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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Merrell Atlas Fleece > Test Report by Hollis Easter
Merrell Atlas Jacket
|5 F (-15 C)||up to 10 mph (16 kph)||not measured|
I used the Atlas while ice climbing in Cascade Pass near Keene, New York. I wore it over my shell jacket while belaying, then took it off while climbing water ice on top-rope. Total hiking distance was negligible.
|5 F (-15 C)||up to 10 mph (16 kph)||500 ft (150 m)|
I wore the Atlas while snowshoeing around the hiking trails at Clarkson University during our annual gathering for the Adirondack Mountain Club, of which I am the newly-elected Vice-Chair for Outings. We had a number of new snowshoers, and we did about 4 miles (6 km) on rolling trails.
|-19 F (-28 C)||up to 5 mph (8 kph)||4,161 feet (1,268 m)|
I climbed Phelps for the second time this year, this time by the trail. Total distance was 9 miles (15 km), with 1,982 ft (605 m) elevation gain. It was bitterly cold, and I spent a long time relatively unprotected on the summit treating a pair of inexperienced hikers for mild hypothermia. This amused me given my previous climb (and experience) of Phelps this year: when climbing it in early winter, I got dehydrated and became mildly hypothermic after an equipment failure. This time, I was armed with greater knowledge and a brand new Wilderness First Responder certification. Physician, heal thyself!
|-18 F (-28 C)||up to 10 mph (16 kph)||4,606 feet (1,403 m)|
I climbed Redfield from the Upper Works trailhead on a day that was nasty and often devoid of views, although we did see a very feisty pine marten. Total distance was 18 miles (29 km) of trail and bushwhack, with 2,900 ft (890 m) elevation gain. Although the wind speed was low, it was very cold, and I appreciated the way the Atlas shed the wind.
|-10 F (-23 C)||gusting to 60 mph (97 kph)||4,360 feet (1,328 m)|
We attempted Marshall on a blustery day that was forecast for terrible weather. A front moved through, leaving us with an unexpectedly clear but gusty and cold day. A number of the hikers on the trip were underprepared, which led to a group decision to turn around shortly before reaching the summit.
The hike wends its way through Avalanche Pass, across Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. These all run southwest right into the teeth of the prevailing winds, and the local terrain acts like a giant wind tunnel. Total distance was 16 miles (26 km) of trail and bushwhack, with 3,400 ft (1,036 m) elevation gain. Wind chill was reported at -55 F (-48 C).
I really like the Atlas. It fills a central niche in my clothing system: an insulating garment that's still breathable but that has a wide temperature range. It's now my first choice for my insulating layer while hiking, and it's my usual jacket for wearing around town running errands or going to and from work.
The Atlas feels windproof. That's a subjective statement, but one borne out by use. I notice that zipping up the Atlas on a windy day provides a disproportionately large increase in subjective warmth, which leads me to think that blocking the wind makes a big difference.
Because it's windproof, I can wear the relatively thin Atlas into low temperatures that might otherwise force me to add a shell. I know the Atlas is breathable because the entire surface of the jacket gets covered in rime ice when I'm hiking: perspiration that freezes once it migrates through the fabric. The breathable-but-warm nature of the jacket helps me stay drier while hiking, which is always nice.
I usually leave the hem adjustment alone, but there have been a few times when I've needed to adjust it--typically to accommodate different lower-body gear. When I've needed to adjust it, I've found it easy to do even with gloves on. The elastic hem seals very nicely, which is highly desirable when the wind is strong enough to knock people down! The jacket sometimes rides up over my hips if I'm not wearing a pack. With a pack on, the hip belt tends to lock the jacket in place, and the fleece's stretch still lets me move.
I've found the arm length to be long enough for the things I usually do. When hiking, I wear gloves or mitts with gauntlet cuffs, and these cover the Atlas's cuffs nicely. Around town, I wear thin fleece gloves with ribbed cuffs. Although there's an air space, I haven't noticed my forearms getting cold.
