On winter and spring trail runs in my local foothills in every combination of cool to cold wind or calm air and overcast to sunny skies, and on a hike-scramble of 11,330-foot Twin Peaks in Utah’s Wasatch Range—nearly nine miles with 6,200 vertical feet of up and down—on a sunny October day with temps ranging from the 40s to the 50s Fahrenheit and cool wind at times, the Arc’teryx Norvan Windshell Jacket demonstrated its strengths and minor shortcomings as one of the very lightest of the many ultralight wind shells you’ll find today.
Whether running on winter days chilly enough to wear the Norvan Windshell going both uphill and downhill, or spring and fall days in the 40s to 50s Fahrenheit with light wind and sunshine, when I pulled on the shell only on the descents, the ultralight Canim nylon ripstop polyester fabric always blocked wind well enough to prevent me getting chilled. The jacket has a DWR (durable, water-resistant treatment) to shed light precipitation, but it will wet out in a steady rain.
The jacket breathes better than most in this category and arguably better than any other, or at least matches the very best in that department. Thanks in part to lighter, highly breathable Permeair 20 fabric extending along the underside of the sleeves down the sides, it never allowed much moisture buildup inside, even when I sweated hard on long ascents; that also enabled my wet base layers to quickly dry out while moving downhill. The flip side of that coin is that it also allows some wind to penetrate—a desirable balance of breathability and wind resistance for many trail runners and hikers but one to be aware of, if you often find yourself out in strong, chilly wind.
Most conspicuously, at just 3.2 ounces (91g), the Norvan Windshell has few competitors for weight-to-performance ratio, and this highly packable shell stuffs into its one zippered hip pocket, squishing down to the size of a baseball or slightly larger than a smartphone. With the jacket on you, that pocket can hold small, weightless items like a car key or hotel key card, and a smartphone does fit inside it but is heavy enough to bounce around and awkwardly pull this jacket downward on that side.
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Its low weight owes partly to it lacking a hood, meaning less wind protection than hooded ultralight shells, some of the best of which are mere grams to an ounce or two heavier. That’s a tradeoff worth contemplating, and the choice comes down to your typical activity and environment. On shoulder-season trail runs or days in the mountains when I expect cool wind and possibly a light shower, I like a hooded ultralight shell. But on many trail runs of a few hours or less when I may only need a shell to guard against cooling off on the downhill, the Norvan Windshell is perfect—and the carabiner loop lets me clip it to a bottle belt or very compact running vest.
With the usual articulated sleeves, adjustable hem, and elasticized cuffs found in a wind shell this light, the trim fit feels good when running, hiking, or scrambling and accommodates a couple of midweight base layers.
One caveat: The Norvan Windshell’s wafer-thin fabric makes it only appropriate for running, hiking, mountain biking, and similar activities that involve wearing nothing more than a light pack or running vest.
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Arc’teryx Norvan Windshell Jacket
Offering breathability and packability matched by only a few of the very best ultralight wind shells, good wind resistance, and a weight lower than virtually any serious competitor, the Arc’teryx Norvan Windshell Jacket will appeal to trail runners, hikers, mountain bikers, and others in high-exertion, done-in-a-day activities who typically need a moderate level of weather resistance in a very minimalist shell.
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See “The Best Ultralight Hiking and Running Jackets” and “The Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking,” and all 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.