One of the most important issues when dealing with backcountry camping or multi-day hiking is the issue of changing weather. Even the best days of summer can turn downright nasty in a hurry, especially if you are in the mountains or visiting a northerly country. Having proper emergency clothing can save your life. The Arc’teryx Cerium SL Jacket can be that for you.
My friends often call me over prepared. I start planning for expeditions or even weekend camping trips months in advance. Yes, I can be a bit obsessive. But that’s just my loveable, quirky way. So, it is no wonder that I keep a down jacket in my pack, stuffed in a compression sack. Coupled with a waterproof and windproof shell, this combination can provide warmth down to temperatures well below freezing. This makes it perfect for situations when the weather changes on you abruptly, or even at night, once the high output hiking has stopped for the day and you want to be comfortable around your campsite. It would also be suitable for those times when you need a warmer layer during a period of inactivity during the day, say, during a belay of another climber, or while you are waiting for your crack at a climbing route.
Many companies make down jackets that suit this task quite well. For the last few years, I’ve carried a North Face Quince jacket in my pack pretty much where ever I go. It has served me well, and there is no doubt that there have been many times when I have been really glad that I had it with me.
Altitude Sports has graciously provided me with an Arc’teryx Cerium SL jacket to test out. I was pretty stoked to see that it came in the very snazzy Riptide blue color. The jacket is ridiculously light, tipping the scales at a scant 6.5 ounces. This figure is made all the more impressive when you realize that the jacket is not filled completely with down. While Arc’teryx does use 850 fill down in most of the jacket, it makes use of something they call “Down Composite Mapping” to add a synthetic insulator to areas of high compression, moisture accumulation, or both. For the Cerium, this means that there is synthetic insulation at the cuffs, under the arms and down your inner ribcage, and on the top of the shoulder. This means that when those areas get compressed by a pack, or by the cuffs on your gloves, the synthetic insulation will keep you warm. Doubly true for the area under your arms, during activities that involve a bit more effort. The rest of the jacket is still 100% down filled. On other jackets, Arc’teryx will include Coreloft in the hood, but the Cerium SL does not have a hood.
The jacket comes with two side pockets that sit down quite low. If you’re wearing this jacket alone, a climbing harness or a pack with a waist strap will mean making getting into these pockets a bit difficult. To be honest, though, the pocket configuration may not matter that much. On wet or windy days, you will probably be wearing this jacket under a shell of some sort despite the jacket’s DWR coating, making all of the pockets inaccessible. Your shell will probably have pockets of their own. There is no chest pocket on this jacket. I’m cool with that. A chest pocket means an extra zipper, which means more potential for cold air penetration.
Speaking of pockets. The stuff sack that the jacket comes with is located in one of them. It’s a standalone stuff sack, tethered to the jacket with a small cord. This different from the North Face product which uses one of the pockets as a stuff sack. They both work quite well. Neither storage method is waterproof, so if you are hiking in a wet climate I would recommend that you put your jacket inside of a drybag or something similar.
So, anyway, how about some information on how it works? Well, for starters, the men’s small size fits my frame (6′, 150 lbs) perfectly. The sleeves are long enough that they do not ride up my forearms when I stretch my arms straight out in front of me. It’s snug, but does not prevent me from lifting my arms, or in any way impede my movements. It easily fits under my Arc’teryx Venta shell, which is also a size small, and a Patagonia rain shell that I wear when I ice climb because it fits very close to my body.
But is it warm? Well, it’s early September right now, and not bone chillingly cold here, yet, so I have not had a chance to wear it in a truly cold climate. It is starting to get chilly at night and in the early mornings and on these occasions, when the temperature is down in the low single digits Celsius, I am quite comfortable, perhaps even too warm. My North Face Quince jacket would keep me warm well below -20C when I wore it under a light shell, and I expect the Cerium to be able to do the same. In a few weeks I will be in Northern California hiking in Redwood National Park and expect to use this at night, where I expect it to be much colder than it is here right now. I will update this review with more information once I return, and throughout our winter.