Why Arc'teryx Clothing Is Expensive

There are two reasons why I am writing this article:

1. To explain what I’ve learned about Arc’teryx LEAF gear after wearing it very often for a year

2. To post photos of myself wearing said gear.

Case in point.

When I first saw how much Arc’teryx stuff cost, I was incredulous. How could this be? A six-hundred-dollar jacket? Three hundred bucks for a pair of pants? Now, a year or so on, I’m sold on their products.

Before I go any farther, I should also mention that most of my experience is with Arc’teryx LEAF (Law Enforcement/Armed Forces), their “tactical” line of clothing, and that some of the items I’ve used were given to me by either Arc’teryx or my friend Jim at Deliberate Dynamics, who sells their gear. However, I’ve also spent a significant amount of my own money buying Arc’teryx LEAF gear.

Reason # 1 – Quality

It’s easy for a reviewer to say that a product is high quality and then move on to other things without explaining further. I’d point to three specific things about Arc’teryx that make their product high quality – design, materials, and construction.

Design

When I say that there is quality in their design, I mean not only style, but that the items are intended for a specific purpose or task and they perform that task very well. They do so with a minimal amount of weight and bulk and often include clever features that are so well integrated that they might be missed at first or second glance. These design features sometimes show up on other manufacturers’ products, but they originate at Arc’teryx.

Although it is one of their more simple products, I will use the Atom LT jacket (MSRP $199) as an example of excellence in design. It’s a pretty basic insulated jacket and available in a variety of colors in their standard line, as well as black, Crocodile (sort of a brownish/greenish/tan), and Wolf (gray/grey) in the LEAF line. It was mostly unchanged when it went from Arc’teryx to LEAF, other than color, and that’s a good thing, because it didn’t need to be changed.

“Crocodile” blended in very well in Syria. Unlike my face, voice, and attitude.

What makes it so great? It weighs 11.5 ounces and is compressible. And it has kept me freakishly warm in some rather cold places, with temperatures reaching just below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, it’s waterproof and also quite breathable.

I don’t feel uncomfortable wearing it at temperatures up to 65 or 70 degrees, and even then, I can just unzip it. That brings me to another cool design feature, which is that many of the zippers can be unzipped simply by pulling the collar of the jacket away from its counterpart. This is a lot better than fumbling with a zipper if you have thick gloves on or are wearing a pack with chest straps. On the other hand, this means that if you wear scarves like I do, the zipper will be constantly unzipping itself to a certain point unless the zipper is up all the way. Since I’m probably the only person on the “bring masculinity back to scarves” train, that isn’t a big deal.

The fact that it can be compressed and/or squished down to approximately the size of a compressed camp pillow is outstanding. And because it weighs less than a pound, it’s something that always goes with me if I think I might have to deal with even mildly chilly temperatures.

Materials

There are a lot of materials used by Arc’teryx, and I won’t try to cover them all here or describe them in detail, because that’s not my forte. What I will say about Arc’teryx materials is that every lot of, say, Gore-Tex that comes in is inspected through a number of processes before it’s used in clothing. Other manufacturers do this, but perhaps not to the same fanatical level of attention to detail. By the way, whoever managed to make waterproof fleece is a genius.

In addition, the company drives the development or modification of materials for other purposes – for example, thinner waterproof tape over seams. In the end, what matters most is that when it comes to selecting a material for a product, performance (weight, durability, insulation/breathability/waterproofing) is the determining factor, not cost.

Despite being made with as light and breathable a fabric as I have ever encountered, the Chimera shirts (MSRP $149) my teammate (pictured) and I were given to use during the 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge showed no rips or tears after spending lots of time low crawling over sharp rocks and thistles/brambles.

Construction

I can be very detail-oriented at times, but before I had ever laid hands on Arc’teryx stuff, I hadn’t really considered the details of clothing manufacture. Even now, I’ll admit that having a near-perfectly stitched seam doesn’t keep me any warmer. However, when I look at the way their clothing is put together, I am simply impressed.

