Lena DrapellaA UK based commercial photographer, Lena can often be found climbing, skiing, surfing or glued to a screen with an editing software. She’s a passionate advocate for environmental progress from carbon offsetting to a circular economy.
The Norvan Windshell is ultra-lightweight but still protective, stacking up well against high-performance alternatives, but it is pricey and lacks versatility.
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I’m far from being the most experienced trail runner out there, but I do use a lot of different outdoor kit and have a massive variety of outer layers. When I’m running in the hills, I tend to want something that feels like it’s going to properly protect me from the elements whilst still being breathable enough to keep me comfortable.
For me, having something extremely light is useful but not necessarily essential. The Norvan is definitely trending that way – they describe it as ‘ultra-minimalist’. Although I like how they’ve built it, I’m not totally certain that I’m the target audience.
It’s instantly obvious what Arc’teryx are going for with this jacket – it’s extremely simple but very well made, with stitching and zips that feel durable despite its ‘tactical binbag’ weight. The colour is fun and it’s comfortable to move in.
I took the Norvan jacket out for two runs – one at a low height in the woods behind my home in Llanberis, and another, longer run in the mountains of Eryri (Snowdonia). Although it was summer, the traditionally unpredictable North Wales weather did give me a chance to see what it was capable of.
One thing immediately noticeable running through forest and close undergrowth was that it was a) really well-fitted and b) seemed surprisingly durable. It moved nicely with me and never felt limiting; the only caveat to this was that the elasticated cuffs are tight and have little movement in them. I like to be able to push them back slightly as I get hotter and this wasn’t possible.
I liked the simplicity of the packing system, folding back into the pocket in a few seconds
Out on more exposed hillsides the jacket seemed to come into its own a bit more too. Despite gusty winds and showers, it kept me warm and more-or-less dry. It was also really easy to take on and off without stopping (although the tight sleeves did hinder this a bit) and I liked the simplicity of the packing system, folding back into the pocket in a few seconds. My only slight concern was the lack of a hood – some runners may prefer this but I felt like it would be a downside in driving rain or if you wanted to use the jacket for a different activity.
WHO IS THIS ITEM FOR?
I felt like this jacket was aimed at fell-racers or ultra-runners with a desire to save every gram, possibly those who are satisfying a minimum kit list for a race. My feeling was that it would be fantastic for this – it absolutely has cut out everything but the total essentials. However, I didn’t necessarily get the most out of it because I don’t fit that bill. If you’re looking for a windshell for running and you want all-round protection whilst still not lugging excessive weight, there are plenty of other options on the market that arguably do more (and cost less!)
WHAT STANDS OUT?
Undoubtedly one of the lightest windshells available, weighing just 65 grams. Where this is important, it undoubtedly excels – but does make the jacket less versatile overall
As you would expect from Arc’Teryx, it’s extremely well made and feels much more solid and durable than it initially appears
Only 3 colours available, with two very bright tones and a more neutral white
I found that the fitting on the sleeves left something to be desired, but this was the only fit-related issue
The jacket has no hood and the waistband doesn’t sinch to protect against strong wind. Although not essential, the lack of these feels like a slightly strange choice
VALUE FOR MONEY
At a healthy £105, this is definitely not the cheapest jacket. Other jackets of a similar design on the market are about half the price. It also doesn’t have a lot of features (as expected from ‘ultra-minimalist’ kit) which means that you are basically paying for weight-saving. If you’re going to splash out, you need to be satisfied that you know what you’re paying for.
BASE BOTTOM LINE
This is a really high-quality piece of kit, punching well above its weight in terms of performance, durability and comfort. When I first picked it up, I was sceptical of how useful it would be out in the hills, but it definitely won me round. I enjoyed running in it and using it, and I felt like it is perfectly designed for its intended use.
That being said, its intended use isn’t exactly what I run for, so there were some questions marks from me over its versatility. The lack of features (no hood, no drawstring elastic in the waistband) means it probably isn’t going to operate especially well outside a limited range of applications. When you combine that with the pricetag, you get a garment that is deliberately highly specialised. I like to have clothing that I can at least consider using elsewhere (eg packable windshells are great to carry on trad routes!) but I felt like this wouldn’t really be possible with the Norvan.
I would absolutely recommend the jacket, but definitely more to my runner friends who are operating at a high level, and for whom weight-saving is everything. It’s light, it’s fast, it’s comfortable and it’s easy to use – all big bonuses. For those looking for a bit more ‘oomph’ from their lightweight jacket, I’d maybe encourage caution.