Like politics, people feel a strong sense of loyalty towards their favourite brands. This is perhaps no truer than among the outdoor community. For you, a brand is about much more than fashion—it’s a philosophy. And, unlike politics, a brand’s commitment to sustainability, fairness, performance, and quality actually mean something.
In this article, we find out how Patagonia stacks up against Arc’teryx. After touching on their respective histories, sustainable practices, and social responsibility, we’ll review one of their flagship products. We’ll also evaluate each product across five metrics: durability, performance, style, price, and corporate responsibility.
Let’s dive in!
A Brief History
Patagonia was founded in 1973 in Venture, California by Yvon Chouinard. Though native to Maine, Chouinard gravitated towards the West Coast’s climbing culture and big wilderness.
Before founding Patagonia, however, Chouinard had already established himself as a successful businessman. His company, Chouinard Equipment, Ltd., made steel pitons for climbers. These pitons could be installed in cracks along the rock face, serving as anchor points to prevent long falls.
But how did Yvon pivot from climbing hardware to climbing apparel? It all started on a climbing trip to Scotland. In need of a top, he happened to borrow a rugby shirt from a friend. Yvon later appeared in photos wearing the shirt and demand exploded. So, like any savvy entrepreneur, Yvon stocked up on rugby shirts and began to sell ‘em—Patagonia was born.
Today, Patagonia is worth over a billion dollars, has stores across five continents, and offers product lines for climbers, hikers, skiers, surfers, and much more.
Social Responsibility & Sustainability
In 2011, on Black Friday, Patagonia took out a full-page ad in the New York Times. In large block letters, it read: DON’T BUY THIS JACKET. Beneath these words was a simple black-and-white photo of one of their jackets. The idea was to draw attention to the fashion industry’s extraordinary wastefulness.
You may be thinking: An anti-consumerist message… from a clothing company? It certainly raised the BS-alarm among some. But, it also begs the question: Can an apparel company exist ethically and sustainably? Let’s take a look at some of Patagonia’s initiatives to offset their footprint.
Fast fashion and fleeting trends have always been antithetical to Patagonia’s values. So it came as a shock when their Better Sweater Fleece became ubiquitous among Manhattan’s business elites, earning Patagonia nicknames like Patagucci and Fratagonia. While this may have been a blessing for their sales, it was a curse on their public image.
That’s when Patagonia decided to do something radical: They would no longer co-brand their corporate garments unless a company could prove that they shared the same values; that they really were “in business to save our home planet.”
1% FOR THE PLANET
Since 1985, Patagonia has continued to donate 1% of its sales to environmental preservation, protection, and restoration causes. In 2002, Chouinard formalized this practice by founding a non-profit: 1% for the Planet. Organizations interested in corporate responsibility and environmental protection are welcome to join.
The Worn Wear program (formerly the Common Threads program) kicked off in 2005. The goal was to encourage Patagonia customers to repair their gear—not replace it. Since then, nearly half-a-million garments have been repaired. That’s half-a-million garments that aren’t in a landfill today.
Despite becoming a mainstream brand and a Wall Street staple, environmental and political activism still reside at the core of Patagonia’s ethos. Though they manufacture products that consume energy and resources, they’ve continued to lead the change in devising more ethical and conscientious business practices.
Flagship Product: Patagonia Nano Puff
Brand Name | Product Type
For over 10 years, the Down Sweater has been a bestseller in the Patagonia pantheon. It’s been particularly favoured by the ultralight community for its exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio. The non-hooded version weighs a mere 13.1 oz and boasts a temperature rating of between 5 °C and -10 °C. The shell is made entirely of recycled materials, while the insulation is traceable down. Let’s dig a little deeper.
The shell is constructed of a 22D polyester-ripstop. In high-friction areas, the shell features a 30D polyester-ripstop. This is good news if you often find yourself getting snagged on branches. A water-repellent DWR finish stands up to light rains, though this jacket is by no means waterproof.
Inside, you’ll find 800-fill power down. This isn’t just any down—it’s European, Advanced Global Traceable Down. The Advanced Global TDS allows consumers to track exactly where their insulation was sourced from; it’s a mark of both quality and sustainability. The one drawback of the down is that it’s not hydrophobic.
The Down Sweater features three pockets: two Vislon zip handwarmer pockets, plus an inner zip chest pocket. The latter also doubles as a stuff sack into which the jacket can be compressed. When stored like this, a fabric tag can be used as an attachment point for a carabiner.
A Brief History
In 1989, a company called Rock Solid Manufacturing was founded in Vancouver, Canada. With just four sewing machines, they made and sold climbing harnesses with great success.
In 1991, upon entering the U.S. market, Rock Solid changed its name to Arc’teryx. The name was a nod to the oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx, whose fossil is depicted in the Arc’teryx logo. The move symbolised the brand’s commitment to durability and evolution.
