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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Patagonia Nano-Air and Arcteryx Atom Lt comparison?

Colin Haley on the Midi.  photo courtesy of Mikey Schaefer

I've had more questions about the new Nano-Air from Patagonia than any other specific piece of gear this Fall.  Obviously the Patagonia Marketing & PR department is doing its job!

Every email asked the same question..."how do the two compare?  "How about a Nano-Air in a straight up comparison to a Atom LT?"

Both Arcteryx and Patagonia make a real effort to mix their respective and cutting edge alpine climbing ambassadors thoughts with those of their technical clothing design teams.  The results can be pretty impressive from either.

I actually had to rewrite that sentence several times to give each company their due.  I own and use equal amounts from both companies.  Most of it clothing I bought with my own dime on sale via retail outlets or through a pro deal.

My reason for pointing that out is so the reader knows I really have no dog in this fight...and trust me...between the two they do fight over market share.

I judge all clothing by fit first.  You should be doing the same IMO.  And I get the best fit from Arcteryx generally.  But by far the most used pieces of clothing in my gear room are from Patagonia and Westcomb.  Part of that might well be the prices I pay for Arcteryx.  Not actual fact, just speculation from memory sitting here at the key board.

Either way I have always been a big fan of the Atom LT.  Still am.  But it is not perfect for my own needs.

Dave, in his Atom Lt, enjoying life on a cold winter's day.

Having vents on the sides of the Atom LT make is exceptionally usable when you are working hard.  But the vents also make it less friendly when you aren't working so hard.  Arcteyx has come up with several other models now (all of which I have tried) to eliminate the down side.  But IMO they have yet come up with a better replacement for the Atom LT....much as I'd rather not admit that.

More on the Atom LT from pervious writings.

A quick goggle search will get you a host of other reviews/opinions on the Atom LT.

These are some of the other jackets I have done side by side field comparisons to the LT:
Micro Puffs
Nuclei (very good)
Atom AR
SAG Nangpala (exceptional BTW) 
and a bunch of other down sweaters/jackets as well

Suffice it to say I have used a bunch of these mid weight 60g sweaters.  Atom LT is still one of the very best for my own use while alpine climbing in cold conditions.  Makes a heck of a good around town jacket as well.  Which is most of the customer base for all this stuff truth be told!

Enter the newest contender looking for a KO from Patagonia..the Nano-Air.

Big push this fall from Patagonia to market the jacket.  Some amazing pictures from Mikey as always.  And there is no doubt the all the guys actually use the gear on real climbs.

Patagonia sez..."Warm, stretchy, and incredibly breathable".  And it is all of that.  May be even a better answer in those same ways than a Atom LT at least on the surface.

More here from Patagonia:

I am all about having cool new chit.  And everything I give word to here. really is cool new/old chit.  But ya gotta ask..what is the down side? 

Admittedly I am a picky.  Atom LT pocket zippers snag and the main zip doesn't have a lock on it.  But then it doesn't have a lot of pockets either.  Annoying at worst I guess.  The internal liner is slick and easy to layer under at the cost of breathability.  Which the vents make up for I think.

Nano-Air is pretty neat.  It is new and to be honest I have yet to climb in mine.  But I have worn it enough to comment I think.  It is indeed stretchy and it breaths remarketably well.  Better than the Atom LT,  subjective IMO.  But it is not much better.  Hard to beat the vents of the Atom LT for breathing.  But...and there is always a BUTT.

The liner of the Nano-Air is a sticky little prick.  I really dislike the fabric they used as a liner with most layers.   It is "sticky".  Annoyingly so for me on a garment I will always layer with.
Round 1 to the Atom LT.

Front zipper.  Patagonia put a lock on theirs.  Not so Arcteryx.  Round 2 to Patagonia.  Even if I have to replace the zipper at some point which is what Arcteryx claims as reasoning behind their version.

Pockets?  Atom Lt, two zippered on the side seam outside.  One internal chest, zippered.
Nano?  Two outside on the chest.  Two outside in front of the side seam.

Round 3 to the Nano.

Hoods?  With My Petzl or Camp it is a toss up with the Atom LT having a slight edge there.
Longer neck, bigger person will like the Atom.  Other wise the Nano will work just as well I suspect.  Nothing past size to comment on here.  Basic hoods you can use with a helmet under them.

