Aether first caught our attention years ago as a lifestyle brand with real world and performance sensibilities. Brands like Aether and NAU go a long way towards proving you don’t have to give up style to stay warm and dry on the trail. Their products feature a good fit, advanced or industry standard features and a lifetime guarantee. Although Aether is marketed primary as a lifestyle brand, it has a lot of the makings of an outdoors brand.
It’s easy to crank out an insulation piece these days, with many brands having their own take on synthetic insulation that allows them to market the product as their version of Primaloft. Of course we’ve yet to find any of these that offer the performance of Primaloft, so these rarely win us over. I was happy to find Aether not only uses Primaloft, but uses Primaloft gold, an upgraded performance spec version of Primaloft. Primaloft breaths better than any other synthetic, it’s water resistant, maintains retains up to 96% of it’s warmth and insulting ability when wet, provides superior warmth without bulk, it’s packable and Primaloft Gold is also surprisingly lightweight. The Shelter hoodie’s microfiber ripstop shell/liner may not Pertex, but in testing we didn’t tear it, snag it or even find any areas of wear. It held up remarkable well, with no signs of it ever having even been used after months of wear.
“…it lacks a stuff pocket, which is fairly standard on comparable mid-layer or Primaloft pieces. It’s also missing the seam tape we like to see behind the front zipper…”
It doesn’t seem to come with any DWR treatment, this is a pretty big oversight, however I didn’t see anywhere on the Aether site where they claim it has a DWR finish, so it’s excusable as a DWR treatment is simple to do yourself. The fabric itself seemed to have moderate water resistance regardless of the fact it’s not DWR treated, and because Aether choose to use Primaloft Gold the piece did well fighting the wind. I was concerned about warmth and wind resistance with Aether only putting 60 grams of insulation in the Shelter, but Primaloft has come a long way in recent years and I found 60 grams of Gold to be enough on most days where the temp was going down into the teens. NOTE: I wore this mostly as a mid layer on these super cold days, with a canvas or leather jacket over.
So the Shelter hoodie preforms well in the cold. But it is missing some important features, it lacks a stuff pocket, which is fairly standard on comparable mid-layer or Primaloft pieces. It’s also missing the seam tape we like to see behind the front zipper, which keeps the fabric from getting caught in that zip. And then there’s the Lycra cuffs and hood trim, yuck. I’d have rather seen nicer trim of the same fabric they used for the rest of the piece. Lycra is better than some of the cheaper substitutes, but it’s going to show wear and not hold up as well with time as real fabric trim would.
“The Shelter hoodie from Aether is a serious performance mid-layer built for those who need a ultra light piece without compromising warmth.”
These details seem like big oversights in a $265 mid-layer, even more so when you look at the details they got right. The Small and tight reverse coil zippers, these decreasing your chance at breaking off chunky plastic teeth or catching the fabric, they gave us a garage on the top of the from zip to keep you chin/beard safe from rubbing or digging and front draw cords for the hood. And then there’s the biggest win, 60 grams of PrimaLoft Gold insulation. This is really what it’s all about, and the biggest reason this and other brands pieces like it have seen a price jump in the past 5 yrs. Mid-layer Primaloft hoodies are a standard product nearly every outdoor preference bran has in their lineup. And 5-6 yrs ago these pieces ran around $180-220 depending on details and which brand you went with. Now they seem to be starting around $220 and going as high as $300-350. So while I find $265 for a Primaloft piece to be high, it’s actually on the middle end of the market right now and it does feature Primaloft Gold, which although much better than just about anything else, we’re seeing less and less in the industry. In fact, more and more what we see is brands moving towards the much heavier and less warm recycled Primaloft, or the even worse recycled plastic bottle insolation, which I first noticed brands using for fleece about 6-7 years ago.
The plastic bottle stuffing, in case you’ve not heard of this, is when they take plastic from sources like milk cartons or pop bottles and recycle them using this recycled material to make fleeces and recycled insulations. The fleeces fail to hold up well with time and I’ve even seen them melt in home dryers or when left in hot location such as a car. They same can happen with your recycled insolation pieces. Which eliminates one of the major benefits of using synthetic over down (this being the ability to wash and dry at home with ease rather than hand wash with care and hang dry like you must do with down). So Aether using Primaloft Gold gets them high marks, as it’s very likely the absolute best synthetic insulation out there.
The fit is very trim. Not super skinny, but trim. And although is was actually way too small for me in a size L, I still was able to move around some and felt less constricted than in the Patagonia down hoodie, which actually fit me better overall. The stitching is good, with it being reenforced in multiple areas that will see stress and although theres no reinforcement in the shoulders, I didn’t have any wear showing up on the stitching or fabric after walking around with a pack or camera bag. So high marks there as well. The hood is not helmet compatible, but because of the fit you’re able to tuck the hood in the helmet without any fuss and it didn’t seem to get in the way. Although this means it’s not going to be easy to drop the hood while climbing and it could restrict your movement some.
Overall the Aether hoodie is a winner. It’s not the least expensive mid-layer out there, but it’s also far from the most expensive. It’s ultra light, making it barely noticeable in a pack. even though the industry is raising it’s prices on Primaloft pieces, $265 is still too high in my opinion with it’s oversights. It’s cut well, with good to great stitching and it’s easy for me to get on and off. But best of all it kept me warm in some seriously cold weather.
Serious warmth in a series hoodie, with a clean cut, high end Primaloft Gold insolation and only a few missteps. $265 is pricey, but it’s built well and weighs less than anything else I’ve found in it’s class. The Shelter hoodie from Aether is a serious performance mid-layer built for those who need a ultra light piece without compromising warmth. 8/10. FP
Rating Notes: I took off two points for a few things that really bugged me, the trim on the hood and cuffs, the lack of seam tape and no stuff pocket. All of these would be hard to forgive if this was a heavy weight coat, feather than an ultra light mid-layer that can be worn by itself.