Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Arc'teryx Acto MX Hoody Review

One day, while reading Jason Kruk's blog, I came across these lines:  "If you read through the archives of this website you will see a distinct lack of gear reviews or blatant product placement. I don't really roll that way. . . .   As an alpine climber, . . . you gotta use the best stuff.  Simple.  Consider this a public service announcement: You need to know about the new Arc'teryx Acto Jacket!"


Arc'teryx Acto MX Hoody, Cardinal Red, $300 retail

I read further and by the end of the post, I was 99.9% sold.  I "needed" to get my hands on an Acto.  Soon after that I came across a second blog post about the Acto, this time from Dane at Cold Thistle.  He said, among other things, "After seeing the Acto I can say I am a little disappointed on the fit and detailing on this $300 garment. And like my previous garment before it, I am not sure I can find a place in my clothing system, either climbing or skiing, that the Acto makes much sense compared to others I now use . . . .   The Acto promises a lot and doesn't do much for me @ $300. The Gamma MX seems a steal at $350 by comparison as does the Epsilon SV Hoody @ $225. "


After that post, I was 65% sold on the Acto.  Maybe I trust people's opinions too easily.  But Jason said he had climbed in Patagonia with it and it worked great for him.  I decided the best way (though also the most expensive way) to figure it out was to get one for myself and try it out.  So, I tried one on at Backcountry, decided I needed a Large (I'm 6'2", 185lbs, and Medium fits me well in most other Arc'teryx products).  The medium was just a bit too tight to layer and too short in the torso, which is weird for me because I have a short torso (18").  A month later I was the proud owner of a red Acto MX Hoody.

Size Large with climbing helmet layered over NWAlpine spider hoody.  Fit is trim.  I'm 6'2", 185lbs.

I'm sure, at this point, you understand that I am a bit partial to Arc'teryx products.  Back in the day I had a lot of Moonstone, Mountain Hardwear, and Marmot product.  I never bought Arc'teryx because I couldn't afford it.  Finally, I got a good deal on the Gamma MX Hoody, and I was totally sold on the quality of Arc'teryx.  After that point, I made affording their product a priority.  I have a number of Arc'teryx pieces now, but I'm happy to say that I don't buy exclusively Arc'teryx product.  I shop around through all the brands for what I feel is the best product and buy that.  I still have a number of newer products from Marmot, OR, Rab, NWAlpine, Mountain Hardwear, Mammut and others.  I do still find that attention to detail is usually a bit higher in Arc'teryx products.  Price usually is too.

In the Field

Anyway, I took the Acto snowshoeing the day after I got it.  The weather was in the mid 20s and partly cloudy.  While hiking through the trees I felt comfortable in just a baselayer and the Acto.  It wasn't until I started going  up a long, steep uphill section that I started to overheat.  Pretty soon, however, we were out of the trees and into the wind (about 30 mph gusts).  Whatever sweat I had worked up quickly dried and I was back to comfortable.  I ended up hiking comfortably the rest of the day in just the baselayer and Acto.  The Acto quickly became my go-to jacket for snowshoeing.

A day or two later I took the Acto on its first ice climb.  On previous trips I had climbed in a baselayer, the NWAlpine Black Spider lt hoody, and a gore-tex shell.  This time it was about 20 degrees, slightly windy, and I decided to try just a baselayer and the Acto.  I'd throw on the Atom lt at belays.  I felt totally comfortable the whole time I was climbing.  I even stood under a dripping part of the waterfall for about 10 minutes to check out the water resistance.  Thanks to a good DWR, the water rolled right off.  The little bit of water that didn't roll off quickly froze and fell off.  The Acto quickly became my go-to jacket for Ice Climbing.

Ice Climbing, 4am, Ogden, Utah

A week or so later, my wife said she wanted to climb the Pfeifferhorn in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Last year we got caught and spent the night (in a tent) in a nasty blizzard on the south face of Ben Lomond.  That trip convinced her she didn't want to go with me to Mt. Rainier anymore.  So when she suggested we go on a winter climb of the Pfeifferhorn, I was very pleasantly surprised.  While packing for that trip, I took the Atom lt out of my pile of clothes and replaced it with the Acto.  It was a hard decision to make.  The Atom and I have become very close over the last few years.  I didn't wear the Acto the first night as we were hiking to red pine lake.  I had a heavy pack and I was comfortable in just a baselayer.  But the next morning I put on the Acto at our camp and didn't take it off again until we had climbed the Pfeifferhorn and were almost back to the car.  The temperature was about 25 degrees that day but very windy, and I was totally comfortable in the acto the whole day.  When hiking up steep slopes, I unzipped the front zip a little.  When resting in the wind, I zipped it up and tightened the hood.  I don't think I got sweaty on that trip, except under my pack.  The Acto quickly became my go-to jacket for mountaineering.