The "Putty" color is still not my favorite, but people tell me it looks good on me. Whether due to the color-block panels on the jacket or its trim cut, it's fairly normal for people to tell me I look like I've lost weight when I'm wearing it. Always nice to hear!
The handwarmer pockets on the Atlas are big enough to hold my fleece gloves comfortably, along with a spare hat, neck gaiter, or something of that size. They're difficult to access while wearing a pack's hip belt, because the pockets are set low on the jacket. However, it's usually possible to pull the jacket out of the hip belt so the pockets are accessible. I like the fact that the pockets are lined with fleece; it helps keep my hands warm when I'm not wearing gloves.
One note: the fleece pocket liner is not windproof. If it's really windy, I need to remember to zip the pockets closed, or else I get cold.
The chest pocket holds my sunglasses, albeit in a somewhat awkward way. I've also found it useful for carrying a small snack, a camera, my compass, or similarly-sized items. I also carry my gym membership card and MP3 player in there when I'm wearing the jacket around town.
I'm of divided opinion about the zipper pulls (a revision of my earlier opinion). They are low-profile, which I like, and they have a pleasing action (they feel sturdy and secure, somehow). However, "low-profile" also means "small"; they're difficult to grab with ski gloves on, and it can be a maddening experience trying to zip them with my double mitts. I might recommend that the zipper pulls be made slightly longer to facilitate gloved use.
There have been a few durability concerns with the Atlas. I continue to notice loose threads in the seams; sometimes I snip these off, sometimes not. A more serious concern is the stitching on the cuffs. On the left cuff, the stitching near my wrist tore out, causing the garment to begin falling apart. This was easy to fix with some Gutermann thread, a needle, the almighty backstitch, and about 20 minutes one evening; my repair has held firm. I notice that the same damage is starting on the other cuff, so I'll probably have to repair it too. It seems that the thread Merrell chose doesn't resist abrasion very well, and it seems to get sanded away as the cuffs brush my pants. I would recommend that they choose a higher-tenacity thread for future versions.
However, I have to commend Merrell on their choice of fabric for the Atlas. I've done a fair amount of bushwhacking in this jacket, and it doesn't show a single snag. The fabric absorbs a beating seemingly without damage, and that's impressive. On Mt. Marshall, the bushwhacking was kind of like walking straight through a Christmas tree for several hours—lots of sharp pointy sticks that were unavoidable. I thought I was going to have to make a ton of repairs when I got home, and I was shocked to see that there was no visible damage.
The Atlas seems not to absorb odors, which is nice given how hard I've sweated while wearing it. I've washed it two or three times so far, after people with excessive perfume hugged me, and I'm pleased to say that the offensive scents came right out. This is unusual for a synthetic garment, and it's really important to me since I have so many inhalation allergies.
For some reason, although the Atlas looks very trim when I'm not wearing a pack, it seems to bunch up in front when I've got a pack. This doesn't affect my comfort, but does make me look a bit of a mess in photographs.
I hike in it all day pretty comfortably, although I sometimes strip down to a baselayer in temperatures above about 25 F (-4 C). The ability to adjust the jacket's warmth with the full-length zipper is wonderful, and it adds a lot of flexibility to the garment. In town, I wear the Atlas over my usual button-down or polo shirt. I start shivering a bit once the temperature drops below about 20 F (-7 C), but I don't really feel cold until 0 F (-18 C). I've worn it as a primary jacket down into the -20 F (-29 C) range (for the sake of testing), but I really think it's better suited to warmer weather when worn alone.
The Atlas is a great jacket, and I would replace it if it were lost. I'm really glad to have it in my kit. I wear it on the trail, I wear it at home, and I wore it while writing this report. It is versatile and attractive, and I just wish they'd make it in black or navy blue.
Good friends in beautiful places (DEC Interior Outpost at Marcy Dam)
During this period, I used the Merrell Atlas for six days of strenuous mountain climbing in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. I have also continued to wear the Atlas as my normal winter coat during life in town, and have worn it almost every day: at least 50 of the last 60 days.
