Kev takes the minimalist Alpha FL Jacket from Arc’teryx on some technical outings to see if it really is the best technical climbing shell on the market…
A while ago I reviewed the Beta LT Jacket from Arc’teryx, noting that it was the perfect hardshell jacket for technical mountaineering and alpine climbing. But there were some (very) minor areas for improvement. So, when I was given the chance to review the Alpha FL jacket this summer I was keen to see if it was even better than the Beta LT and if so, by how much…
The Alpha Series of garments are what Arc’teryx call “Climbing and alpine focused systems” and FL stands for “Fast and Light“, so as far as jargon hype, things were already sounding good for the Alpha FL! I’ve used the Alpha FL all summer for climbing both in the UK and the European Alps, and I’ve worn it in cold and dry, cold and wet and warm and wet conditions, battling everything from icy winds, driving rain, snow, rock, ice and mud! It really has been put through the mill.
The fast and light persona has shone through admirably in all situations. At 325g this is a lightweight shell, bearing in mind that it is a full 3 layer piece constructed from GORE-TEX® Pro 3L with supple yet durable N40p-X face fabric. No tissue paper thin, tear-tastic emergency pieces here. This jacket is tough! It has stood up to granite chimneys and razor sharp limestone without so much as a nick or hole.
So, how have Arc’teryx saved on weight? Well, firstly by construction, with clever patterning and micro seam allowances. And secondly, by features. Or lack of them! When I reviewed the Beta LT I talked about the way in which I would have liked to have seen only one chest pocket rather than 2. The Alpha FL only has one. It has a full length WaterTight™ Vislon front zip, laminated die-cut Velcro® cuff adjusters to reduce bulk and possibility of snagging and one of my favourite Arc’teryx shell features, the harness Hemlock™ inserts which help keep the jacket in place under a harness. Some might argue that if a jacket is cut sufficiently well then a feature like this shouldn’t be necessary but I find that combined with a great cut (which the Alpha FL has) it keeps everything really neat around the waist and I never have to worry about adjusting the jacket because it has popped over my harness, obscuring my gear loops.
On the subject of the cut, the Alpha FL is perfect for climbing with that almost bespoke feel that you expect from Arc’teryx. There is no extra fabric flapping round and I found my size small to fit brilliantly over a baselayer and light midlayer. One of the best features of the Alpha FL is the hood. It fits perfectly over a helmet, is comfortable round the face and chin, as well as being simple to adjust so that it fits over a hat, hood, helmet or nothing at all. One final nice touch is the inclusion of a stuff sack so you can clip it to your climbing harness should you wish to carry it as an emergency shell.
So what is the conclusion? Is there anything wrong with it? And has it overtaken the Beta LT as my new favourite hardshell? Well, first of all the Alpha FL is definitely my new shell of choice. It is more of an out and out climbing jacket than the Beta LT and the more minimalist styling definitely suits my tastes. It is not a jacket for walkers seeking lots of pockets and extra features though, but if you want a lightweight shell for climbing, running and general high octane mountain pursuits, then get an Alpha FL. You won’t be disappointed! We awarded the Beta LT 5 stars and in my opinion the Alpha FL is just a tad better!
- Price: £350
- Find out more as well as where to buy this jacket, at the Arc’teryx website
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