Splitboarding can make big demands on your clothing system. A typical day usually entails intense periods of uphill movement, punctuated by short rest phases, followed by a big descent. This can take place in pretty much all weather conditions, over all manner of terrain, most likely whilst wearing a pack. The best kind of shell for splitboarding probably depends on what the weather is doing on that particular day; temps close to zero and heavy snow will almost certainly require a full on hard shell. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a cloudless and warm day in spring or early summer might mean you can dispense with a hard shell and just go for the light weight soft shell or windproof approach.
It kinda makes sense then that a good all round splitboard (or ski touring) jacket should ideally offer a decent amount of protection combined with as much breathability and user comfort as possible. That’s exactly what Arc’teryx have tried to achieve with the backcountry specific Lithic Comp Jacket.
As a fully paid up gear freak, especially when it comes to clothing, my mind regularly wanders off as I consider the merits of different face fabrics, micro climates, pocket construction and other insignificant shit. When Arc’teryx first introduced the idea of composite construction a decade or so ago, as a concept it seemed to make a lot of sense. I’m a previous owner of the first incarnation and recently re-born Arc’teryx Alpha Comp Hoody. It was a really cool jacket (the updated version is even better) but I ended up moving on as the stuff I was doing at the time meant that a separate soft shell and hard shell made way more sense. In theory though the composite idea should work really well for touring, so when I heard that Arc’teryx were going to release the Lithic Comp Jacket I really wanted to get my hands on one to review, especially as I knew I’d be doing a fair amount of splitting this year.
Materials and Construction
The jacket uses two different materials; a 3 layer Gore-Tex fabric and a soft shell fabric called Trusaro. It’s how Arc’teryx have used these two materials that is the big deal where this jacket is concerned.
The N70p Gore-Tex has a very soft face fabric with a tricot backer. Not to be confused with Gore Pro fabric, the tricot backer gives the fabric a softer and more flexible feel than the more rugged Gore Pro fabrics. Trusaro meanwhile is made up of 60% nylon, 30% polyester and 10% elastane. The nylon is present in the stretch woven face – this gives the fabric durability, the polyester backer makes the fabric soft and comfortable and the 10% elastane adds stretch. Both the Gore-Tex and the Trusaro fabrics have a similar weight and handle and feel like they should complement each other well.
The Gore-Tex fabric is placed over the entire front of the jacket, down the arms, on the hood and on the rear hem. The Trusaro is placed over most of the back and under the arms. The simple idea behind this is to offer protection from wind and moisture where you need it and extra breathability and mobility where protection from the elements is less crucial.
The Lithic’s construction, as you’d expect from Arc’teryx, is right up there with the best. Super skinny tape is used on all the seams (including on the soft shell panels) which is designed to maximise the area of breathable fabric and help keep the jacket as supple as possible. The seam taping is extremely neat and all the ‘corners’ are over-taped with a small circle of seam tape to reduce the risk of it peeling away and abrading on the fabric; a sign of real attention to detail. There is considerable use of lamination techniques employed on the Lithic too, especially on the hood brim, the pockets and the hem.
The Lithic has a really interesting fit – it’s pretty long (centre back length is 79.5cm), has a more or less straight hem and a moderate amount of room for under layers. It doesn’t have the same amount of room for layering underneath as the more freeride specific shells in the Arc’teryx range like the Rush or Caden Jackets, but equally the fit is more voluminous than a typical regular soft shell like the Gamma MX Hoody. In fact, the fit very much mirrors the fabric combination and is in tune with the overall concept of the Lithic – that of a hard shell / soft shell hybrid.
Due to the fairly long length, the Lithic definitely feels like a ski / snowboard jacket rather than an alpine climbing jacket. The whole thing is also fully articulated and is designed to offer total freedom of movement whether in the skin track, climbing a couloir or shredding powder. The articulation through the arms is particularly impressive – Arc’teryx’s 3D fit is very apparent here – and the cuffs have a plenty of volume for gloves and under layers.
The Lithic I’ve been using is a medium, which is my usual size of garment from Arc’teryx and pretty much all other brands. I weigh approximately 75kg and am 170cm tall. I’d say most folks would go for their usual size with the Lithic, unless you intend on layering up big time underneath, in which case consider a size up for normal.
