Earlier this year we ran a news item about the release of the Alpha Comp Hoody hybrid softshell jacket from Canadian brand, Arc’teryx. You can read that news here. Well, we’ve also been lucky enough to put one to the test in the mountains! So how did it perform?
Arc’teryx say that the Alpha Comp Hoody is a: “Composite construction jacket with versatile thermal management and zonal weather protection in a single garment.”
So what exactly do they mean by ‘composite construction’? Put simply, it is all about combining two materials in a way that is supposed to maximise the benefits of each one. In the Alpha Comp Hoody, Arc’teryx have combined their own Fortius 1.0 stretch woven softshell fabric with a N40p 3L laminated GORE® Product Technology fabric. This means that some areas of the jacket are fully water and wind proof, and some are not.
So which bits are which and what is the thinking behind this composite construction?
The hem, sleeves, shoulders and hood are produced in the waterproof Gore fabric, whilst the main body back and inner arms are produced using Fortius 1.0 stretch woven softshell fabric. The idea is that the shoulders, arms, hood and hem are the places that are most exposed to snow and dripping water. The rest of the jacket can benefit from the enhanced freedom of movement and breathability that Fortius 1.0 affords. This is especially useful when carrying a pack etc as moisture (I mean sweat here) moves more readily through Fortius 1.0 than through the Gore waterproof fabric.
So hopefully you get the idea behind the composite construction. It’s designed to be the kind of jacket that once you’ve put on at the start of your day, you don’t need to take off. It offers enough weather protection if things turn out badly but also enough comfort and freedom of movement if you are moving quickly or climbing technical ground.
So, this great in lots of respects but not so great in others. However, before I go through the ins and outs of why, please do remember that this is a pretty specialist piece of kit from Arc’teryx’s Alpha range, a climbing and alpine focused series of clothing. It’s not a hill walking waterproof or a dog walking jacket!
I’ve pretty much used the Alpha Comp Hoody in two different environments. The cold, (mainly) dry European Alps and the often damp (read that as chucking it down!), fluctuating temperature levels of the UK mountains.
Let’s start with the use in the Alps. I’ve used the Alpha Comp Hoody for climbing and ski mountaineering in the European Alps during the past winter and spring and this is exactly what the jacket is designed for. I’ve used it for day hits climbing goulottes in Chamonix, ice falls, descents of the Valee Blanche on skis and chose to take it as my shell of choice on the Eiger North Face. As it was never raining or even forecast to rain, during any of these endeavours, I was quite happy that I did not need the protection of a full on hard shell. I did encounter snowfall during some of these days but as they weren’t huge wet flakes, the Alpha Comp coped fine. I also encountered drips from melting ice but these usually hit the strategically placed waterproof Gore fabric rather than the Fortius 1.0, with the DWR repelling anything effectively that did hit the softshell fabric. Any spindrift pummeling that I took whilst climbing gullies, was easily parried by the Gore fabric and the awesome helmet compatible hood and again the Fortius did it’s job, stretching with my body and breathing well when I was working hard.
So what was it like in the UK and is it any good for the Scottish winter climbing enthusiasts amongst us? Well first of all it’s important to note that this is not a waterproof jacket and if you are heading out for a prolonged period in heavy rain then you will get wet! I tried it and did! That is not to say it is useless for UK users. You just have to weigh up the pros and cons based on the day, routes, weather forecast etc. I’m much more of a fan of climbing in softshell or hybrid style jackets as I find them more comfortable than a full hardshell. I would tend to use a jacket like this in the UK (Scottish winter etc) unless it was forecast to be full on wetness all day long. Unfortunately this winter in Scotland has been just that, so I’ve not used the Alpha Comp on many perfect days but the ones where I’ve taken a punt, it’s been absolutely fine and the benefits for me have far outweighed the little bit of moisture I’ve had to contend with. I do know a lot of other folk who will only climb in a hardshell in Scotland though so it’s down to a question of taste here. And as I said earlier, I wouldn’t consider it myself if I knew the day was going to be out and out wet.
One of the big tests for me was using this jacket on the Eiger North face. I was unsure of whether to take a full on hardshell for this route so I weighed up the pros and cons. I knew we had a 3 day long clear weather window and that we aimed to climb the face in 2 days, spending one night bivvying. I knew that it was forecast to be dry, calm and clear and that we’d be moving together most of the time, so energy output would be high and I’d want good breathability to remain comfortable and not overheat. I also knew that there’d be the chance of spindrift though so I did want some moisture protection. I also needed a well cut jacket that wouldn’t hold me back on the harder pitches. I didn’t want to carry a hardshell and a softshell as this would be extra weight, so I went for the Alpha Comp Hoody and it proved to be the perfect choice for this route and weather conditions.
Moving on to other features of the Alpha Comp Hoody…
The athletic fit and stretch fabric mean it is great for technical rock, ice and mixed climbing. It is moves with your body and doesn’t ride up when you are climbing, or feel restrictive in any way. The zipper works smoothly and seals out the elements when needed and the micro zipper tabs works with gloved hands. As I said earlier, the hood is awesome and worked even over the top of my skiing helmet. The adjustable drawcords gave a great fit whether over just my hair or a helmet. The zippered pockets, 2 handpockets and 1 chest pocket, gave sufficient storage options and didn’t interfere with a pack or a harness.
It was also great to see one of my favourite Arc’teryx jacket features on the Alpha Comp Hoody. The harness Hemlock inserts. Although the jacket is well cut and there is very little riding up anyway, I find this simple feature brilliant for keeping the jacket sitting neatly under my climbing harness. The hem drawcord works effectively to seal out snow and wind from underneath too and the high quality velcro cuffs are simple and do the job.
Ok, to sum things up. The Alpha Comp Hoody is a great jacket for high output technical climbing where breathability, protection from occasional snow and spindrift and durability are all required in a lightweight package. Basically the sort of weather, climbing and conditions you get in the European Alps. It is not a waterproof jacket and as such, has limitations for UK use, although it is perfect for those rare blue sky Scottish winter days. The cut, hood and quality are all awesome, just as you’d expect from a brand like Arc’teryx. All in all it is a specialist piece but if you can afford the luxury of having one, go for it!
- RRP: £275
- Find out more and buy one at the Arc’teryx website.