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Arc'teryx Alpha FL Review

   
Editors' Choice Award

Hardshell Jackets

  • Currently 4.4/5
Overall avg rating 4.4 of 5 based on 5 reviews. Most recent review: February 17, 2014
Street Price:   $399 | Compare prices at 6 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight and compact, proven durability, exceptionally comfortable, near perfect features, attractive styling.
Cons:  No handwarmer pockets could be a drawback for some people.
Best Uses:  Hiking, climbing, skiing, all-purpose use.
User Rating:     
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 (3.7 of 5) based on 4 reviews
Recommendations:  67% of reviewers (2/3) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   Arcteryx
Review by: Max Neale ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ February 17, 2014  
Overview
The Arc'teryx Alpha FL is the highest scoring hardshell jacket in our assessment of 20 and the recipient of our Editor's Choice Award. Trip after trip, for three years, our testers have reached for this jacket more than any other. It's lightweight (11.4 oz), compact, has an exceptionally ergonomic fit, above average breathability, near perfect features, and is astonishing durable. The old version of this jacket, which used the less durable Gore-Tex Active membrane, held up well to two years of backpacking, alpine climbing, mountaineering, and backcountry skiing. The 2014 Alpha FL uses the super durable Gore-Tex Pro membrane; this jacket strikes the ideal balance between low weight and longevity. Furthermore, thanks to advanced patterning that minimizes the amount of seams, the 2014 Alpha FL is the most breathable expedition worthy jacket we've tested. This jacket excels at everything from day hikes to multi-month expeditions-- it's a backcountry enthusiast's dream come true.

Check out our complete Hardshell Jacket Review to compare all of the jackets tested.

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Important Note
The 2014 version of this jacket is significantly better than the previous version. You can tell the difference between the two versions in several ways: (1) the new version uses Gore Pro membrane, which has a grid pattern on the inside; and (2) the new version has the same color face fabric throughout, whereas the old version had a different fabric on the shoulders. Our photos below show the old version in purple and new version in red. All user reviews below posted 2/1/2014 and earlier reflect experience the old version-- ignore their criticism if you're interested in the new version.

Performance Comparison
Features
The Alpha FL has one external zippered chest pocket, a helmet compatible hood, and velcro wrist closures. The jacket is simple and these features are exceptionally well designed. This jacket is one of only two tested that receive 10 out of 10 points for features.

The full-length zipper and highly breathable membrane eliminate the need for pit zips. The velcro wrist closures are thin yet grippy; we found that they remained stickier longer than other closures in snowy and ice conditions- great benefit for ice and alpine climbing.

The Alpha FL’s expansive hood is very comfortable whether it’s worn with or without a helmet. This is the only lightweight hardshell we’ve tested that has three hood drawcords, a significant advantage that dramatically increases comfort compared to the light shells that only have one cord (like the Patagonia M10).

The zipper is also worth discussing because its operation is nearly effortless. Unlike many other hardshells that use urethane coated "water tight" zippers, opening the Alpha FL to ventilate is super fast and super easy. Just the way it should be.

Click to enlarge
The Arcteryx Alpha FL has an ergonomic fit with best-in-class mobility and features. The lighter purple color shows the reinforced areas: hood, shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
One tester selected the Alpha FL over the Patagonia M10 and several other top-tier shells for a 5-day winter solo ice climbing traverse of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, where he “hiked a bunch of 4000 footers and did three long alpine ice climbs.” This tester chose the Alpha FL because of its extra large chest pocket that “held a map, compass, and [energy] bars better than other shells.”

Indeed, the Alpha FL has the largest single chest pocket of any jacket we’ve tested. Its extra space compared to other hardshells is wonderful for stashing things on the go. The single chest pocket is our testers' favorite pocket configuration for hardshell jackets because it is easy to open--just reach across the chest and pull down-- even while on the move and while wearing a pack or harness, or both.

There are three reasons why our testers prefer chest pockets to handwarmer pockets.

(1) Handwarmer pockets are rarely effective at warming your hands in the backcountry.
In warm weather we've found that our hands often get wet regardless of a jacket’s pocket design. Then, the challenge is keeping our hands warm when wet. In cold conditions the challenge is keeping our hands warm, and the large gloves and mittens we all wear rarely fit inside of hardshell handwarmer pockets. Even when they do, there's often little benefit because the pockets are uninsulated. Further, when we are walking at a reasonable pace our hands will either be swinging at our sides, gripping trekking poles, or firmly attached to ice tools.