The summit of the Pfeifferhorn, Kelsey in Atom lt Hoody, Me in Acto MX Hoody

The Jacket

The Arc'teryx Acto MX Hoody is designed to be a very breathable, but protective jacket for high-energy exercise in cold weather.  It is made of Aerius Gridloft, which is a lightweight grid fleece laminated to a wind- and water-resistant shell fabric.  Or in other words, take the Patagonia R1 Hoody and make it highly water- and wind-resistant, but don't take away very much of its breathability.

The wind- and water-resistance is due to the tightness of the weave of the face fabric, not a membrane (like windstopper or conduit, etc).  Therefore, it breathes significantly better, though it doesn't block all of the wind.  I would guess, based on my own experience, that it blocks about 95% of the wind.  That 5% that it does let in helps to move water vapor out of the garment and speeds up drying if somebody has already sweat.

The features of this jacket are simple:  two chest pockets, a helmet-compatible hood with two-way adjustment (Needs a different adjustment system, imo.  More about that later), and that's about it.  I absolutely love the simplicity of this jacket.  No pockets where a harness or hipbelt go.  No pit zips (not necessary)  The seams are taped to increase comfort while wearing as a midlayer, not for increased water resistance.  The cuffs and hem are impeccably finished, but I think Arc'teryx could improve the function of those as well.

Two mesh-backed chest pockets

Abrasion resistance on this jacket has been top-notch so far, though it is only about 2 months old.  I have dry-tooled in it and scraped up against rocks and bricks and so far no sign of wear.  Time will tell, I guess.

This Jacket is beautiful.  While ice climbing in it, I ran into a friend.  From about 50 feet away while hiking up toward us he said, "Dang.  What jacket is that?  That looks nice!"  And then he inspected it for about 5 minutes.  And the compliments keep coming.  Pretty much wherever I wear this jacket, people are making comments about how nice it looks.

The Gripes

I love this jacket and I use it almost everytime I go into the mountains, but it's not perfect.  First of all, the cuffs and hem that i said were finished so nicely, need a little work.  I thought I'd love the cuffs (because Arc'teryx always nails the cuffs - see Atom lt), but I don't like that they're not adjustable.  When I climb in them, they're great.  But when I want to put the jacket on or take it off, I have to take my gloves off as well.  I didn't think that would be a problem, but I was surprised how often I would get slightly annoyed that I couldn't get my jacket off with gloves on.  Maybe if they were just a little stretchier.  I'm not sure the best solution, but the cuffs need a little work.

The hem also needs work.  There is no hem drawcord on this jacket.  Again, I didn't think I would care about this when I first got the jacket, but because I usually use this as my outerlayer, I would like to be able to keep cold wind out of the jacket a little better.  A hem drawcord would be nice.

Hem, Cuff, and Material detail

Finally, I think that the hood needs a little work.  It works pretty well while wearing a climbing helmet, but I can't seem to get the hood adjusted right when I'm not wearing one.  I like a hood to move with my head when I turn.  This one doesn't very well, especially without a helmet.  The size of the hood is perfect, but they need a drawcord to cinch the hood to the head from behind.  Again, I'm not sure exactly what the best solution is, but I think the hood needs work.  Arc'teryx has been making the best products for years, I'm sure they could figure something out.

Helmet-compatible hood with two adjustments.  The lower adjustment takes volume out of the hood when not wearing a helmet.  The other adjustment cinches hood around the face.  I think a third cinch from the back of the head would help when not wearing a helmet.

The Verdict

Though not the perfect jacket, there is something to be said about a jacket that is my first choice for almost every outdoor trip, from ice climbing to snowshoeing to mountaineering to looking good at the movies.  This jacket has all but replaced by Gore-tex shell, occasionally replaced my Atom lt, and totally replaced all my other fleece midlayers.

The material is top-notch.  I haven't ever seen or used a better softshell (Arc'teryx calls it a hard fleece) for high-aerobic activities, including my gamma mx hoody.  If I expect to be in absolutely horrendous weather, I still take the waterproof shell.  For everything else, I take the Acto.

