Fit & Feel
The Fission SL is cut with Arc’teryx’s slimmer “Athletic” fit (so it’s more appropriate to use as a climbing jacket), where the Stikine features their roomiest “Expedition” fit and easily accommodates extra layers without restricting movement.
While it’s definitely on the looser side of things, I would say the Stikine fits true to size given its intended purpose. I can fit additional layers underneath the jacket, or fit it over a shell, even, but it doesn’t feel overly roomy when worn with only a single baselayer.
What I’ve been really impressed by is how light and comfortable the the Stikine is. It weighs 665 grams, only 60 grams more than the 3-Layer, uninsulated (but more fully featured) Caden shell, and the Stikine doesn’t feel too bulky but rather quite light when worn.
The jacket’s outer shell fabric has a soft, supple feel and is pretty quiet, and its inner lining is soft and slippery. Considering how warm the Stikine is, it feels eerily light, remarkably uncumbersome, and seriously cozy.
The Stikine’s ThermaTek insulation is laminated to its 30-denier nylon liner, so no quilting or baffling is required to hold the insulation in place and remain evenly distributed. This helps keep the jacket’s weight down, but it also means there are no cold spots, keeping its thermal efficiency high.
So far I’ve primarily worn the Stikine over a light wool baselayer, as temps haven’t warranted adding many more layers all that often. With only one layer on, skiing fairly hard, I have been comfortable in the jacket in temperatures hovering around 10 degrees F. Sitting still in those temperatures, I began to feel a little chilled, but adding a mid-weight base layer underneath the jacket kept my cozy. If you are looking for a jacket to keep you warm in frigid temperatures around or below 10 degrees, with some additional light layers on hand, the Stikine should keep you warm, no problem.
In temperatures around 30 degrees, the Stikine was often too warm, but it depended on how active I was and if there was a breeze to aid airflow through the jacket’s pockets / vents. I’ll say more about that below.
I’ve used the Stikine in much the same way as my Patagonia Hi-Loft Down Sweater, which is insulated with 800 fill-power goose down, and the Stikine has performed pretty comparably in terms of warmth. If anything, the Down Sweater might be a tad bit warmer, but it never seemed like a huge difference to me. Where the Stikine far outperforms my Down Sweater is in its weatherproofing, thanks to its outer shell.
The Stikine’s shell performs as advertised: it is fully waterproof. I’ve worn the jacket in early season storms, sitting on long chair rides while getting pelted with wet, heavy snow (by Colorado standards, at least), and haven’t noticed any sort of soak-through or saturation of the shell’s face fabric at all; snow and water slide right off.
In nasty, coastal PNW conditions, I imagine the Stikine would perform very well as a resilient insulating piece, and be much more dependable in wet conditions than down insulators (and probably many synthetic pieces). In the snowy conditions I’ve worn the Stikine in, I’m confident that the face fabric of my Down Sweater would have wetted-out and the down insulation would have begun to lose its loft before too long. I haven’t worn a down jacket with treated down yet (DriDown or DownTek), but while those sort of jackets will offer better water repellency than jackets with regular, untreated down insulation, their down will eventually lose some of its loft and insulating capabilities when subjected to moisture. The Stikine’s ThermaTek insulation shouldn’t.
In addition to the Gore-Tex shell’s face fabric, the Stikine’s inner liner is DWR treated, as is the ThermaTek insulation, which Arc’teryx says is fully submersed in a DWR treatmet. So the jacket is indeed “water resistant inside and out.”
Arc’teryx says the Stikine is made this way in anticipation of it being thrown on over wet layers. To test this out, I threw the Stikine on over the Mountain Equipment Arclight shell when it was pretty well coated with wet and melting snow, and stood around for 10-15 minutes. The inner liner of the Stikine was heavily streaked with water, but most of it brushed off and didn’t seem to be soaking into the nylon liner fabric much at all. More importantly, the ThermaTek insulation inside didn’t seem affected in any way.
On the whole, the Stikine is the most capable and resilient insulated jacket I’ve used in wet, humid conditions.
Breathability & Venting
With the jacket’s vents (pockets) open, and with the help of a breeze to promote airflow, the Stikine is probably the most breathable fully insulated jacket I’ve worn, but that’s a relative statement. Arc’teryx says the Stikine is “breathable,” and it is, but its insulation makes it way less breathable than any uninsulated shell, especially a soft shell or a shell with an air permeable membrane. Arc’teryx says it’s a jacket designed for staying warm while resting and descending in cold conditions, and it does those things well.