(2) Chest pockets are easier to access. Handwarmer pockets are difficult to access when compared to chest pockets that have a zipper in the center of the chest. Lifting your right hand up and in, to your right armpit, to reach a zipper is a lot harder than reaching it across to the center of your chest. Try it.

(3) Chest pockets provide more storage space. In order to make a handwarmer pocket accessible while wearing a pack the zipper needs to be relatively near the center of your chest, away from a pack's shoulder strap. Unfortunately, this dramatically reduces the width of the pocket; you have little storage space for your hands and other things. In contrast, chest pockets with zippers in the center, near the jacket's main zipper, can create a voluminous pocket.

For these reasons we prefer chest pockets and have found that handwarmer pockets are best for urban environments when we are caught out in the rain without gloves. However, we acknowledge that some people love handwarmer pockets. If you're one of them consider the Arc'teryx Beta FL, which is described more below, or the Patagonia Super Pluma.

For a more detailed discussion of hardshell jacket features see our Hardshell Jacket Buying Advice.
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Expedition style hardshell pocket critique, L to R: Rab Latok (excellent), Mountain Hardwear Drystein II (a little low), Patagonia Super Pluma (a little small), Arcteryx Alpha SV (fantastic storage and easy access but don't accommodate hands).
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Mobility
The Alpha FL has best-in-class fit, feel, and ergonomics. After two years of testing we’ve revised our scoring to reflect feedback from numerous testers. This is the only hardshell tested that receives 10 out of 10 points for mobility.

One tester used the jacket for the Isolation Traverse, a 33-mile ski mountaineering tour though North Cascades high peaks and glaciers with 24,000 ft. of elevation gain. He came back raving about the Alpha FL’s ergonomic arm design and said that this was the most comfortable hardshell he’s used. (He’s tested at least 10 top-tier shells). He also spoke eloquently about the Alpha FL’s attractive looks, which are considerably more stylish than the boxy Patagonia M10.

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Will Dean in the Arcteryx Alpha FL (left) and Todd Killcup in the Outdoor Research Axiom (right) on the Isolation ski mountaineering Traverse (33 miles with 24,000 ft of elevation gain). Cascade Mountains, WA.
Credit: Peter Moore
Breathability
The Alpha FL uses Gore-Tex Pro membrane, which is Gore’s most highest quality membrane. Several other ultralight hardshells with thinner face fabrics, such as the Mountain Hardwear Blazar and Haglofs Gram Comp Pull score slightly higher in our breathability tests, but difference is very slight. Arc'teryx redesigned this jacket for Fall 2014 and they claim that the jacket as a whole is more breathable than the previous version, which used Gore Active membrane. Technical jargon aside, the Alpha FL is about as breathable as it gets for a hardshell. Furthermore, unlike the the abovemention jackets, the Alpha FL has a full-length zipper that allows fast and easy ventilation. Our testers consistently find that the ability to ventilate is more important that a small difference in fabric breathability.

The breathability of any waterproof breathable jacket is limited by the condition of its durable water resistant (DWR) chemical coating. When the DWR wears off the face fabric will “wet out” and breathability will drop dramatically. This totally sucks, but it unavoidable. DWR is the Achilles heel of waterproof breathable jackets. No DWR coating is as durable as we wish it was; all wear off relatively quickly. For this reason, it’s important to wash any hardshell frequently and reapply DWR coating. See the video at the bottom of this page for wash instructions.

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Arcteryx Alpha FL. Note how the face fabric has "wet out." The shell is now less breathable, but still waterproof. It needs to be washed and sprayed with a DWR coating, necessary maintenance for all hardshells.
Credit: Max Neale
Durability
The Alpha FL uses a 40 denier plain weave face fabric that has proven to be highly durable for its weight. Combined with the Gore Pro fabric, this jacket is undoubtedly the most durable hardshell for its weight-- it is expedition worthy AND lightweight!!

Although the Alpha FL is very durable, it is not the most durable jacket we've tested. If you want a jacket for a multi-month foray into Siberia, are a full-time mountain guide, consider the Arc'teryx Alpha SV.