Round 4 is a draw by my card.  If you are a large like I am edge goes to the Atom LT hood.
Knowing many of the athletes on both design teams I'd bet the Arcteryx guys would out weigh the Patagonia guys as a group.  But just barely.   I like BIG hoods...neither of these jackets have BIG hoods.

"I judge all clothing by fit first.  You should be doing the same IMO."

No question for me the Patagonia fit is always a little funky.  The Nano is better than most of Patagonia for me I think.  I am 207# this morning and 6'1".  Up 10 # or so from where I should be.
But size issues haven't changed.  Fit on the hoods, forearms and a good bit of stretch is still required.

I am a size large in both the Nano and the Atom LT.  XL in either make is too big.   The Atom LT has a more relaxed fit in the forearms for me.   Enough so that the Nano is annoying there.  Nano is still useful, but annoying.  Another example is most of the RAB offering are too tight for me to use because of the skinny forearm patterns.  And I use the Patagonia Nano Puff jackets all winter like a second skin.  Love them.  So funky may be but generally Patagonia patterns work well "enough" for me.

Nano-Air has longer sleeves (too long?)  but not as well designed cuffs at the Atom LT.  Both have draw cords in the bottom hem.

I have been using both jackets layered with a Patagonia Piton Hoody.  My favorite base layer used with a bit of wool under it.  The Nano or the Atom LT go over the Piton.  Those three layers (wool/Piton/60g insulation) are the basis right now for my upper alpine kit.   I can add a shell or a puffy to that as required for the mission/weather and temps.  Or simply pull the insulated mid layer off and just climb in the Piton hoody as my outer garment.  Many times that is my preferred choice just for the added breathability.   

So who wins this one?  By a TKO.... the winner is?

Much as I like the is very stretchy, may be even more breathable over all, (still not sure that is a good thing yet)  and better pockets, the fit just "kills" the Nano-Air for me.  Hood is a tiny bit too small, forearms are annoying and the cuffs/long arms could have been done better...for me.  Which might not be the case for you.

Much as I don't like the annoying things on the Atom LT... "bad" front zipper, annoying pocket locations, and the wind whipping through when I slow down or at a belay.  It is not too breathable.  The fit is good.  I never notice the Atom layered in use.  Pockets sure...may be the front zipper, but it's doubtful and the hood fits me with my helmet without binding.   I can put up with things I don't generally notice.  In this case,  for me,  the Atom LT is the least annoying of two, really good garments.  Likely, because the Atom just fits me better.

"Warm, stretchy, and incredibly breathable".
There are now two of them.... 

After all it IS all about the base :)

Try them on before you buy is my best suggestion.  My guess is one will sing to you.  The other will just be singing.

Retail for the Nano-Air is $299.
Retail for the Atom LT is $229.

You can decide by performance, color or price and likely not be disappointed either way.   But then what will $60 buy these days....ouch!


jake said...

Fit and features aside, can you comment more on the fabric and breathability of the two? Is the Nano Air any better at retaining heat while stopped? Does that make it too warm while moving compared to the Atom LT? Is it just a tradeoff or is there a clear objective benefit to one or the other?

nick said...

Welcome back. I've missed your posts.

Dane said...

Thanks Nick.

Jake. I really tried to make it as clear as possible first time around. I think the Atom LT is the better garment for me. You? Ya gotta sack up and decide that on your own. But they are very evenly matched for, warmth @ 60g of insulation, breathability (edge to the Atom Lt) and stretch (edge to the Nano except for liner "drag" so I went back to the LT). They just accomplish all that by different design features. I actually like the Nano better in many ways. But the fit, forearms and liner kills it for me. Slightly smaller hood doesn't help. I have been using the Nano for everything the last few months...not that I have been doing much. But having both garments here in front of me makes the obvious choice pretty clear. As I said, "try them both on"! Better yet try them both on at the same time. You may come up with a totally different answer than I did. They are that close and I think it will be "size that matters" or doesn't in the end. Some will just pick by color..I am good with that as well.

Dane said...

Helps to know the retail prices...Nano is $299. Atom is $229.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the write-up. I've been waiting all summer for a new alpine climbing related gear review. In the words of a popular modern rock band, "It's been a while." Definitely appreciated :-)

Nick T said...