That gives me a combined use of 11 trail days and more than 100 non-hiking days. My report is based on the trail use; however, I've included some observations from use around town.
Briefly: I love the Merrell Atlas, and plan to continue using it. It has proven to be a flexible, relatively lightweight insulating garment that is both comfortable and durable. Aside from a few minor concerns about style and fit, I give it uniformly high marks. It's a great jacket.
|0 F (-18 C) to 14 F (-10 C)||up to 10 mph (16 kph)||4,340 feet (1,323 m)|
We climbed Allen from the East River Trailhead on a day forecast for clouds and snow. We found that, although the Opalescent River's bridge had been destroyed by vandals, we were able to cross safely on the still-frozen ice. From there, the trail winds across a valley with beautiful views of Cliff, Redfield, and Allen mountains. It departs onto a hard path that climbs a shoulder of Redfield before diverting to Skylight Brook. We then climbed, off-trail, up Allen Brook, which ascends 2,000 ft (610 m) in about 1.5 miles (2.4 km). We had fun going up the relatively steep slide near the summit. Our total distance was 19 miles (31 km), total climb was 3,400 ft (1,037 m), and hiking time was 11.25 hours. The snow was deep, our company was good, and the weather opened out into a beautifully clear day!
|0 F (-18 C) to 15 F (-9 C)||up to 10 mph (16 kph)||5,114 ft (1,559 m); 4,813 ft (1,467 m); 4,837 ft (1,474 m)|
We climbed Algonquin, Boundary, and Iroquois from Adirondack Loj on a day that boasted unexpectedly beautiful sunshine and low winds. These peaks are exposed to a localized jet stream that normally blasts them hard—winds of 60 mph (100 kph) are common—so we were thrilled to get a calm day. We spent at least an hour on the summit of Iroquois eating lunch and taking in the scenery, and more time on Algonquin. We'd planned on climbing Wright Peak later in the day, but decided instead to play around on a rock face we found. I scrambled to the top of what's probably a class 3 or 4 climb, which gave beautiful views of Algonquin and Wright. Our total mileage was about 11 miles (18 km), and my altimeter's accumulated elevation was about 5,300 ft (1,615 m).
|0 F (-18 C) to 15 F (-9 C)||up to 60 mph (100 kph)||5,344 ft (1,629 m); 4,926 ft (1,501 m); 4,840 ft (1,475 m)|
We did a long day trip up into the high peaks, ascending the highest, fourth highest, and seventh highest peaks in New York. We started from Adirondack Loj and climbed via the Van Hoevenberg trail to Marcy, where we found whiteout conditions: wind, loaded with ice pellets, blowing hard enough to suspend my trekking poles horizontally when dangled from their straps. This was a far cry from the calm winds that were forecast! I got to practice my map-and-compass navigation to get us down off the summit of Marcy into the col called Four Corners. From there we ascended Skylight, discovering many spruce traps. On Skylight's summit, the wind was just as hard, but blowing from the southwest (it was blowing from the northeast on Marcy, a mile away). We descended to Four Corners and thence to Lake Tear of the Clouds, where we began our very steep bushwhack up to Gray Peak.
We had planned on returning via Marcy, but we all wanted to stay out of the wind if we could. So we descended via Feldspar Brook, then climbed along the Opalescent to Lake Arnold, after which we descended to Marcy Dam and hiked out the normal route. Our total mileage was 19.5 miles (31.4 km) in 13 hours, with an altimeter-measured climb of 8,845 ft (2,695 m).
|-5 F (-21 C) to 35 F (2 C)||up to 10 mph (16 kph)||4,607 ft (1,404 m); 3,820 ft (1,164 m); 4,442 ft (1,353 m)|
We had an absolutely glorious day out in the Santanoni Range, widely renowned as some of the hardest peaks in the Adirondacks. We left the trail well below Bradley Pond, following a route that's alternately known as the Tahawus Club Trail, the New-Old Trail, or the Santanoni Express. It was a trail cut in the 1920s that climbs the southeastern shoulder of Santanoni Peak. Land acquisitions by a private paper company in the late 1920s made this trail illegal; only recently has it become a legal "trail" again.