I took some macro photos of both my Arc’teryx Bravo jacket in Wolf (MSRP $329) and my Dickies Storm gray jacket. I paid approximately ten times as much for the Bravo jacket (the Dickies product was on closeout – I paid closer to retail for the Arc’teryx product). This isn’t intended to be a direct comparison of these specific products, just a look at how a very expensive Arc’teryx jacket compares to a very inexpensive one in an attempt to show that “you get what you pay for.” I picked the same areas of each jacket for the photos below.

With very few exceptions, the stitching of an Arc’teryx product looks like this – straight, even, orderly.

In comparison, the overall stitching of my Dickies jacket is not even or straight.

At full zoom, we can see that the fabric and stitching of the Arc’teryx product, although it has seen very heavy and frequent use, is in excellent shape.

Whether it is due to use or construction or design, the Dickies fabric and stitching appears more worn.

This joining of fabrics on the Bravo jacket, while not perfect, is quite orderly. In addition, the methods of stitching simply look robust to me.

The same area of the Dickies jacket, which is of similar design, shows a much simpler and perhaps less confidence-inspiring manufacturing method.

This internal zippered pocket of the Bravo jacket is shown at full zoom for inspection purposes only – there aren’t any internal zippered pockets on the Dickies jacket.

It comes as no real surprise to me that after almost a year of using the Bravo jacket and treating it roughly, it looks practically new. I’m also not surprised when I hear anecdotal reports from friends who use Arc’teryx stuff that it lasts for years instead of months. I’ve had my share of clothing and gear wear out prematurely, but that really isn’t a concern with any Arc’teryx product I’ve used. The only Arc’teryx product I no longer use is the Alpha jacket (MSRP $599) I loaned to an ex-girlfriend. She decided to never return it.

Reason #2 – Style and Image

I would be remiss if I ignored the fact that a certain level of panache goes with wearing Arc’teryx. Their products are made of materials that not only perform well, but look good. And the same consistency shown above at the smallest levels exists in the overall appearance. Some Arc’teryx products look like finely tailored garments. Others make average people look totally awesome. Well, almost.

A few people might replace “panache” with a slightly less complimentary word, implying some level of snobbishness. That’s fine with me – I like saving money, but I also like nice things, and I don’t really care what other people think about what I wear (except for the time I was invited to a party and found my date looking stunning in a black dress while I looked like an idiot in a t-shirt and jeans).

Negative perceptions aside, Arc’teryx clothing is, to me, quite stylish. Even if it’s been used hard.

Would Paul and I look this good if we weren’t wearing Arc’teryx? Of course not. In fact, we might not have even finished the event, because half of being good is looking good.

This is what happens when you don’t wear Arc’teryx.

To me, there is a lot of appeal in buying a jacket – say, the Bravo in Wolf – that I can wear on a hike or while sliding down a rocky hill, brush the dirt off of, and wear around town without having people look at me like I just crawled out of a storm drain. And in terms of colors, their selections are outstanding – Crocodile works in a lot of places that are brown or green, as I’ve found in places as varied as Lebanon and Arizona. Wolf looks at home in the fancy parts of an urban area but also helped me blend in to to the slums of East Saint Louis.

Should You Buy Arc’teryx Clothing?

For many, the question will be, “Is the Arc’teryx product worth two, five, or ten times as much as what I already own or am thinking about buying?”

From an objective standpoint, as one tries on respective brands in a store, the difference may not be apparent. But after weeks, months, or even years of use, the Arc’teryx jacket or shirt or pants will still be in good shape, performing just like it did when it was new. It will also retain a significant amount of value, should you ever wish to sell it. And, of course, there is the elusive value of an item that is simply “nicer” – whether that is in stitching or welding, and whether or not those details are immediately apparent. It’s hard to find apparel that is “nicer” than Arc’teryx – and that’s why it’s expensive.

If you like having nice things that last, you’ll probably appreciate Arc’teryx. If you just want a jacket for occasional use, you might want to look elsewhere.