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Max in the Arcteryx Alpha FL hardshell jacket and CiloGear 30:30 backpack.
Credit: Zeb Engberg
Weight
Our medium Alpha FL weighs 11.4 ounces. The jacket is lightweight, but not superlight. If saving weight is your #1 concern we suggest either the 8 oz. Patagonia M10 or, if you want to go really light, consider the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket, which only weighs 4.9 oz. The Alpha FL can pack into its own small included stuff sack.

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Packed size and weight in oz from the left: Mountain Hardwear Quasar (9.5), Arcteryx Alpha FL (10.7), Mammut Felstrum Half Zip (11.2), Arcteryx Alpha SV (16.9, and Rab Latok (24.1).
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab

Versatility
The combination of low weight, high breathability, fantastic features, and a great fit make this jacket one of the most versatile we’ve tested. If you prefer two handwarmer pockets for around town consider the Arc'teryx Beta FL (see blow), or Patagonia Super Pluma.

Limitations
Like most hardshells the Alpha FL is cut for active use. There's enough room to wear a lightweight fleece jacket, such as the Patagonia R1 Hoody AND a midweight insulated jacket such as the Rab Xenon or Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer underneath, but there is not enough space to wear a massive puffy jacket like the Patagonia DAS or Feathered Friends Volant. We've found that this fit is ideal for 99% of applications. However, if you do a lot of standing around in cold, rainy environments and need to put a big puffy jacket (again, think Patagonia DAS size) underneath your shell then we suggest a jacket with an expedition fit, such as the Arc'teryx Alpha SV.

We have heard that Arc'teryx's larger sizes work well for generously sized people. If for some reason you find the opposite consider the Patagonia M10, which has a slightly boxier cut than the Alpha FL.

Best Applications
The Alpha FL is best suited to ice and alpine climbing. It is also our testers favorite jacket for backcountry skiing and works very well for many other activities.

Conclusion
The Alpha FL is our testers' go-to hardshell for everything from backpacking to climbing, to general use around town. When presented with a box full of 21 jackets and asked to choose one jacket to keep, the vast majority of testers jumped right for the Alpha FL.

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Max Neale in the Arcteryx Alpha FL near Pictured Rocks, Lake Superior, MI.
Credit: Gavin Taylor
Other Versions
The women's version of this jacket is the Arc'teryx Alpha FL - Women's.

The Arc'teryx Beta FL is slightly heavier and more expensive than the Alpha FL and adds two high handwarmer pockets.

Hardshell Wash Tutorial Video

Max Neale

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: February 17, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
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  • 4
  • 5
 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
  • 1
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  • 4
  • 5
 (3.7)

67% of 3 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
4 Total Ratings
5 star: 75%  (3)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 25%  (1)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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   Jun 9, 2013 - 04:52pm
Alpha FL by Arc’Teryx - Great all round jacket!

I have been using the new Goretex Active jacket for just about a year now and have been incredibly impressed!

Waterproof - I have been in many quite harsh weather situations and it has met my high expectations when it comes to Goretex. It is completely waterproof even under severe conditions.

Breathable - It has GREATLY surpassed my expectations in regards to it’s breathability. At first I was reluctant to consider an active jacket without pit-zips, but after being active in the jacket, I have never felt like I needed them. Recently there have been a lot of brands claiming to have the new best item when it comes to keeping you comfortable in regards to moisture. None of them come close to the comfort of the active shell.

Versatile - This jacket is marketed as FL or Fast and Light. It does live up to this, but it has replaced many jackets in my closet throughout the year because of its wide range of uses. I have used it canoeing, hiking, biking, nordic skiing, snow-shooing and in an urban setting. The only time that I would not pick this jacket up on the way out of the door is if i’m needing something with a very high level of durability such as alpine sport (snowboarding) when you have the possibility of heavy wear on the outer face fabric.

The only drawback to this particular jacket is the lack of pockets. This is because it is designed to be as light as possible. After looking at the other jackets offered by Arc’Teryx I would have purchased the Beta FL which is very similar (uses Gore’s Active shell) but has two hip level pockets.

