The past three weeks The Open Road's review team has been putting Arc'Teryx's Sidewinder SV jacket and pant to the test. We've skied them in some brutally cold weather and on warmer days. In both cases, however, we were swimming through at least 18 inches of Utah powder. It was the ideal testing lab.
If you spend any time at all around ski stores (mea culpa), you will have noticed Arc'Teryx gear. It tends to be very lightweight. Arc'Teryx does make insulated jackets, but these aren't the ones that stand out to me. No, I've longed to try one of its hard shells but always assumed that they wouldn't be warm enough.
Worn over a t-shirt, that supposition might well be correct. But with proper layering (I generally wear a layer or two of Under Armour gear, depending on the conditions) both the Arc'Teryx Sidewinder SV jacket and pants came through a cold powder wash just fine. While not quite as warm as the North Face and Mountain Hardwear jackets we evaluated, the Arc'Teryx gear is also not as bulky as the apparel we reviewed from these other brands.
Both the Arc'Teryx Sidewinder SV pant and jacket are made from 480N Gore-Tex 3 Layer Pro, which means while exceptionally lightweight and breathable, there's not a chance of snow/water getting through the coat. We took the coat/pants out in some extremely wet powder days and came away bone dry.
Equally importantly, despite not having a lot of soft internal lining (read: zero) , the Arc'Teryx Sidewinder jacket and pants weren't abrasive. They didn't feel like velvet but they also didn't feel like sheet metal which is sometimes what ski gear feels like on a cold day. Normally when a hard shell gets cold you feel it scraping against you...all day long. We took the Sidewinder coat and pants for a spin today when the temperature wasn't much above 5 degree Fahrenheit and came away with nary a scratch or chafing to the cheek. That's pretty impressive.
Jaime, one of our reviewers, had this to say:
The Arcteryx jacket was unbelievably lightweight and a superb wind blocker. I layered too well thinking the shell was so light I might get cold. Instead I was plenty warm and had to unzip the pits for some air. I liked that the ventilation did not have mesh and let air right in. My only complaint is that hoods don't mix with helmets, though I could still zip the front around my face just fine.
The Sidewinder pant also had some innovative touches to its design. Like Apple software or a Frank Lloyd Wright piece of architecture, form follows function with a gusseted crotch, articulated knees, and articulated seat. Sounds dirty but what it translates to is a pant that feels natural absorbing the bumps and giving plenty of room when carving turns, sporting an oh-so-80's daffy off the cat track, or whatever you happen to want to do.
One additional touch that our reviewers really liked was the curve to the zipper in the Arc'Teryx Sidewinder jacket (shown above). It made it much less likely that I was going to cut my chin on the zipper, though it did take some getting used to. (I'm slow. :-)
Should you buy the Sidewinder jacket ($600) and pant ($380)? I don't think you could go wrong with these, though the jacket wasn't my favorite of those we evaluated. It did, however, get top billing from two of our reviewers (and the pant was well-received by everyone). Are they worth the price for "just a hardshell?"
If the question means, "Is it worth being warm and 100% dry in the harshest conditions?" the answer is "Yes." In fact, two of our reviewers went out to buy the Sidewinder jacket and pant right after finishing the evaluation. That's a pretty good vote of approval.