent hood. With nothing else, we can't grant a high score regarding features to the Fission. However, we must make special mention of the handwarmer pockets. It is easiest for manufacturers to create hand warmer pockets that sit outside the jacket's insulation and are made of the same fabric as the jacket's shell. While easy to manufacture, these pockets are not that useful.
Next, regarding the convenience of manufacturing, are handwarmers created with a zipper through the insulation to put the user's hands against his body, inside the insulation. Ideally, these are generous in size and lined with some fleece. For our reviewers, handwarmer pockets like these set the standard. That is, they set the standard until we used the handwarmers of the Arc'teryx Fission SV. The only drawback of the pocket's design mentioned above is that it leaves a drafty spot when the pockets are open with no hand in them. The pockets on the SV are fully insulated, front and back, and the lining is soft and fleecy on the back of the hand and smooth and soft on the palm. Your hand gets its own insulated envelope, and the jacket has no draft if the pocket is open without a hand in it. Perfection. The handwarmers of the Fission SV are excellent.
The dual sets of handwarmers of The North Face McMurdo III aren't insulated, but they do give the wearer the option of two different places. The Camosun jacket has fuzzy lined hand warmers, but they aren't insulated on both sides like those on the Fission. In comparing hoods of various jackets, the technical hoods of the Fission, the Patagonia Jackson Glacier, and the Camosun reveal the climbing and skiing background of these manufacturers. None of the casual jacket makers have hoods as nice as those on the parkas from these companies.
Very few dislike the look of any tested Arc'teryx clothing; some pieces are truly inspirational. With the Fission, the look is neutral and athletic, with a slightly longer cut than a sport-specific jacket. Most telling was the opinion of one tester, who asserted that the appearance was so neutral that no one would know how much you had spent on the jacket. Now, for some that will be a good thing, while others will want to send a stronger message. We will leave that up to you. All of the jackets we tested are relatively neutral in appearance. Your choice will depend on which way you lean. The clean, modern design of the Fission will appeal to the same people that dig the Camosun.
There are pros and cons of the Fission regarding durability. We know that the beefy construction and proven shell materials will last a long time. We also know that the synthetic insulation will steadily lose its insulating effectiveness over time. There is no way around this latter fact. Down insulation, like that in the Marmot Fordham and many other jackets we tested, will last longer than the synthetic Coreloft insulation of the Fission SV.
We do not hesitate to recommend this jacket for the warm and wet winters of Great Britain, the mid-Atlantic coast, and the NW United States. For the far Northeast of the U.S., and the coasts of Canada, the Fission could be an appropriate spring and fall jacket or one to complement a warmer piece. Choose the SV when it's wet and sloppy, and chose something like the Canada Goose Expedition when it's super cold and dry.
There are better values in our test. With a high sticker price, and relatively short-lived synthetic insulation (in heavy use and repeated packing/unpacking, our testers have seen the insulation value of synthetic jackets cut to 50-60 percent in a year of action), the Fission SV is a specialty piece for those for whom price is less of a concern. For absolute best value, look at inexpensive, down-insulated jackets like Marmot Fordham or the fleece insulated Columbia Mission Air Interchange.
We love Arc'teryx products because they work well and look good doing it. The Fission SV is a specialized piece in a strong field.
— Jediah Proter
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