This was my first time wearing a shirt, pants, and belt that (combined) cost twice as much as the rifle I was carrying. But it will not be my last.

I can’t make a purchasing decision for you, but I can say that I’ve bought Arc’teryx jackets – at significant expense – because I truly believe that they are a quality product worthy of my hard-earned money.

58 comments

  • Nice assessment. I’ve been a fan of their gear for the mountains for nearly 15 years. Original pieces I own have never let me down including not only clothes but packs, etc to boot. Well made and rightly so

  • You know of course that they make this stuff in China. I would rather support US brands than those companies who would use slave labor.

    • If you have evidence that Arc’teryx uses slave labor, please send it to me.

      • Not any more than Patagonia does- anther stellar company with excellent, well made and amazing service to boot.

    • Lowest cost labor yields highest profits. If this stuff is so expensive think about it. We really need this made in the USA. Maybe not slave labor but just like the rest of things from China, quality will eventually suffer. Bring things back to the US to be made!

      • You do realize that Arc’teryx is a Canadian company, not US… right?

        • I know right, damn Canadians, bring your company back to the USA……I mean, wait…..let me think about this some more…..

          • I believe it was bought by soloman, which is owned by adidas, so it’s american now but it’s headquarters are still in vancouver

          • Salomon is French and no longer part of Adidas (who are German). Salomon is now held by Amer Sports who are Finnish. No Americans in this mix at all.

    • I thought the same thing when they moved some of the products out of Canada and into other areas (China is just one of the locations where they make certain items). Many of the items are still made in Canada, but when talking to people inside Arc’teryx it had nothing to do with profits, at least not directly. It had to do with the skilled labor compared to demand. How many people do you know that sew for a living? The key is quality control and continued innovation. I have yet to see quality fall off, but I have seen some of the prices come down…..

    • Mark, if you look at the LEAF web page and select “Trade Act Compliant” you will see the Berry Amendment compliant selections that are domestically manufactured.

    • Actually if you knew your stuff; you would know that arc’teryx leaf products and a number of they’re outdoor line of products are still made in Canada.

  • Had to stop reading and leave a quick note: I had no idea there was a train to “bring masculinity back to scarves.” I like this idea. Where can I get more information?

  • I completely agree with stitching. To most it may not seem to make much of a difference but to me it is a selling point of quality.

    Most kit is made from the same cordura/nylon, ripstop, or synthetics whether it is Condor or Arcteryx and the only real place to shine in quality of construction is stitching. Obviously if one stitch is 1/32nd off it isn’t going to affect strength at all but just seeing those perfectly straight lines of stitching shows how much they put into making their garment/kit.

    Next time you have the displeasure of seeing Condor, look at its stitching.

  • It is true that their products are manufactured in China and a few other places. The company that warehouses and imports their line here in Washington state is a customer I deliver to on the regular. I have seen the boxes and packaging marked where it is imported from. For the price I would expect them to be using our American labor force.

  • I’ll have to grab some Arc’teryx equipment for use in IDPA.

  • Those seem like two interesting color choices.

    FDE/Coyote has a tendency to look more orange than earth tone, and black is, well, black. It sounds like Crocodile and Wolf improve on each, respectively.

  • One reason may items are produced in China is manufacturing ability and techniques. The technology to perform some operations is only available there.

  • According to the wikipedia article, they’ve recently outsourced some of their operation to southeast Asia due to expansion and having been acquired by Adidas.

    • Arc’teryx is no longer owned by Adidas; they are owned by Amer Sports of Finland. Same company that owns Suunto, Salomon, PreCor and Wilson. It is generally run in a hands-off fashion by Amer. I also work with a company that supplies a couple of other Amer subsidiaries, and the stories I’ve heard of his AmerSports clients pushing for breakthroughs, performance and quality no matter the cost are extraordinary. Amer is not a corporate overlord looking to squeeze margins and given the number of Salomon boots, Arc’Teryx jackets and Suunto watches we see on guys at the pointy tip of the spear, I think this strategy speaks for itself.

