I have had a set of Satoro AR base layers (zip neck shirt and bottoms) by Arc’teryx since October 2016 and have been testing them out this winter season on the ski hill and in the backcountry.
The Satoro flaunts the use of Arc’teryx’s advanced fabric technology – Nucliex™ which wraps Merino wool around a nylon core.
For anyone who’s been living in the dark ages as far as outdoor apparel and technology is concerned, here is a quick lowdown on Merino wool; it comes from a really tough breed of sheep that live in extreme alpine conditions so not only does it have the insulative properties of normal wool but it is much more bad-ass at dealing with extreme conditions-meaning it’s breathable in summer too. Not only that but it is soft and lightweight AND very good at absorbing odours, which has been a real beat down on its synthetic competitors. Wool in general has seen a real revival in the outdoor industry especially for base layers and light weight pieces. People swear by their wool garments over synthetic for many outdoor pursuits these days. However its generally agreed that the one big flaw of wool is its durability. When Arc’teryx developed their Nucliex fabric it was with this flaw in mind. Utilizing Nylon gives the fabric a durable core which Arc’teryx say makes it 20% stronger in burst strength test and 50% more abrasion resistant.
Now before we go much further with this review I have to confess that I am not much of a strong advocate either way on the whole wool vs synthetic divide – I know its supposed to be a Marmite type of argument (you either love it or you hate it) but its just not like that for me. I have owned garments from both categories that I have really liked and disliked for their respective pro’s and cons. Synthetics were always a durable and economic choice but they would almost always start to smell bad after a while, merino wool pieces I’ve owned were always a nice feel, breathed well and were warm, they didn’t have the same smell problem as synthetics but were typically more expensive and way less durable.
If Arc’teryx really have solved the durability issues with wool though the Satoro could be the first apparel line to give me reason to have a stronger bias towards it.
In more recent years I think Arc’teryx have changed their women’s fit a little and I have to say that 90% of products seem to fit me really well. I’m typically a medium in Arcteryx stuff – top and bottom, the Satoro base layers do not stray from my typical. The top feels really great, it cuts down low enough at the bum to not feel like it would ride up with an overhead reach, yet it is slim fitting and figure hugging enough to feel like a true snug fit base layer. The sleeves also feel the right length for me and the arm seams are cut into the armpits at just the right place. I used to find – with Arcteryx shells at least – that the jackets would come up too high on my waist and back and this short fit was exaggerated with the arm-pits and sleeves being ill-fitting so that when I would reach over head it would ride up further. Thankfully, they seem to now base their clothing patterns on a person just my size – lucky for me!
The bottoms seem to fit great when I first put them on, they are long enough (I am 5’7″ and my inseam is 31″) and they don’t sit too low at the back or front either – in fact they come high enough that you feel you can comfortably tuck the top into them which I personally really enjoy on a blustery winter day – no gaps of exposed skin please! The same as the top the bottoms have just the right amount of a ‘hugging’ fit so that you feel they are a true base layer and sit right next to the skin but are not too tight. For my body shape I find this is not always as easy as it sounds. Having an athletic start by playing soccer for 15 years I have pretty meaty quads – disproportionate to my waist, so I often find pants to be either too tight in the legs or too baggy in the waist. Perhaps this good fit can be attributed to the Elastane Arcteryx use in this fabric.
One thing I found when I actually started moving in the bottoms though, mostly within the first 1km of the skin track is that somehow the waistband of the bottoms rides down in the back and does end up leaving me with that unwanted cold gap of skin – which is disappointing and also surprising given how well they seem to fit when I put them on at home in the morning. This is particularly annoying skiing as I wear the Arcteryx Theta SV bib shell pants and digging out my long-johns to pull them up is not a task that you can do subtly or even very effectively on the hill!
Apart from the pants riding down which is pretty annoying the overall good fit means the base layers feel really comfortable to wear. I took them both on a 4 day back-country ski trip and I felt just as happy sitting around the lodge in the evening drinking a beer in the nice merino top as I did wearing them both as technical pieces out on the mountain. The merino wool feels really nice and soft and the Elastane helps to move with your body.
Neck zipper:_I don’t own many base layers with a zip neck collar, typically I prefer the simpler the better, but in this case I like the half zip and collar on the Satoro. Its not noticeable at all when its up (i.e. the zipper doesn’t catch my skin or anything) and the extra material on the neck makes it a little warmer for playing out in winter but allows effective cooling when you get too hot.