The Lithic Comp’s feature set is fairly minimal and again mixes trad big mountain shell with modern soft shell. The hood is a full on high volume Arc’teryx Storm Hood. It has a laminated brim and 4 adjustment points – a rear vertical adjuster, rear horizontal adjuster and the usual two front adjusters. The two front adjusters have captured and hidden draw cord toggles that enable the hood to be tightened quickly and easily, even with gloves on. The hood is big enough to fit over a helmet and the collar zips up high and has plenty of volume for wearing a hooded mid layer or neck gaiter underneath. At the back of the collar is a small laminated micro fleece backed panel that provides a little extra structure to the rear neck and stops the hood from sagging backwards when the collar is unzipped. Inside the collar there’s also a laminated loop for hanging the jacket up.
The Lithic has 4 pockets overall; two internal mesh dump pockets designed primarily for stowing gloves and skins and two external zipped pockets. The external pockets are much bigger than is first apparent as the internal space extends all the way up to the shoulder seams. Most importantly they are fully mesh backed which enables them to double up as vents.
The watertight zips on the pockets open upwards. I must admit I wasn’t sure of the reason for this initially but it turns out that the idea (I think!) is to eliminate the need for a zipper garage at the top of the zip. Because the bonded zip is sewn directly into the seam, the construction is essentially waterproof so the need for a garage is eliminated. The small ‘hole’ at the end of the zip is now at the bottom of the coil in a much less exposed position. However, Arc’teryx have still built a small ‘gutter’ inside the bottom of the zip to protect from any moisture that might find its way in. The advantage of removing the need for a zipper garage is that it simplifies the construction process which ultimately lowers costs and keeps the front of the jacket cleaner, which should improve durability.
The centre front zipper of the Lithic is a chunky, coated YKK Vislon #5 – the kind that can be seen on most high-end shells these days. There’s a narrow internal flap which extends right up to the chin where a soft micro fleece backer keeps things soft against the face. The zipper runs smooth and easy every time.
The cuffs have pretty standard laminated tabs with simple velcro closures and there is a draw cord at the hem to cinch the jacket in as required. Branding is minimal – the word ‘Arc’teryx’ appears on the right hand side of the hood and on the inside rear collar and there’s a dead bird logo on the left upper arm.
I’ve used the Lithic Comp Jacket on trips to both Norway and the Alps this winter and whilst I’m not yet a in position to comment on long-term durability, I’ve definitely spent enough time with it on my back to get a good idea of general performance.
First thing I noticed with the Lithic was just how light and flexible it is. I guess I was expecting it to have a more substantial feel but the combination of the very soft and light Gore-Tex and the Trusaro panels makes for a very supple package. This in turn means that wearing the Lithic isn’t like whacking on a big, stiff hardshell. It’s quiet, soft, very comfortable to wear and very easy to move in.
Whilst working hard in the skin track the Lithic does indeed breathe very well. The area of Trusaro fabric on the back acts like a big vent. I usually wear the Lithic over a base layer with a Powerstretch hoody as a mid layer which works really well, for me at least. It also feels great when worn directly a base layer too. Usually I would get too warm whilst skinning in a shell, even on cold days. But the Lithic’s flexible, breathable fabric encourages airflow and I definitely found the temperature range at which I can remain comfortable is greater in this jacket than a trad hard shell. Breathability and general comfort whilst working hard is definitely a strong point of the Lithic Comp. On the many days when I don’t need to wear it on the uphill it rolls up nice a small in my pack and at just 500g it doesn’t weigh me down too much.
Whilst riding the rear soft shell panel kind of goes unnoticed and the fully wind and waterproof front to the jacket provides ample protection, as you’d expect from Gore-Tex. I think this is where Arc’teryx have really triumphed with the Lithic. Most hard shell / soft shell hybrids (including Arc’s own Alpha Comp Hoody) place areas of soft shell on the front as well as the back of the jacket. This undoubtedly leads to great breathability but isn’t great for skiing and snowboarding as front of the jacket isn’t as wind proof as is usually required for the downhill. By making the entire front of the Lithic Comp weatherproof and placing soft shell on the back in an area that will almost always be covered by a pack, you get the perfect combination of protection and breathability for touring. Perhaps this construction may not work as well for alpine climbing or hiking, but for splitboarding it certainly makes sense to me.