I have hiked in the Stikine a little bit, just to work up some heat and get a better sense for how well it vents. With the vents / pockets unzipped, and the internal tabs cinched up to help keep them open, there is noticeable airflow through the jacket, but it still made me pretty hot pretty quickly hiking casually in temps around 25 degrees. If you’re tromping around in more frigid conditions (around 10 degrees or colder), I’m sure you would be able to stay comfortable in the Stikine. But still, the jacket is most at home when you’re not exerting yourself too much. If you are moving, you’d better be skiing downhill in cold conditions, or at least have those pockets / vents open to get some air moving through the jacket if temperatures are warmer.
I would imagine that many people looking for an insulating layer to throw on when resting while touring, or while hanging out the top of a peak, will opt for a packable mid layer like the Patagonia Nano Puff or Down Sweater; some sort of piece that can hang in your pack on the way up, and be thrown on under a shell in adverse conditions. The Stikine is supposed to replace such a piece, and in terms of the warmth it provides, it definitely can, while offering some additional protection, too.
With this intended use in mind, what it really comes down to is how packable the jacket is and how easily you can stow it in a pack on the way up (because unless it’s horribly, brutally cold – sub zero – I don’t think you’ll want to be wearing it while touring).
With some effort, I can cram the Stikine into a bundle about the size of a football. It doesn’t pack down quite as small as my Patagonia Hi-Loft Down Sweater (which is pretty comparable in terms of warmth) or a Nano Puff, but it can smash down small enough that I can see fitting it in a pack that has a 20L capacity or greater. That’s not too bad in my book, especially when you consider that the jacket has a thicker, more robust Gore-Tex shell material that makes it fully waterproof and much more durable than the delicate face fabric you’ll find on most standard puffy jackets. And, of course, you can wear the Stikine as an outer layer on the way down (when you’d normally want to have your puffy on underneath your touring shell).
One last note on packability is that the Stikine’s ThermaTek insulation seems to retain its loft very well and is quite resistant to crushing / packing down after being compressed. The insulation seems a little more resilient than down in this way, on par with the Primaloft insulation in the Nano Puff.
Thoughts on Price, Versatility, & Best Uses
The Stikine retails for $775. It’s warmer on it’s own than your average mid-weight puffy jacket (though a little less packable), and is totally stormproof like a hard shell. It nicely combines the primary strengths of both a stand-alone insulator and a good hard shell into one remarkably lightweight, comfortable package. In that way the Stikine does exactly what Arc’teryx says it’s designed to do: it keeps you warm, blocks out wet snow and wind extremely well, and its internal mesh and hand pockets make it very user friendly.
With that said, living in Colorado, I’m not sure the Stikine will let me do much that I couldn’t do with a lightweight, breathable, waterproof shell (like the Westcomb Apoc or Mountain Equipment Arclight), a mid-weight puffy (synthetic or down insulated), and a couple mid-weight base layers. Of course, a touring shell like the ones I’ve listed will run you $400 – $500, a puffy will cost about $200, and you can spend about $100 on some nice base layers. In total, such a setup probably won’t be much cheaper than the Stikine, but you will have several pieces to use individually or in conjunction with one another, so you’ll be getting more versatility for your money.
However, if dealing with a number of different layering pieces is what you’re trying to avoid, and you’re looking for a single, purpose-built jacket to use in especially nasty, wet, adverse conditions, then the Stikine is kind of the cat’s meow. It’s not something I think I’ll personally ever need for casual day tours in Colorado, but the Stikine could be a valuable piece to have if you’re embarking on multi-day tours, especially in coastal climates.
Given my experience with the Stikine, I’m quite curious about Arc’teryx’s Fission SL jacket. With the same insulation and shell as the Stikine, but with hand pockets and dedicated pit zips, and a slimmer fit, it should also be a very comfortable, insulated, stormproof jacket that could be better suited for everyday use.
The Arc’teryx Stikine jacket is an impressive, specialized piece of outerwear. If you’re looking for a jacket to keep you warm and dry while (a) stopping to rest on the tour up and (b) on the ski down, even in wet, humid conditions, I think the Stikine fits the bill just about perfectly.