The herd path was significantly overgrown, and it was serious bushwhacking much of the time. We spent quite a bit of time on routefinding. Lovely, though, with beautiful views opening out to the east. After a steep and sustained climb to Santanoni, we bushwhacked along the ridge to a junction point called Times Square: a little clearing that'll hold about 15 tightly-packed hikers and marks the junction between the standard bushwhacks to Santanoni, Couchsachraga, and Panther peaks. We "climbed" Couchsachraga next, which was a somewhat dismal effort: a very long descent to a col, followed by steep climbs over several bumps to the Couchie summit. We were rewarded with beautiful and clear views when we got there, though!
Two of us still wanted to climb Panther, so we sped on ahead—got stuck behind some slower hikers returning to Times Square, but we made it in good order. We went over to Panther, tagged the summit (and enjoyed the views), and returned to Times Square to meet our friends. We spent a while deciphering herd paths between Times Square and Herald Square (another junction point), then found one leading down Panther Brook to Bradley Pond. Trail running downhill in snowshoes is a lot of fun, and we descended 1,100 ft (335 m) in about 20 minutes. Sure was quicker than going up! A lovely day, overall.
Our total distance was approximately 16 miles (26 km) in 11.5 hours. My altimeter measured our total climb as 6,835 ft (2,083 m).
|15 F (-9 C) to 40 F (4 C)||up to 10 mph (16 kph)||4,140 ft (1,262 m); 4,040 ft (1,231 m); 4,361 ft (1,329 m)|
Several friends and I decided to take the last day of "official winter" to finish up one friend's quest to become a Winter 46er: someone who's climbed all the highest peaks in the Adirondacks between December 21st and March 21st. She's now done, and I'm exactly halfway.
None of the peaks in the Seward Range have trails, and the walking definitely runs the gamut from "herd path" to "wading through Christmas trees". An access gate was closed, which necessitated an extra 6.6 miles (10.6 km) of walking. We followed a road to the summer trailhead, then followed the Blueberry Foot Trail to an old logging road leading south toward Calkins Brook. From there, we ascended off-trail on a truly lovely herd path up Calkins Brook. The herd path leads almost to the summit of Donaldson Mtn, the central peak of the ridge. We climbed Donaldson, descended (a heartbreakingly long way in endless krummholz) to a col and then climbed Emmons, then retraced our steps to Donaldson. Then another heavy bushwhack over to Seward, replete with another long descent. Beautiful weather for my friend's winter finish! Then back into the col, back almost all the way up Donaldson, and down.
We camped out the night before hiking; the alarms went off at 3:45 to enable us to be hiking by 5:30. Our total distance for the hiking day was about 24 miles (38.6 km) in just over 13 hours. The altimeter measured 5,905 ft (1,800 m) of climb, not including the climb of Emmons (I left my pack on Donaldson).
It was a heck of a way to finish up the winter season and my test of the Atlas. Time to hang up the snowshoes for a while!
We told jokes atop Donaldson Mtn
While hiking, I tend to wear the jacket at the edges of the day: in the morning when it's very cold, and in the afternoon when I'm descending from a peak. When ascending steeper sections of a mountain, I generally don't wear any insulating layers on my torso, since I'm a human furnace. Once I start heading downhill, though, I can easily chill down unless I put on some insulation.
I've been deeply impressed by the Atlas fabric's durability. Of the peaks I climbed during the Long-Term Reporting period, eleven involved bushwhacking. I estimate that I did 67 miles (108 km) of serious mountain bushwhacking during this period. Some of that distance was walking on old logging roads, but much of it was gloves-on fighting with trees. Wrenching branches out of the way with every step because they were too tightly-packed to walk around. It's an accepted fact that these hikes draw blood.
