Tested: Arc’teryx LEAF WX Cold SV Jacket

Arc’teryx was already one of my favourite brands; in a world full of brand names whose heritage has been thrown away in the pursuit of a fast buck – yes Burberry, I’m looking at you – the Canadian firm refuses to compromise on the quality and design of its products.

This means that they can be quite expensive. But, who among us minds paying a bit extra when it’s justified? While I’m quite happy to wear lesser clothing if I’m just pottering to the pub, anything more hard-core demands proper expedition-quality clothing.

And yet, there is a group of users for whom even the standard product isn’t enough. Specifically law enforcement and the armed forces, the people after whom the LEAF range is named.

A recent trip to the Yukon territory in Canada seemed like an ideal opportunity to test the Arc’teryx LEAF WX Cold SV on its own territory. The jacket – the SV stands for severe, a nomenclature that hints at the sort of conditions the designers had in mind – is insulated and windproof and designed to be worn by special forces and police SWAT teams when conducting special reconnaissance tasks in extremely cold climates.

Other technical features includes a two-way front zip, Velcro cuff closures for easier adjustment even when you’re wearing mittens, an insulated hood that is both removeable and adjustable, a drawcord waist adjuster with a vertically routed hem,  a plethora of pockets including insulated hand-warmer pockets, and two huge internal mesh pockets that are ideal for stashing your mittens and hat in when you take the coat off.

The external material is GORE® WINDSTOPPER, and the insulation is CLIMASHIELD Prism Fibrefill with a durable water-repellent layer. No temperature rating is given, but I wore it on top of Arc’teryx merino wool underwear and a Thorium AR Hoody in temperatures as low as -40°C (although the C in this case is redundant as -40° is the point at which the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales meet) and was perfectly comfortable, even when stationary for prolonged periods. The WINDSTOPPER fabric was especially effective, helping reduce the wind chill factor in even the worst conditions.

The synthetic insulation also means that it will retain its warmth if the coat gets wet. Many Internet experts will tell you that this isn’t important because if it’s cold enough to need a down-filled jacket then it’s too cold for it to rain. This is true but neglects two common situations, both of which affected me in Canada. The first is when snow and ice accumulate on the outside of the jacket. Brushing it off before you venture indoors will remove the bulk of it but you will inevitably miss some, which means it will melt and the water will seep into your fabric of your jacket.

The second is when negotiating overflow, the dangerous situation when you are walking on a frozen river and come across flowing water that has broken through. While this will freeze fairly quickly, until it does you are going to get wet – and getting wet at such extreme temperatures will be lethal if your wet clothes lose their ability to insulate you.

So, while I love a down-filled jacket for the evening when I’m safely tucked up in my tent, I prefer synthetic insulation when I’m out and about. Yes, it’s heavier than down, and no it’s not quite as effective but it will keep me warm even if it gets wet, and that trumps the whole weight/efficiency argument for me.

All-in-all, I’m hugely impressed with the Arc’teryx LEAF WX Cold SV jacket. As with all tactical clothing, the range of colours might be limited (in this case black and a khaki colour that Arc’teryx calls ‘crocodile’) but the fit and finish is beyond reproach. Which is how it should be; while we amble around in the wilderness for fun, the guys and gals that rely on clothing like this are there because they have to be.

They can’t postpone the day because the weather looks a bit rough, and clustering around an open fire drinking hot chocolate to warm up usually isn’t an option (unless it’s the basking in the warming glow of their enemy’s burning infrastructure, obviously…). Folk like this reply on their equipment to keep them alive, and the greatest compliment I can pay the Arc’teryx LEAF WX Cold SV jacket is that I forgot I was wearing it; its fit and the warmth it generated allowed me to concentrate on taking photographs and interviewing mushers on the Yukon Quest. And that’s really all we can ask of our cold weather clothing, isn’t it?

Prices depend on your market, but expect to pay around $899/£749/€1,299. Available in the UK from Edgar Brothers

Carlton Boyce @motoringjourno