Curious if you've tried the Rab Strata? A bit more akin to the Nano-Air than the the Atom LT, based on insulation tech. A Nano-Air vs Strata would be a great shoot-out! Polartec's Alpha is arguably on par with NeoShell in terms of textile advancement. To my recollection, Nano-Air was Gucci's volley to Polartec's Alpha - with NAir being more air permeable and Alpha less so. Numbers, though...

Hughes said...

Ah.. So I just picked up one of each (both for the same price). And I couldn't agree with you more.

Funny is though.. That, for me, the Patagonia fits me better (except for the hood. Too snug for me - can't stand it zipped up all the way if not actually having the hood up). But it's a tad longer in the limbs, which is nice. Though when I try them on under a shell (I will use it primarily instead of a fleece and often under a shell during winter) the Atom easily takes the prize. You forget its there. Which I don't with the Nano-air, since it vacuums to my fore arms, is super snug around my neck and doesn't "slide" as well under the shell.

But yes. Well marketed, Patagonia.

Travis said...

Dane, have you tried the "new" atom lt? I was in the Arc'teryx store and tried on the "new" revised fit model and had to size up to a medium. I have the "old" style and it fits great in a small.

Anonymous said...

I just received the Patagonia Nano Air and haven't really used it much yet but have a few observations right out of the box. It fits me really well with no previously mentioned issues with the fore-arms or neck. The hood does fit over my helmet, but with the fore-head of the helmet exposed. There is no hood adjustments, just stretchy material. The sleeve lengths are sized for arms extended above my head (for climbing), therefore seem a bit long when my arms are down by my sides. I don't seem to have any problem with the liner or outer material drag that Dane describes when paired with a base layer or shell. It is appropriately stretchy and does breath really quite well.

My biggest problem with the jacket are the absolutely useless external chest pockets. It has two small "Napoleon-style" chest pockets that have an external zipper and are outside of the insulation. They are too small for a glove or a hat. The only thing I could think would go in here would be something like chapstick? In my opinion, these are completely wasted material and serve no functional purpose.

Added to that, there are NO internal pockets at all. I'd love to see this jacket with at least a mesh internal pocket big enough to shove a hat in or gloves, maybe put a energy bar or phone in to keep warm. I'll likely sew such a thing into my jacket as an add on.

Time will tell, but I believe the thing that will wear out first on this jacket is the material they used as the seam cover for around the edge of the cuffs (at the very end of the sleeves where the cuffs meet the skin of your wrist) and around the edge of the face hole in the hood. This flimsy / stretchy material looks like panty-hose consistency material?

I haven't used the Arteryx Atom LT, but can only imagine that it follows the dead bird's consistency with well thought out pockets, adjustments, and hood shapes. All of which are probably superior to the Nano.

I would suspect just from looking at the materials of both items that the Nano probably breaths better, aka lets wind through more easily. The Atom probably has a bit more wind proof ability but I would suspect I'd sweat more in the Atom.

Just educated observations at this point, but I'll follow up later once I get some more use out of it.

Anonymous said...

Nano Air shell material pills very easily. Shoulders and high back of mine showed wear from a pack after day one.

Dane said...

Travis...I have not. But will shortly,

Unknown said...

Tried one on in the shop. Yep, it was comfortable in the shop. But what about as part of a climbing system? Can I really carry less or stop less? Bottom line: can I move faster or be THAT much more comfortable? Im not convinced im not going to totally roast in this thing unless its very cold and then as soon as the wind comes up (and goes right through it) im freezing?? As we get more and more breathable synthetics aren't we just going back to fleece? Didn't we already decide we don't really like fleece? Just arm chair qb'ing at this point happy with my nuclei...

Justin B. said...

I too have used the Atom Lt and many other 60g synthetic jackets. In fact, I was a very early adopter of the Wild Things EP Jacket (2003?). Having used the Nano-Air for a variety of applications since this past summer, I feel it's in a category of its own (maybe along with the alpha jackets that are hitting the market).

The added air permeability (and stretch), especially on days when there's a little wind, makes the Nano-Air feel, believe it or not, more fleece-like. That's been my experience, at any rate. Maybe in some conditions the Atom and the Nano-Air are equally wearable, but the Nano-Air is more air-permeable by a long shot, I think.