In 1995, they partnered with GORE TEX and started producing weatherproof gear, beginning with backpacks and jackets. In 1998, they debuted their most beloved alpine hardshell—the Alpha SV, which continues to improve year after year.
Today, Arc’teryx is a veritable international force in outerwear. Despite the fact that their history began in climbing, their products now cater to everyone from hikers to runners and beyond.
Social Responsibility & Sustainability
Arc’teryx is a brand devoted to eco-conscious manufacturing and fair labour practices. In fact, they have an entire page on their website detailing their commitment to social responsibility and sustainability.
While both Arc’teryx and Patagonia rely on overseas factories to manufacture their goods, Arc’teryx also boasts its own North Vancouver facility. This facility is called ARC’One and is used to design new gear and master its production. This production process is then exported overseas.
The ARC’One also continues to manufacture the brand’s long-standing bestseller—the Alpha SV. All other products are made in countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, and China. That said, these factories are held to the highest standards when it comes to wage equity, worker rights, and quality control.
Arc’teryx products are bluesign approved. This seal of approval guarantees that environmental, health, and safety standards are respected throughout the manufacturing process.
Flagship Product: Arc’teryx Cerium LT
Brand Name | Product Type
The Cerium LT is Arc’teryx’s answer to the ultralight puffy. It features a 10D, fully nylon Arato shell and contains 850-fill power European down insulation. The hooded version weighs a mere 10.7 oz. Unfortunately, like the Down Sweater, the insulation is not hydrophobic.
One interesting design feature of the Cerium LT is its Down Composite Mapping. In high-moisture areas like the hood, collar, hemlines, armpits, and cuffs, the Cerium LT opts for synthetic CoreLoft insulation in place of down. This adds a level of water-resistance where it’s most needed.
Compared to the Down Sweater, this jacket features slightly higher handwarmer pockets, designed with climbers in mind. This allows for easy access while wearing a harness, but can feel a little awkward under casual circumstances.
Besides these two pockets, the Cerium LT also has a third inside zip pocket. Regrettably, the jacket does not compress into this pocket as does the Down Sweater. Instead, you’ll find a separate drawstring stuff sack.
Comparing Patagonia and Arc’teryx
Now that we’ve discussed the Down Sweater and the Cerium LT, let’s see how they compare across five measures.
The higher loft and lower-denier shell make the Cerium LT lighter than the Down Sweater by a few ounces. This is important if you’re counting every gram; however, the Cerium LT’s 10D shell is roughly two times less durable than the Down Sweater’s 20D weave.
The Down Sweater and Cerium LT offer similar levels of performance. Both feature elastic cuffs, a cinchable waist with two drawcords, a DWR finish, and an objectively impressive warmth-to-weight ratio. Additionally, both can be worn as an outer shell in shoulder-season weather, or as a midlayer in winter.
Nevertheless, the most important performance metric for a down puffy is its warmth-to-weight ratio. As discussed above, the Cerium LT features a loftier 850-fill power down versus the Down Sweater’s 800-fill power.
The Cerium LT provides a slight edge in the warmth-to-weight department; however, it comes at a substantially higher cost. The Canadian price for the hooded Cerium LT is $449.99, compared to the Down Sweater which retails for $349.99. This makes the Cerium LT a whopping $100.00—or nearly 23%—more expensive!
When it comes to style, both jackets look relatively similar. Each of them has a full-length zip, features baffles, sits just below the waist, and comes in vest, hooded, and non-hooded varieties. The only real differences between the two jackets are in terms of fit and colour.
The Cerium LT is cut with an athletic fit, which means broad around the shoulders and narrow around the waist. The Down Sweater, on the other hand, is considered regular fit. This makes the Down Sweater more amenable to a variety of body shapes. In terms of colours, the Down Sweater also offers a much wider and more vibrant range.
5. Corporate Responsibility
Corporate responsibility includes everything from a company’s sustainable practices to its ethical treatment of employees. People have become increasingly interested in this aspect of a business. Particularly in the outdoor gear world, consumers want to know that the apparel they use to enjoy nature isn’t also harming nature.
Both Arc’teryx and Patagonia have set the bar high when it comes to corporate responsibility. Both use traceable down, donate to ecological causes, and maintain rigorous standards in the treatment of their employees.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you choose the Down Sweater or the Cerium LT. Though the Cerium LT is substantially more expensive, both jackets perform commendably well in the backcountry. If you’re still struggling to choose, however, consider the fit and colourways you prefer.
It’s also important to appreciate that both Patagonia and Arc’teryx are committed to improving the lives of their workers, lessening their environmental impact, and pushing the limits of what outdoor gear is capable of. That makes both of them winners.
To discover other great insulated soft shells, check out our guide to the best insulated jackets in 2021.