Worth its $300 retail price?  I guess that totally depends on your income and how much time you spend in the outdoors.  If  you have $300 to spend on a softshell, this would be a great way to go.  If buying this means your family goes hungry, probably not.

I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars.  5 out of 5 stars for the fabric, but 4 out of 5 overall.


  1. As a heads up, a "hardfleece" fabric means a fleece with a membrane in it. That's how they manage to laminate the grid fleece inside to the softshell outer. I don't know if you've used Powershield (think Gamma MX, as it sounds like you're an Arc'teryx guy), but it's the same thing. A highly breathable and not entirely windproof membrane. Sounds like the Acto is a great jacket though. I like the Stoic Welder Lo for those purposes, and it's a little bit cheaper, which is nice. Nice blog man, I really like it. How long have you had it?

  2. Thanks for reading the blog and for the comment. To answer your last question, the blog's been going about two months. To address the "hardfleece" issue, I'm not sure I agree that a hardfleece is simply a fleece with a membrane in it. Windstopper fleece has a membrane in it and is not necessarily a hardfleece. I interpret hardfleece to mean that it's in between a fleece and softshell as far as water and wind resistance and breathability. I could very well be wrong, and if so, a little enlightenment on the subject would be appreciated. I'm pretty sure the Acto does not have a membrane. The outer nylon fabric is very tightly woven, giving it its wind and water resistance, and the grid fleece is laminated (glued) to the nylon shell. Powershield does have a membrane, but now we're talking softshells. Arc'teryx gives the Acto the distinction as hardfleece instead grouping it with their softshells. Hardfleece, softshell, etc.; they're all just labels anyway and it doesn't really matter how they're defined.

  3. Two months is impressive. Well done. Mine's been going for five, and I still have trouble getting people to read it. Not sure how to market it I guess. I'd totally agree that the label doesn't matter, much more so the function. I try to have definitions as best as I can, but as all the technologies improve, "softshell" is getting increasingly close to "hardshell" in breathability and user-friendliness. I've started using a thin eVent jacket as my winter outer layer, because I find that it keeps me just as comfortable as just a softshell, but has better range of motion (hooray for Stoic) and more options (not as afraid of getting soaked).

  4. Ahh, yes, the art of shameless self-promotion. I don't consider it a good thing that I am getting better at it. eVent is definitely good! If you get a chance, try Neoshell. Between Phil and I, we have used almost every mainstream WPB membrane on the market (except Active Shell) and Neoshell is by far the most breathable option. . . especially the Neoshell softshell that is used in the Marmot Zion.

  5. How would you compare this to the gamma mx? I own the new 2013 gamma mx and it is not very wind resistant. I feel everything in it. Is this jacket warmer/ more weather resistant?

    1. The 2013 Gamma MX is more weather resistant and especially wind resistant than the the Acto. The Acto is more breathable than the Gamma, but definitely lets a bit of wind through. If you're looking for a warmer jacket than the Gamma MX, this is not it. The Venta MX (more expensive) is warmer and more water resistant. I usually complain that the Gamma MX is too warm for real active use. I guess it depends on how cold it is. My friend wore it all winter while ice climbing and wore it up the Cassin on Denali as his outer layer in May and threw a belay layer on top up high.
      Hope this helps.

  6. @Gear30. I had the zion jacket and returned it because its the most uncomfortable thing I tried on. The inside sticks to everything and the seams, my god the seams are so bulky and ride up into your armpit. Also Marmot just cannot get the sleeves right for their jackets. Always to long.

    1. Sorry it didn't work for you. Phil or I haven't had the same bad luck as you have, I guess. The fit isn't perfect, but I think it's a fairly comfortable jacket.

  7. Just a follow up on the powershield topic. Although I do not own a hard fleece garment, I do own other garments that are both grid fleece layers and also the stoic welder lo which is powershield. In my opinion, grid fleece does an amazing job at wicking moisture. By the looks of the Acto, I want one. I mainly splitboard, but with the various pieces I have used, I never tour in my soft shell, I just get too hot. But based on your reviews, the acto sounds like a piece perfect for touring.

  8. In using this jacket for ski touring, I can attest that it is breathable enough for touring in cold weather. In real cold weather, I prefer to throw a windproof layer on over the top to block out the wind for the downhill.