Ultralight Shell Jacket
Arc’teryx Incendo SL Jacket and Cita SL Jacket
$129, 2.8 oz. (men’s medium), 2.3 oz. (women’s)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL
With an ultralight shell—besides very low weight—we’re seeking a delicate balance between competing objectives: breathability for high-exertion activities like running, and protection against wind and light precipitation. On numerous late-winter and spring trail runs and mountain bike rides, in conditions running the gamut from sunny, cool, and breezy to cold wind, rain, and blowing snow flurries, the new Arc’teryx Incendo SL walked that fine line between breathability and weather protection like no other ultralight shell I’ve seen.
Hitting my local Foothills trails to hike, run (up to 12 miles), and mountain bike, I wore this insanely light shell through that wide range of weather, with temps in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit, and while sweating hard on sustained uphills and cooling off on long descents. On those outings—which ranged up to about three hours—wind was frequently present and sometimes strong and cold, and I got rained on mid-run a couple of times for 30 minutes or more and once snowed on briefly.
The Incendo’s performance consistently impressed me. Even wearing it on long ascents when I sweated hard, it got no more than slightly damp inside and dried within a few minutes once my exertion level dropped. What strikes me as most unique is that it simply does not accumulate much moisture inside.
In steady rain, the jacket had the appearance of wetting out, but it still cut most of the wind and didn’t feel terribly wet against my body—no more wet than my two base layers were with perspiration, anyway—and was only slightly damp inside when I removed it afterward, probably because of how rapidly it dries. It’s not a rain shell, but in rain and wind when your base layers are wet, it will help prevent you from getting wetter and colder.
The men’s Incendo SL and the women’s Cita SL Jacket are made from extremely thin Canim 100 percent polyester fabric in the front and outer arms that blocks wind effectively, although not completely, as some ultralight shells do. The even wispier Permair 20 nylon delivers a high level of air permeability across the back and through the undersides of the sleeves extending nearly to the cuffs. A DWR (durable, water-repellent treatment) sheds light rain off the fabric exterior.
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The fit is trim, with space for one or two base layers underneath, while allowing a comfortable and complete range of motion. The low-profile collar provides minimal but adequate neck coverage without you ever really noticing it. Elasticized cuffs and waistband keep wind out, and the cuffs have enough stretch to push the sleeves up to your elbows—which is nice and not possible in all ultralight or standard shells.
The jacket stuffs into an inside “envelope” pocket with overlapping flaps (in lieu of a zipper), packing down to the size of a fist—smaller than any ultralight shell I’ve used. I could squeeze a smartphone inside that pocket; but the phone is heavier than the jacket and would bounce against my side when running (and sit irritatingly under a daypack waistbelt when hiking), so that pocket’s only real functionality is for stuffing the jacket and perhaps stashing something very light, like a gel or energy chews packet.
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One caveat: These fabrics illustrate the adjective “wispy,” especially the highly breathable Permair 20 fabric across the entire back and under the arms, making these shells only appropriate for running, hiking, mountain biking and similar activities with only a light pack or running vest or none. Wearing a heavy pack over either jacket may quickly tear the back fabric, and climbing would almost certainly shred it.
Achieving a seemingly unbeatable new standard in ultralight shells at under three ounces, the Arc’teryx men’s Incendo SL Jacket and women’s Cita SL Jacket raise the bar for breathability in exchange for a slight compromise in wind and rain resistance (and I’ve used and reviewed many ultralight shells over the years). It’s also priced competitively for this category, and the same price as the second-lightest competitor, the Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase an Arc’teryx men’s Incendo SL Jacket at Moosejaw.com; or Incendo Hoody at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, or rei.com; or Incendo Vest at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com; or a women’s Cita SL Jacket at Moosejaw.com or rei.com; or Cita Hoody at Moosejaw.com or rei.com; or Cita Vest at Moosejaw.com or rei.com.
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See my review of “The Best Ultralight Hiking and Running Jackets” and all of my reviews of ultralight wind shells, ultralight rain jackets, trail-running gear, hiking apparel, and outdoor apparel at The Big Outside.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.