      As to Asian production, the fact is that the sewn goods industry center of gravity is firmly entrenched in Asia now. Benefits are far beyond simple cost; Asian factories are closer to suppliers, better supported by production machinery companies (like Juki and Gerber), are plugged right into the woven goods manufacturers supply chain and have vast pools of workers skilled in manufacturing. Labor cost differences between Asia and North America are eroding as Chinese workers demand higher salaries, but the other competitive advantages remain absolutely tangible.

      Arc’teryx never produced goods in the USA; they are a Canadian company with their HQ in Vancouver and their primary domestic production facility about 45 minutes away in Burnaby, BC. I’ve visited both the HQ and Burnaby factory. Talking to the seamstresses, cutters and pattern makers in Canada, and they will all tell you that the Chinese produced goods are absolutely identical to their Canadian made counterparts. Most of (actually, all) the Canadian workers are 1st and 2nd generation Chinese immigrants themselves and one even pointed out that you can’t tell the difference between the Burnaby, BC factory and one of the Chinese factories from a picture – it’s all Asian folks sitting at Juki and Brother sewing machines and on top of massive cutting tables.

      (BTW – talking to these folks is jealousy inducing. Every single Arc factory worker I’ve met is decked out in custom made pieces that the build themselves from Arc’teryx materials.)

      Part of the reason these folks are proud to say that the Chinese built goods are the same quality as the ones they produce is because they all recognize the extraordinary lengths Arc’Teryx has gone through to staff the domestic factory. You don’t get the quality of work Arc’teryx does by grabbing people off the street and putting them in front of a Juki single needle machine. The simplest job in the production process (single needle sewing) takes 2-3 years to get really good at. Getting a cutter who can slice through 50 sheets of horrendously expensive GorTex fabric with the precision Arc’Teryx needs requires someone with 5-10 years of experience. There is no training program in the world that Arc’Teryx could implement that could bring inexperienced job seekers into the factory and start manufacturing at their level; this is a company that absolutely depends on having access to a thriving community of experienced, quality workers.

      Put simply, Arc’teryx has come close to exhausting the community of sewers in the Vancouver area (if not Canada as a whole). The decision to expand production to China was not taken lightly, nor was cost the primary driver.

  • This is some good info. Most of there stuff is out of my league, my I respect it. But, that Atom jacket is totally obtainable. I may get it.

  • Greg- thanks for that. That’s essentially echo’ing the point Yvon Chouinard made on Patagonia manufacturing.

  • no item in this writeup is waterproof. they are DWR, and regardless of the brand, the finish will need to be reapplied to maintain its hydrophobic properties after 10-20 washes dependent on the fabric properties and detergents used.

    the benefit that arcteryx has on this front is that tightly knit fabrics and seams that naturally (mechanically) shed dirt prolong the water resistance of the fabrics as embedded dirt reduces DWR effectiveness.

    • Yeah, it is not “waterproof”, but if you hold it under a running faucet for 30 seconds, all the water will be in the sink and the jackets are dry. I am sure pack straps pressing on it would work the water in, but rain on the jacket, they work pretty good. I was amazed what the minotaur did. I think I will die of old age before I wash my jacket 20 times.

  • Thanks for the write up, really enjoy your blog

  • Yes I do, spent about 4 yrs building it. First flight was Sept of 06. Great flying airplane! Went from a Citabria 7GCBC to the 8, like going from a muzzleloader to am AR ;)
    Again really enjoy your blog, if you ever find yourself in Pa lunch is on me

    • What’s wrong with a muzzle loader? Don’t you like the big white cloud of smelly “I’m here!”?

  • This article is very well written. I have used Arc’teryx clothing and gear for years now walking around town, camping with my friends, climbing mountains around the world and serving in areas such as Afghanistan out on operations and have not once had anything bad to say about the gear. I am a penny pincher by nature but somehow I own thousands of dollars worth of Arc’teryx.

