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Arc'teryx Alpha FL Review

   
Editors' Choice Award

Hardshell Jackets

  • Currently 5.0/5
Overall avg rating 5.0 of 5 based on 3 reviews. Most recent review: December 21, 2014
Street Price:   Varies from $199 - $399 | Compare prices at 5 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, form fitting, great storm hood, superior construction quality, affordable
Cons:  Crinkly and noisy, very few pockets (only one)
Best Uses:  Hiking, climbing, expeditions, backcountry skiing
User Rating:     
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 (5.0 of 5) based on 2 reviews
Recommendations:  100% of reviewers (2/2) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
Review by: Andy Wellman ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ December 17, 2014  
Overview
The Arc'teryx Alpha FL is our Editors' Choice Award winning jacket because it perfectly combines everything we want out of a harshell: light weight, a perfect fit, incredible features, and long-term durability. It received the highest scores of any hardshell in our side-by-side review. Not only that, but for a price of $399 it is one of the most affordable jackets we tested. Simply put, we don't think you can find a better product for the money out there on the market today.

Not only is it our favorite jacket in 2014, but has been our favorite for the past four years, through three review processes, and literally countless days out in the backcountry. The newest version of the Arc'teryx Alpha FL has been upgraded from GORE-TEX Active to the more durable GORE-TEX Pro three-layer membrane and yet retains its lightness and supple fit. This jacket excels at everything from day hikes to multi-month expeditions - it's a backcountry enthusiast's dream come true.

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Simply put, the Arc'teryx Alpha FL is the simplest, most well constructed hardshell jacket that we have tried. In Arc'teryx's terminology, the Alpha line is climbing and alpinism focused. This includes a lower waistline for harness compatibility, a chest pocket that is accessible while wearing a pack or harness, maximum articulation, and an emphasis on maximum weight-to-durability ratio. The FL refers to Fast and Light, which the company translates to mean minimalist garments with an emphasis on high performance. In the case of the Alpha FL, Arc'teryx delivered exactly what they say they do, as this jacket shows a remarkable amount of refinement and even restraint to provide only what is needed - and nothing more. It received the highest score of all the jackets we tested.

The 2014 version of this jacket is even more fine-tuned than those released in 2013 and earlier. 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.

Performance Comparison
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Peter Dever drops a knee in the trees while wearing the Alpha FL jacket in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
Credit: Andy Wellman

Weather Protection
Along with the other Arc'teryx jackets that we tested, our Editors' Choice winner represents the very best in weather protection. We gave it a 9 out of a possible 10 points simply because we liked the additional protection offered by the neck cuff on the Arc'teryx Beta AR Jacket better and we needed to get picky. The jacket is made entirely of 40D Gore-Tex Pro, which is an upgrade from the Gore-Tex Active used in previous versions. It offers fantastic protection against rain, wind, and cold.
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This model features a single chest pocket which has a water-tight zipper. The main front zipper is very durable and easy to manipulate, our favorite zipper!
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

The storm hood was the best one that we tried, with three pull-cord adjustment points, one in the back and two in the front. It fits extremely well with a helmet on as well. The zippers are water-tight and incredibly easy to manipulate. The Arc'teryx Beta LT Jacket is incredibly similar to the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, but we found that the waistline and the sleeves of the FL were longer, offering better protection when bending over and swinging our arms overhead.
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Max puts our Editors' Choice winner to work in the conditions for which it was designed.
Credit: Zeb Engberg

Weight & Compression
For our size men's large this model weighed in at exactly 12 ounces. This meant that it was about three ounces heavier than the Patagonia M10 or the Mountain Hardwear Quasar and similarly light to the other lightweight jackets in the review. The low weight is made possible by including only the barest of features - this jacket lacks pit zips and handwarmer pockets as compensation.

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The Alpha FL in its stuff sack on the left and the Patagonia M10 stuffed into its inside out chest pocket on right. They are about the same size, although the M10 weighs about 3 ounces less.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley
This was the only jacket that we tested that came with its own independent stuff sack. When stuffed in the sack it was comparably sized to the M10, which stuffs into its own chest pocket. We liked that this stuff sack was included, because without it the jacket would never stuff down so small, but were also concerned that a sack is one more thing to carry, and more importantly keep track of, as we could easily see it getting lost in the gear closet.