I've been able to work hard in temps above freezing in the Nano-Air without feeling clammy or weighed down. In similar conditions wearing a primaloft or coreloft coat, I'd quickly begin to feel moisture in my system and the sleeves begin to sag. In the 15 years since Patagonia first released the Regulator line, little they've done has truly impressed me. This Nano-Air is very much an exception.

All that say, the Arcteryx fits me better, and I'd expect that to be the case for most. Really, no one understands tailoring like Arc, it seems. But it may bear mentioning that one other way in which the Atom has the Nano-Air beat is its compressibility. The Nano-Air's compression is more akin to a fleece than it is to a top synthetic fill coat.

Dane said...

"Dane, have you tried the "new" atom lt? I was in the Arc'teryx store and tried on the "new" revised fit model and had to size up to a medium. I have the "old" style and it fits great in a small."

I have a brand new Atom far as I can tell it is the same as the old Atom lt in every way except for the added draw cord in the hood. There is no "new" fit.

AlaskaPeter said...

I rarely post online but thought I'd pitch in as I have been using the Nano-Air extensively here in Alaska for ice climbing, back country skiing, dog mushing, fat biking etc. I have quite a few Arcteryx pieces, and relatively few from Patagonia, but the short summary is that I love the Nano-Air, and hardly take it off, much to the nuisance of my wife. Thinks I like: the simple elastic design at the hood and cuffs, and bottom, makes it easy to seal in the heat for cold days, and the simplicity is nice. No frills. It breathes really well, and is great for keeping on while ice climbing (have only climbed cold, dry stuff in Alaska), as an outer layer or inside a shell. I personally like the brushed feel. It has held up well so far, with no major wear and tear. Cheers - Peter

Anonymous said...

How can this even be debate? If one spends a bit of time, an LT can be had for about $149 (that's what I paid for my 2014 edition in Carbon Copy), half of what Patagucci is selling theirs for. As far as fit, I too wear more Patagonia than Arcteryx but the fit doesn't make any sense. A regular fit better sweater is casual and baggy, a regular fit retro-x Vest is slim and tight, and the Nano Puffs are skinny for what they function as.

Jon Rhoderick said...

My 2cents:
I had a nano air briefly. Just sold it for an atom LT

Number 1 reason was fit in the armpit area. Holding a steering wheel or both arms forward like climbing a crack led the armpits to dig into the underneath of my arms. This part of the jacket didn't stretch at all because it's on the seam. The upper pocket on arc is better, much bigger, the pockets down low are a tie. The nano airs outside fabric feels nicer and the whole thing is stretchier, but the fit on the arc is better in that one trouble spot. Atom lt is about 1.3 ounces lighter, but far more compressible.

I think a size larger in the nano air would be killer but the atom might be better for me

Unknown said...

I tried both on at a local shop. Both were on clearance so the prices were quite a bit less than retail. My experience echo's Jon's comment above. Holding both arms forward with a 100 weight fleece under the nano air really caused a bind in the armpit area. The medium sized jacket was better, but was too large elsewhere. I ended up with an small atom LT as it just fit and moved with me a bit better. I really wanted the nano, but the armpits would have driven me crazy.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone comment on the durability of the Nano-air? I am trying to decide which to purchase and that is really the one big stopper for me purchasing the Nano-air as I've read in numerous reviews that it pills and gets torn easily when wearing a pack and hiking.

Dane said...

I've been using the same Nano Air now for months, doing pretty much everything in mine. At least as durable as a Atom LT.....actually, "more durable" would be my comment.

Nathan said...

The atom lt reminds me a bit of the mec obsession: in the obsession, instead of fleece it's softshell, and it is on the back and underarms instead of the sides. Ever get to take a look st it? My take was that it was too cold from behind unless you're moving a lot

AC said...

All around, I agree with your assessment. I had/have the 1st and 2nd generation Patagonia Nano-Air. The 2nd gen has an improved fit, slicker cuffs and a stuff pocket, but I still prefer the Atom LT. The Atom LT design on my 5'11", 200lbs frame has a superior fit. I also prefer the hood and collar size on the Atom LT, and it's absolutely true about it layering better. The Nano-Air has high friction, "grabby" fabrics that makes it tough to layer under and over in many cases. In comparison, the Atom LT layers well with everything I own. Mind you, in my group of friends, most seem to prefer the Nano-Air. In terms of breathability the Nano-Air has a slight edge, but not enough to be a critical selling point for my needs.