    One thing I would liked to have seen in this article would be the customer support. I cant stand when you buy something and a little ways down the road have to contact the distributor or manufature to inquire about (whatever it may be). With Arc’terxy its a simple phone call or email, you’re talking with an actual person right away and get immediate resuts.

    One of the first pieces of kit I owned was the Fusion jacket in crocodile. On one of my deployments, through demanding use I ended up blowing the zipper. Nothing to do with the construction of the jacket…I just put it through its paces. It had been years so obviously I didnt have my reciept anymore. I called Arc’teryx, the gave me directions, I sent the jacket back to Canada and a couple weeks later I had my jacket back, zipper fixed and a coupe tears I had managed to make sewn back up all for no cost. And keep in mind this return all completed within a couple weeks from half a world away, no cost to myself…what more can you ask for?

  • when you put the New Bravo next to original Bravo ….you will see the difference! The old Bravo list for $400 made in Canada new Bravo list for $329 made in China…which one will bring in more profit? what you think? ha ha of course new Bravo..cheaper material cheaper labor plus ship them back to North America from China and charges $70 less!…died bird is getting pricey ….ready for another price hike on regular item this summer! like Rampart pants..2012 is $99 now two price I saw on the web $109 vs $119…anyway 10% increase for sure!…

  • A maker of well made clothing and gear amongst a handful of well made companies, Arc’Teryx stands out because it’s Design driven rather than Sales or, Marketing driven. A better review would’ve been the reasons WHY Arc’Teryx is ‘better’ than: Patagonia, Marmot, Westcomb, Mountain Hardwear, Mammut, The North Face, etc…

    It’s one thing to tout the virtues of your favorite kit, we all do, however, a proper review helps put things into perspective and gives the reader a better understanding of the subject matter. All the above brands utilize the same licensed technology (Gore-Tex, Windstopper, eVent, NeoShell, PowerShield, Alpha, Power Dry, Primaloft, etc…), which require material and design compliance; with those stipulations, what’s the difference between the brands? Is Gore Pro-Shell all the same? The types of fabrics and zippers a brand can utilize is very small, not to mention the approved factories that can assemble a Gore Pro-Shell garment is also limited, then there’s the design stipulations that Gore spells out in it’s licensing agreements.

    Arc’Teryx recently had a number of major changes within it’s Sales Department, was there an edict from Amer Corp that some of those outgoing execs didn’t like? A couple of the new sales execs are from The North Face; who’s experience pollinates who? The North Face is a near $3 billion company, Arc’Teryx is a $175 million company, looks like Amer wants some changes with it’s Canadian clothing company.

    As for production in China, when it comes to technical clothing, nobody does it better. As another poster pointed out, the entire supply chain is located in Asia as are the modern machinery and the necessary experienced workers. Just to have fabrics milled and dyed in Asia, then shipped to the US for production would be cost prohibitive. For a US facility to come close to the quality and output necessary to match a China factory, it would require an investment of 5-8 years of slow growth, mentor-ship and training before a factory and it’s workers are competent. The Vancouver factory can only produce so much, the move for additional production to China was a move out of necessity as the clothing segment became the dominant channel for the brand.

    • I use things for a long time before I write a review – 6-12 months in this case – for me to do what you suggest would take years, unless I was paid to do it full time.

    • LEAF is better because it isn’t dayglo orange or other hi viz tropical fish colours used by recreational hikers.

  • Thoughts of Arc’Teryx compared to TAD Gear? I have a lot of stuff from TAD (4 pants, 5 jackets, and a hoodie) and am curious as to what would make Arc’Teryx better or just more expensive than TAD’s stuff. I’m primarily interested on the softshell front. (E.g., TAD’s Seam Taped Stealth Hooie LT ($500) compared to Arc’Teryx LEAF Alpha Jacket ($700))

    • As a follow up to this, I’d like to see a comparison between this and crye precision’s offerings. It seems like, on paper, the crye offerings give more bang/buck and are well used in combat. at what point is it diminishing returns?

