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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.