When I came home from hikes this winter, I usually gasped when I first took off my shirt. I'm a big, tall, broad-shouldered guy, and where there are herd paths, they're often short and narrow. My shoulders were usually covered in dried blood from many small punctures of winter-hardened sticks. (For your sake, gentle reader, I have omitted photographic proof of my blood donations in case you're eating dinner concurrently with reading). The Santanoni and Seward trips were particularly hard on my shoulders, and I looked like I'd been to war when I came home.
I really took a beating while wearing the Atlas. And yet, looking at it, it could have been purchased yesterday. It still looks brand new. I've looked at it carefully under bright light, and I cannot see any evidence of damage to the jacket's fabric, despite the fact that I was repeatedly stuck hard enough to draw blood. The hem shows no abrasion from my pants or backpack, and the fabric of the cuffs doesn't seem to have been abraded from my hands brushing my legs. Although the jacket's trim cut sometimes keeps it from snagging trees, there were still many times when branches stuck me in multiple places, pinning me. Sometimes the jacket was pulled quite hard in my attempts to get free, since there was no other way to get out.
I cannot find a single rip, tear, pulled thread, or other indication of damage from these tree beatings. Frankly, I'm shocked. And, as I wrote, deeply impressed.
My repairs to stabilize the wrist cuffs have held, and I haven't noted any further problems with the repaired areas. However, some of the surrounding (original) thread has begun to be abraded. If it follows the same pattern, it will eventually wear through, and I'll need to extend my repair. No big deal.
The jacket is breathable enough that it's comfortable even when the humidity is high. I'm careful to take it off when I overheat, but it's not a big deal. Sometimes this winter, I've worn it while sweating (like in a gale on Marcy when the wind would have snatched anything I tried to remove), and it's performed fine. After it got wet, I put it in my pack, let the moisture freeze, shook the jacket, and found it perfectly warm again.
I like the fact that snow brushes easily off the sleeves and shoulders of the jacket. I make sure to do this quickly if I get dumped on, since I don't want the snow to melt and soak the jacket. My efforts have been successful, and I haven't had any problems with snow melting through. I can also report from wearing the Atlas around town that, while it's not waterproof by any means, it will keep my clothing dry in light rain.
I still wish the shoulders were a little bit wider, but that's just the way my body is designed. I've gotten used to the jacket's fit, and now find it very comfortable either alone or as an insulating layer under a shell.
I give the Atlas high praise for comfort in a wide range of temperatures. Now that we're in a "shoulder season", there are days when the temperature fluctuates between 65 F (18 C) during the day and 25 F (-4 C) in the evening. The Atlas shines in this environment; even while wearing the jacket in these warmer conditions, I don't seem to overheat unless I'm exerting myself a lot. Many times, I end up wearing the jacket inside my office much of the day because I forget that I'm wearing it.
I admit that my account sounds counterintuitive—how could a jacket that's warm enough for hiking at -20 F (-29 C) be comfortable in a 70 F (21 C) office?—but I stand by it. I can't explain the comfort factor scientifically, but after more than 100 days of use, I've come to believe in it. The jacket works very well for me.
The Merrell Atlas is a great jacket. I wear it all the time, whether on the trail or around town. It's the sort of garment that creates a niche for itself where it seems, after a while, that nothing else will do. I value the windproof nature of its fabric, because it allows me to stay warmer with a lighter-weight jacket.
The Atlas was the only torso insulation I used for most of this winter, although I carried a down vest as emergency backup. I found the Atlas reliably warm while hiking throughout the winter; when covered with a shell jacket, I never found the bottom of its temperature range.
The Atlas has earned a lasting position in my gear lineup. It's my first choice for running errands, and I plan to keep wearing it in the mountains. It's great!
I thank BackpackGearTest and Merrell for allowing me to test the Atlas jacket.
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