Stop. Go. Hurry up. Wait. Stop. Go again. Faster though! – That pretty much sums up the movements of an adventure photographer. In almost all of my shooting scenarios I’m moving at near maximum output capacity. Heart racing, sweat dripping. Then all of a sudden, I stop moving completely. Setup a few compositions, rework them, adjust, communicate with talent, direct, adjust etc. Then my core body temperature plummets rapidly as a cold mountain breeze chills the sweat on my back.
My core temperature continues to drop until I’m freezing and just want to get moving again so I can keep the blood flowing and work up a sweat. The problem is, often times it takes longer than a few seconds or minutes to create a really good photograph.
This is what initially lead me on my search to find an insulating layer that can eliminate wind, provide significant warmth, stand up to sweat and wet conditions, and also pack small and light. – I was asking a lot.
“Fast and Light” Isn’t Just Cheeky Marketing
Arc’teryx has an extensive product range. The way they categorize their products can be confusing if you’re not an avid consumer of the brand. There are terms like LT (light), AR (all-around), SV (severe weather), and finally FL (fast & light). Products in the FL range are like a marriage between the products in their LT (light) range and SV (severe weather) range. In simple terms, it’s crazy light, but it’s tough enough to handle the rigors of real adventure.
I’ve personally owned many Arc’teryx products in the LT family and though they do have there purpose, I find that I blow through their products pretty quickly here in the mountains. I’ve had substantially better luck with products in their tougher families like the AR and SV range. This however, was my first FL piece.
The Nuclei FL weights 325 grams but packs a massive punch of warmth. I’d think of this piece as an ultra light weight belay jacket. When it’s in my pack I don’t think about it because it packs down so small but when I throw it on to keep warm and cut harsh mountain winds, it’s delivers in spades.
Synthetic Insulation That Behaves Like ‘Down’ But Better
You can tell right away the difference between a jacket insulated with a natural down fiber or a synthetic fiber. The Nuclei FL is synthetic but until other synthetic jackets, it feels just like down. It floats and expands just as really premium quality down would. It packs down to the size of a grapefruit like a down jacket would too. However it doesn’t have the negative trade-offs of down.
I use to pack a down puffy for my “go-to” layering piece to provide that additional warmth when stopped on the trail, or at camp. However, I found it really limiting. If I’m pushing my cardio and sweating and then I throw on a down jacket. The residual moisture vapors from my sweat will very quickly get into the down jacket, making the down jacket wet and compromising the down.
The other drawback of a down puffy compared to the Nuclei FL is that they’re totally useless against wind. Cold mountain wind travels right through the jacket. I don’t want to have to put on a down puff jacket, and a wind breaker or a rain jacket every time I stop for longer than 5 minutes to create a photo.
Is The Nuclei FL Tough Enough?
I heard a saying the other day that I think applies to the Nuclei FL and other outdoor products in this realm too. “There’s no such thing as solutions, just trade-offs”. Technology and outdoor equipment is getting better and better. The needle continues to move forwards in the right direction every single year. But there is always a balance and a trade-off. Something that is completely waterproof, will never be completely breathable. Something that is incredibly lightweight, will never be entirely bullet proof.
The Nuclei FL strikes a really realistic balance. It’s as light as it can be without being so fragile that it will fall apart in your backpack. The Arato™ 10D ripstop is “durable” considering it’s literally 10D nylon… However, it’s 10D nylon. If you’re climbing up a limestone chimney in the mountains and you’re sandwiched between a couple sharp edges, you’re guaranteed to tear up the jacket at least a little bit.
Other activities like bushwhacking would also be pretty detrimental to the longevity of you Nuclei FL. A couple of twigs and branches poking at you in the wrong direction are surely going to pernitrate your thin amour.
Final Thoughts On the Nuclei FL
Durability is the only possible negative aspect of the jacket. Luckily for me, I don’t see any reason why I would be wearing the Nuclei FL while I’m bushwhacking or sandwiched between jagged limestone walls. I’m wearing this jacket in between my high output activities when I’m resting for longer periods of time, or taking photos where I’m not moving.
The trade-off of an incredibly lightweight and toasty, windproof jacket is well worth the thin fabric that keeps it all together. If you’re looking for a jacket to quickly throw on over your go-to synthetic layering piece for additional warmth, this is definitely what you want. If you’re looking for something really durable to keep you extra toasting while you’re actively rock-climbing jagged spires, you’re going to want to look at something like the Arc’teryx Atom Lt, or Proton lt.