The venting pockets work really well to create an extra through flow of air when needed. However for anyone who would potentially use the pockets to put stuff in on a regular basis pit zips might make more sense. Pit zips do add bulk though and as someone who doesn’t use those pockets much I kinda like how the vents work. The internal mesh dump pockets are great for storing gloves, which I do on a regular basis whilst taking photos or whatever and there are no problems with the hood which is awesome over a helmet, a beanie or just over the head. The high collar is a comfortable refuge in stormy winds too.
Overall the Lithic has a pretty minimal feel really; there’s no extra arm pocket, no snow skirt, no extraneous features. I really like this approach – I often end up cutting snow skirts out of jackets anyway and it’s the lean feature set that enables the Lithic to weigh so little and feel so supple and comfortable to wear. Anyway – how many features do you need in a touring shell? Just enough to be functional and nothing more, I reckon.
The Lithic’s hybrid hard shell / soft shell concept really comes into its own when you consider the versatility of the jacket within a backcountry layering system. The garment can effectively function as both a soft shell and a hard shell. Depending on how you like to dress for a day’s touring, taking the Lithic along could mean that you can dispense with a layer altogether. Whilst splitboarding I usually wear a base layer with either a light weight soft shell or Powerstretch hoody as a mid layer. I then add a shell as required and also carry some sort of over the top insulation layer for lunch and summit stops and emergencies.
Because the Lithic fits so well and is so supple and breathable it can replace the soft shell / Powerstetch hoody mid layer, along with functioning as a shell too. As long as you’ve got that extra warm synthetic / down jacket in your pack it’s all good.
The potential downside to the Lithic’s great comfort levels is long-term durability. Just because a fabric is soft and flexible doesn’t necessarily make it less durable over time, though I’m pretty sure the Lithic is going to be more prone to getting snagged on sharp tree branches and general pack wear than a burlier 3 layer Gore-Tex Pro will be. However, to a certain extent that’s to be expected. More durable fabrics will tend to be thicker and heavier so it’s difficult to combine supple flexibility with high levels of long-term durability. It’s worth saying that my Lithic still looks good though and has minimal signs of wear, which is a positive sign. I’ll update my thoughts where durability is concerned down the line as the jacket gets more use.
So, I’m convinced of the Lithic’s capabilities purely as a garment for touring but what about general lift served freeriding? Well, here’s the thing; contrary to what I first thought, I actually found myself wearing it on the lifts quite a lot. On a recent trip to the potentially soggy west coast of Norway I packed my regular hard shell expecting that I’d wear it most days. Most of the time I ended up in the Lithic instead and remained dry and comfortable throughout.
The Lithic Comp Jacket does have its limitations as a regular ski / snowboard shell though. On really wet days when moisture just gets everywhere you’re potentially going to get damp in this jacket. Even with a pack on I could see the back soft shell panel getting overwhelmed pretty quickly if it was really wet. Secondly, the Lithic is built to be breathable whilst working hard and as a result it can feel cooler than a full hard shell whilst sitting on a cold windy chairlift. Plus the jacket doesn’t have lift specific features like a pass pocket, though that’s a pretty minor point I guess.
However, for lift served riding on anything other than super cold or super wet days the Lithic is more than up to the task. I wouldn’t hesitate to take it along as my only shell on a touring trip that might involve a little lift served stuff thrown in, especially on a trip when weight and pack size are important factors and it’s difficult to justify packing multiple shells.
There’s a big push at the moment from many of the big outerwear brands to develop backcountry and touring specific ranges. Arc’teryx have stolen the march a little with the development of the Lithic Comp. It might take a while for some folks to get their head around the composite concept and it’s probably not the best choice for anyone looking for one garment to ride everything in, but for splitboarding and ski touring the Lithic Comp is a stellar choice.
Lightweight, packable, flexible, breathable shell that still offers great protection. High build quality, good fit.
The Not So Good
Potentially not as durable as some heavier shells. Not a great choice as your one and only riding jacket.
The Bottom Line
Super comfortable backcountry touring jacket that acts like a soft shell and a hard shell all rolled into one.