Overall I would certainly purchase an Arc’Teryx Active shell Gore-Tex jacket again, and would recommend it for practically any use.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Dec 26, 2013 - 12:37pm
Temorrison22 · Backpacker · Charleston, SC
I have had this shell for only a few weeks now. I've had it in heavy rain twice. One of those times was for over 4 hours of continuous heavy rainfall at a slightly elevated heart rate (backpacking at a brisk pace). At all times it has kept me completely dry and has been very comfortable and breathable in the process. My previous shell had pit zips. This jacket does not but I didn't miss them at all as it remained breathable. Material feels very durable and has survived the occasional swipe by tree branches. Time will tell how it will last. The hood is great. it has a reinforced "brim" of sorts that does a great job of keeping your face shielded. I am very happy and would highly recommend it.

A previous reviewer experienced soak through with this shell. I have not experienced this in the short time I have been using it. Quite the contrary. In prolonged heavy rainfall with rub points from a backpack I have seen no soak through or seepage of any kind. Water would immediately bead up and the occasional shake of the head would send water flying off in large quantities. How long the DWR coating lasts is yet to be determined but so far I am extremely satisfied.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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Sep 19, 2013 - 06:27am
 
falag · Backpacker · Montreal, Qc
Although Arteryx Alpha SL hardshell seems an exellent choice, for almost the same price, I decided to buy the Westomb Apoc. I think you should test this Hardshell in your review. With its Polartec NeoShell, this jacket is very breathable. It has a very great design and the pocket positions are well thought. I really enjoy my Westcomb Apoc. I think that the Westcomb Apoc deserves one of the top 3 position!
Have a look here :
http://shopwestcomb.com/apoc-jacket.html
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
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   Jun 7, 2013 - 05:29am
Belisarius · Other · Ottawa
Fit is perfect- no doubt about it.

Purchased 06 Jun 13, Bushtukah Ottawa. Store staff assured me that it wil lbe a 'few years' of light wear before needing a DWR re-treatment. Wrong. 07 Jun, 3 minutes waiting for a bus, during 12deg C light rain the right jacket (not my skin) shoulder got wet; the chest pocket zipper area as well. By the time I was drying in the bus, parts of the right arm got wet. Rest was beading water. Both the left and right shoulder seams, including the active shell portion, got wet. Upon inspection, parts of the back equally got wet under my backpack.

Ironically, my Arc'teryx Gamma Soft Shell, a terrific performer, gets wet just a bit more!

So what I had, in the end, a $ 450 ($360 special) wet jacket still drying at work, one that you cannot roll in its bag or it would stink. As I do not have my cell phone on me, I cannot post images, but I presume they would be extremely bad PR for Arc'teryx. No worries, it is raining three days and it will get wet on the way home, just like a $ 100 jacket, than I may post pics.

Total time spent in light rain: 4 minutes.

My main concern, that Made in China QC is abyssimal and a relative cultural perception, turned out founded. The only way 10 percent or less or more gets wet is factory treatment.Second conclusion is that the samples sent for review were better quality, as they were used and used and I saw the HD footage (outdoorlab etc).

Third conclusion, is that untreated Active Shell Gore-tex is no better than cheaper materials and brands. Once wet, Active Shell looses breathability as wet Gore-Tex will not allow for breathing, nothing does. Water blocks air by sheer density.

Returning it tomorrow.

Activity: basic urban protection; cycling (had it passed the test)

Update: Areas that get wet moisture/humidity/wet feel builds rapidly underneath. Wearing a T-Shirt it was easy to spot on my way home. Attaching pics. It feels like wearing wet cheap moist rain gear. The Active Shell equally gets wet but the cam cannot capture well that darker shade of wet blue Gore material. I would say light rain, smaller droplets, this thing gets fully wet around functional areas, backpack, sleeves, shoulder seams, back.

Buyer beware, this product IS NOT as advertised on their site. Maybe the Pros are (from additional reviews). But this item is one thin DWR treatment / wear away from a dud. The material itself is poor poor poor- unbreathable when wet and useless at that price.

Click to enlarge
Proof of light rain scenery. Notice wet shoulder area.
Credit: Belisarius

Click to enlarge
Credit: Belisarius

Click to enlarge
Credit: Belisarius


Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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Arcteryx Alpha FL hardshell jacket
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