      • pantswise go for CP! (those 50/50 NYCO)
        soft shell jacket/pants Dead bird! (it’s more expensive but worth every penny! better workmanship)

        Talos pants sizes S M L…
        they may not fit every one well
        now all made in El Salvador

        CP is by waist size/length and about $50-75 cheaper!
        made in USA

    • one is soft shell (TAD) Alpha s hard shell (gore-tex made in Canada)…Dead bird is second to none! Go get one bird and put it side by side I am 10000% sure you will recycle all your TAD clothing! TAD is more like family runs tailor store..not really a manufacture operation! Plus they have really lousy customer service! On the other hand dead bird has excellent customer service (maybe slow but excellent!) Based on my personal experience DEAD BIRD all the way!

  • You don’t ‘look good’. You look like a baby killer.

    Dirty Americans and their religion of military-worship.

  • Made my first purchase of Arc’teryx clothing this past boxing day. I managed to pick up an Alpha SV (non LEAF line) and an Atom LT for under $550. After a particularly bitter winter, I can say that this is some serious kit, and that I would gladly pay full price for their products again. The Atom is probably the most versatile piece of clothing that I own, and when paired with the Alpha, it kept me warm even when the temperatures were reaching into the -30′s. Not only is the stitching, materials, and fit top notch, but their customer service is awesome.
    You may initially pay the high price tag, but the fact that I am going to be more comfortable, and don’t have to worry about my kit failing on me makes it an easy sell.
    At the end of the day, if you don’t feel that the price is justified, don’t buy it. Simple as that.
    I find it annoying, and rather childish when I see people post that it is way too expensive, but they have never touched the stuff, let alone put it through it’s paces.

  • Too much hype…I think the new production from china yields an inferior product. The gortex or whatever ends up looking like theres toothpaste all over it after almost a year, and garanteed not from abrasion. My k-way, as cheap and unbreathable as is is older and is in much better condition….worth 6 bills or more? Not really….unless you dont mind the wiped on toothpaste look. I dont mind, I just have to explain its the cheaper ones and the fabric layers deteriorate.

  • I agree with kdizzle – support American manufacturing. Live with less quantity and more quality.

  • Pingback: Vuurwapen Blog » Arc’teryx LEAF Pants: Drac vs. Sphinx vs. Talos

  • Arcteryx Veilance line is made in Canada and is a GREAT stuff. Quite expensive, but worth it.

    • Totally agree. I bought the Patrol IS Coat in their Vancouver store Dec 2013. Beautiful coat 3/4 coat, couldnt find it anywhere else, so I bought it as a present for myself – worth every single penny.

  • Great article. I’d consider myself somewhat of a gear junky. The very first time my buddies dragged me up to Dolly Sods Wilderness in WV in late October, I froze my a@@ off – even though I was having a good time, I was constantly battling the snow, moisture, wind, terrain – just all of the elements in the environment around me. That is all it took for me to get good gear moving forward. I’ve learned a lot through trial and error. The one thing that I have learned and accepted is that Arc’teryx, for me, is simply the best gear I have owned. From the Hercules Hoody I have to the Zeta LT Hybrid that I just bought today, I know that I am covered. To date, my favorite pieces of Arc’teryx are my Atom LT 3/4 zip and my limited edition LEAF Atom SV Hoody in multicam. These items are absolutely incredible. It’s like the single pieces are their own dynamic layering system, without the layers. For instance, I can wear the Atom SV Hoody jacket with only a t-shirt when it is 30 f outside and remain perfectly comfortable. The Atom LT is awesome and I can wear that from 35-65 f. I actually find myself wondering how this is accomplished – one piece of clothing for such drastic swings in environment. This is of course just general everyday wear with extended periods outside. When camping, I’ll put more thought into the system that I will wear because after my first time freezing my butt off, I realized that if you prepare, you can enjoy yourself in any conditions. For me, Arc’teryx fits the bill in any environment and I’m more than happy to pay more for a product that I believe in and one that I know will not let me down. I’ve never had a piece of Arc’teryx gear fail on me.

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