Arm pocket:_Again usually I wouldn’t be sold on something like this and I haven’t yet had much reason to use it, I guess I haven’t worn it as the outermost layer yet so it doesn’t make it so handy to get to. Perhaps when it comes around to climbing season and I can wear it in the mountains or on a multi-pitch it would be handy for keeping my car key or a chap-stick in, but the main thing is that the pocket isn’t annoying and doesn’t add any bulk. On a totally aesthetic level I really like the excuse it gives to highlight the accent color!
Seams:_Arc’teryx uses what they call a ‘Merrow’ stitch which keeps the seams smaller and narrower. This is something I wouldn’t have noticed until it was pointed out to me, but the fact that I don’t notice these things means they are not catching my attention in a bad way, they are not scratchy or annoying which is a real testament to Arc’teryx’s time honored attention to detail. Even just looking at the stitching it looks like a quality product.
Logos:_I really appreciate when a product has the company logo placed in a position where it has been well thought out. For some reason I really like the use of the subtle logo on the back of the pants on the waistband, its considerate and although a small, purely aesthetic detail, it exudes quality to me.
I have only worn a few wool items before and one was a sleeveless ice breaker vest which I wore all the time in hot conditions climbing and approaching long alpine climbs in the height of summer. I was really impressed by the lack of smell even when I wore it multiple days in a row on trips. The same can be said with a wool t-shirt I bought a few years ago. I always thought the whole odorless wool thing was a bit of a myth or an exaggeration, but I was pleased to find otherwise. However, unfortunately I can’t quite say the same for the Satoro shirt. Even after a day of sweating it out on the skin track on a ski trip I could detect a subtle odor and I wouldn’t say I consider myself a heavy sweater or anything typically. Don’t get me wrong it didn’t reek or anything and it was probably only a smell I could personally detect but I was surprised after my previous experiences with Merino wool garments that there was anything at all. After four days in the backcountry there was definitely a detectable smell but admittedly not nearly as bad as I would have expected from a synthetic piece.
Arc’teryx have done well here and there is actually quite a good choice for what I would expect from base layers. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised or particularly upset if it was just black and black. I mean, usually I’m the one advocating for women’s colors to be bright and bold not wishy-washy pastels and baby pink, but these are base layers. The fact that there is any choice at all is good and although the colors for women are black, blues and pinks, the hues are not those that say ‘I’m just here to look cute’ they say ‘I mean business’. I like the dusky maroon for the top that I have especially with the accented brighter zip and laminated pocket and the blue hues (navy and turquoise) are nice if you prefer a more subtle color. I would always vote brighter though and would be thrilled to start seeing more oranges, yellows and greens in Arcteryx’s women’s lines.
There really isn’t too many. I already mentioned that it is annoying that the bottoms seem to ride down but another small thing that irks me is that although the bottoms are described as ‘midweight’ base layers, they seem to be much more thin and more see-through that the upper body counter part, this is not a huge deal, but it would be nice to be lounging around the lodge or throwing on a big sweater and stripping off your shell layer on the way to the pub for apres and not feel like you are baring more than you should to the world – small thing I know!
In summary I am really happy with the Satoro base layers and there is definitely some considered details gone into the design and the manufacture of the products but I can’t say that I have discovered anything about them yet that decidedly sets them apart from any other base layers that I have owned.
I own a very similar pair of wool bottoms by Patagonia that I really like and the only difference so far is that the Patagonia bottoms fit me a touch better (they don’t ride down) and after three years of owning them they are beginning to fall apart with lots of holes and many areas looking very threadbare and thin. I also own an MEC synthetic long sleeved shirt, it fits well and it very comfortable, it does smell pretty bad after a couple of days on the go though and doesn’t have any of the nice features the Satoro has like the zipper and pocket.
I think it is a little too early to tell if the Satoro has something special because for me the selling point would be if the top and bottom are holding up in 2 years time after a bunch of abuse from a few climbing seasons being abraded against rock and pushed and pulled around as well as serving as temperature control through more ski seasons. I would like to find out how the odor control changes over the years and months, if it gets significantly worse then that won’t be great. But they don’t start falling apart in a few years time like the Patagonia bottoms (which to be honest lasted longer than I thought being wool) then I think the Satoro will go up hugely in my estimation.
Perhaps the current unremarkable opinion I have of the Satoro peices currently actually points to the fact that they are utterly nailing their jobs as base layers; excellence through understated simplicity and comfort that doesn’t bring things to my attention because base layer don’t need to be all singing all dancing with gimmicky features? I could totally buy this theory I proposed to myself.
If the way I feel about the Satoro now was compounded with some serious durability that contended with that of a thin synthetic as well as the fact that they smell better, then I would say they had something that would make me spend $170 and $140 respectively on them. Otherwise it would be hard to justify. I will update this and let you know how that durability goes a little way down the line.