The Alpha FL is one of the best ‘fast and light’ alpine hard-shells in a very competitive marketplace and probably the ultimate GORE-TEX® Pro™ light alpine hard shell.
Kev reviewed an earlier version of the Alpha FL back in 2014 and he was suitably impressed. So what has changed in the intervening 3 years?
You still have a Arc’teryx N40p-X face fabric three layer GORE-TEX® Pro™ keeping the wind and rain out. This combination is seriously light but plenty durable enough for the rigours of normal alpine usage. As with the previous version the precision micro seam allowances (1.6mm) and taping mean that there is no excess fabric to add bulk or weight and in fact Arc’teryx have actually cut the weight of the Alpha FL! The cut of the jacket is to the usual high Arc’teryx standards – to be honest I find the Arc’teryx ‘trim fit’ nigh on perfect and I’m sure some of this is to do with what they term e3D
“Ergonomic 3-Dimensional (e3D) patterning brings an additional level of articulation to provide enhanced range-of-motion in our Trim, Athletic, and Expedition fit categories. The application of e3D patterning allows for enhanced mobility for sport-specific activities in challenging environments.”
This includes articulated cut at the elbows and gussets to prevent hem lift when reaching overhead. Basically you get a trim, low bulk jacket that moves with you and zero inhibition to your movement. This is important to a climber – you like to be able to see your feet and the gear on your harness and not be fighting billowing material. Likewise you don’t want a jacket that constricts or limits your movement. Arc’teryx are the masters at getting this tailoring spot on with their hard-shells. There have been a number of updates from the previous Alpha FL
- Gone are the Hemlockers™ to keep your shell tucked into the harness. This functionality has been taken over by the new Cohaesive™ hem adjusters. These are the new cord-grippers that are built into the hem of the jacket and serve the same purpose as the the Hemlockers™ but also direct the cord upward eliminating the risk of snags.
- The single chest pocket has a super-slick water resistant zip which saves weight and bulk as it does away with a zip garage.
- The internal neck region has additional material to reduce the issue of oil and grime contamination which could impact the breathability and functionality of the GoreTex in that region
All these refinements have helped knock in the region of 10grams off the jacket. The Arc’teryx StormHood™ shows their hallmark attention to detail – easily fitting over a helmet but can still be reduced down to a non flappy fit on your bare head – a standard cord-grip at the rear of the head adjusts volume. The cord adjusters are now the new Cohaesive™ versions around the face/brim which streamline the look – it also means they are less snag prone and are protected, however they are not ‘user replaceable in the event of failure. Both over a helmet or on a bare head the peak does a good job of keeping drips off your face and the hood moves so that vision is not impaired when you turn your head. Wrist fastening is by way of the usual velcro tab affair and there is a generous range of adjustment making it easy to fit them over or under glove cuffs. The sleeves are a good length and there is no hint of ‘shortening’ or restriction no mater how convoluted your thrutching, reaching or hooking becomes! Two pockets that are ‘stacked’ over the left chest. Externally there is a generous Napoleon pocket that will accept, food, phone or compact camera or some light gloves and a Buff™. This is closed with a water-resistant zipper that closes into the aforementioned streamlined zipper garage. All external zippers have new ‘jealy-bean’ plastic pulls instead of the more normal cord pulls (they are easily removable should you wish to put your own cord in) – I can’t decide if they are an improvement or not, they certainly function as well as cord and I suppose they reduce the (minimal) risk of snagging. Internally there is a smaller slimmer pocket designed with a phone or wallet in mind and can also serve to store the jackets stuff sac. By stacking the pockets Arc’teryx aim to reduce their impact on the breathability of the garment.
Although the Alpha FL accompanied me to Chamonix in spring it hardly left its stuff sac as the conditions were roasting and we managed to dodge the rain. Getting back to the UK and helping Dave with his BG attempt it was a different matter! So the first real trial was the trot up to Broad Stand and subsequent scramble/swim to set up a rope for what turned out to be a very very wet and cold runner. With typically mild conditions in the valley turning to chilly on the summits with 40mph plus winds the Alpha FL worked brilliantly. The fabric itself is quite ‘crinkly’ and this noise may or may not be noticeable depending on your sensibilities and though I initially noticed it, within minutes it had disappeared from my awareness (after a few outings the fabric quietens down – or I became used to it, either way not a problem!) . Breathability is on a par with the best I have experienced with GORE-TEX® jackets and no water got in until I had to place some gear in the corner/crack/waterfall and it ran down my arm (nothing but a dry suite would have kept that out!). I’ve never been a fan of pit zips – they provide an additional potential weak point and for me always seem fiddly with pack straps etc so I’m pleased the Alpha FL does without. The outer pocket also remained dry keeping my phone safe with only the moisture from repeated opening/closing taking out and replacing the phone accompanying it in. The phone was in a water resistant cover and as Arc’teryx state the pocket is not ‘waterproof’ so don’t expect it to keep ‘naked’ electronics bone dry. Whilst climbing the Alpha FL was unrestrictive and survived the typical thrutchy scrapes that go with climbing in torrential rain unscathed. However on returning to the hut I did find that them lining/membrane on the outer pocket was damaged. This doesn’t affect the jacket’s overall waterproofness (as there is a layer of GORE-TEX® behind it but does mean that the pocket is compromised). I suspect this is a result of having the phone in there and the rubbing from rock – something to bear in mind and perhaps a bit of a conundrum for the designers of lightweight jackets such as this – perhaps pockets need some additional protection for the membrane (or users need to be more careful!)? I know I’m not alone in stashing my phone or a compass or even a compact camera in the pocket – in the future I’ll try and avoid doing so if I foresee any thrutchy climbing. In the end this may just have been bad luck and a reminder that fast and light kit has its limitations. I must point out that more usual wear points like forearms and elbows remained completely intact – hence my suspicion that the rigid phone case ‘pinched’ the lining/membrane.
With the Alpha FL you are getting full on storm protection in a ultra light package that is durable enough for alpine adventure and yet light enough to be worn as a running jacket. The Alpha FL is such a neat package that there is never any need to think ‘Shall I take it or not?’ just clip it to your harness and get on with things – climbing at Shepherds earlier in the summer I did just that and forgot it was there until I took my harness off at the end of the day! All in all a great ‘fast and light’ alpine shell.
- Total storm protection
- Superb trim but unrestrictive fit
- Ultra lightweight
- Lining susceptible to pinch damage from hard objects
Richie is the enthusiastic amateur of the team. Enjoying all aspects of climbing but especially alpine, winter and his local grit . Having managed to survive the vagaries of both fluorescent Koflachs and rainbow tights in the 80s he looks forward to an even more stylish future. A shady past in mountain marathons and adventure races, including the Marathon des Sables, means he’s an advocate of fast and light. Though the former is debatable if you’ve seen him on a tricky lead!