Mobility & Fit
We gave this model 8 out of a possible 10 points for mobility. While it may be the lightest and most mobile jacket that Arc'teryx makes, there is really no comparison when it's side-by-side with the Westcomb Shift LT. Mobility is a drawback to incorporating Gore-Tex Pro fabric as its membrane. Despite using only 40 denier face fabric, as compared to the much heavier 80 denier face fabric used in the Arc'teryx Alpha SV, it is still crinkly, loud, and relatively inflexible when compared to the jackets that use other non-Gore-Tex fabrics. That said, the jacket is shaped according to Arc'teryx's Trim Fit, ensuring that it is low volume. Don't get us wrong, this jacket fits extremely well.
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The fit of this model is "trim" and close to the body. It has room for an additional layer or two underneath, but is not bulky. The waist and arms are long enough to not ride up. While it was not as flexible as the Westcomb Shift LT, it was the best fitting jacket we tried.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Breathability & Venting
Like we mentioned above, the Arc'teryx Alpha FL uses a 40D Gore-Tex Pro membrane. Check out our Buying Advice article for more information regarding the different types of waterproof/breathable membranes. In order to breathe, the Pro membrane uses diffusion to allow the water trapped within the coat to pass through it to the outside world. In order for this to happen the relative humidity within the jacket must be higher than the relative humidity outside of it, which is a bit of a drawback. That is why many Gore-Tex jackets incorporate pit-zips for extra ventilation, although ironically adding ventilation and air flow would lower the relative humidity inside the jacket and cause it to not breathe as well. In order to save weight, this product does not have pit zips, however, this allows the jacket to breathe as it should. Our testers found that among the expedition worthy jackets, the Arc'teryx Alpha FL did the best job of breathing, but at the same time it probably does not breathe quite as well as an air permeable jacket like the Mountain Hardwear Quasar.

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 is not ideal, but it's unavoidable. DWR is the Achilles heel of waterproof breathable jackets. No DWR coating is as durable as we wish it was and all wear off. For this reason, it's important to wash any hardshell frequently and reapply DWR coating.

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Our Editors' Choice winner is comfortable and relatively breathable for such a burly jacket. Here Peter Dever finds it very comfortable skinning uphill. In a couple minutes though he had to take it off because he was too hot.
Credit: Andy Wellman

Durability
This hardshell uses a 40 denier plain weave face fabric that has proven to be highly durable for its weight. Combined with the Gore-Pro membrane, this jacket is undoubtedly the most durable hardshell for its weight - it is expedition worthy AND lightweight!! Although the Arc'teryx Alpha FL is very durable, it is not the most durable we tested. If you want a jacket for a multi-month foray into Siberia, or are a full-time mountain guide, consider the Arc'teryx Alpha SV.

Features
Our Editors' Choice winner incorporates basically a perfect set of features for what it was designed to do (fast and light alpine climbing) and thus received a 10 out of 10. It has only one napoleon-style chest pocket, which some may consider a drawback, but we have found that for alpine climbing, handwarmer pockets are difficult to use and at times totally superfluous. The storm hood is huge and works pretty much perfectly with or without a helmet. The zippers are durable and super easy to pull with gloves on - a huge plus.

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The waist adjustment is easily manipulated with gloves on by simply pulling on the loop of cord.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Additionally, the waistline cut is low to allow for wearing a harness, and this jacket also features Arc'teryx's Harness Hemlock Insert. Designed to prevent the jacket from riding up under the harness while climbing, this small, removable piece of foam imbedded into the waistline drawcord. Basically, it provides a little bulk that keeps the jacket in place. The wrist enclosures are made of adjustable Velcro, like most of the jackets we reviewed. While some jackets may have more features included, we thought the Alpha FL did the very best job of marrying features and design to a specific purpose.

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This product has only a single chest pocket, but it is generously sized.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Versatility
None of the hardshell jackets we reviewed will do everything perfectly. But the Arc'teryx Alpha FL comes pretty close. One could say that a heavier duty jacket like the Arc'teryx Beta AR would be a better choice for outdoor professionals who need greater durability. Likewise, if the only use of this jacket is for highly aerobic activities in dry conditions, then it won't perform as well as the Westcomb Shift LT. However, it will do everything you ask of it pretty darn well!

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Designed for alpine and ice climbing, this product has a huge hood that easily fits over a helmet; there are no pockets or pit zips to be obstructed by a harness.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Best Applications
This product is designed for alpine and ice climbing, and this is where it will excel the most. But in reality this is a do everything jacket that is also great for backcountry skiing, backpacking, and most any other outdoor activity.

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Our Editors' Choice winner is offers great mobility and protection for the elements.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

Value
The MSRP for this shell is $399. What a steal! This is incredible value for the money as this is the best jacket we reviewed for one of the lowest prices! You will not be disappointed for a moment at the money you spent.

Conclusion
The Arc'teryx Alpha FL is a top quality piece of engineering and design, and performs better than one could expect. It is the quintessential hardshell: lightweight, durable, offering incredible weather protection, and fits pretty much perfectly. For four years running, it has been our Editors' Choice Award winner, and for good reason. With a box full of over twenty jackets and the option to keep whichever one they liked, nearly every tester chose the Alpha FL. We think you should too.

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We loved this jacket for conditions ranging from nasty and rainy to beautiful and snowy.
Credit: Elizabeth Riley

Other Versions
The women's version of this jacket is the Arc'teryx Alpha FL - Women's.

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

Andy Wellman and Max Neale

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: December 21, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (5.0)

100% of 2 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
3 Total Ratings
5 star: 100%  (3)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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   Dec 21, 2014 - 10:34am
DomLodge · Hiker · Northampton, UK
Watto, above makes a valid point.

The Alpha FL is fairly trim fitting, but it's not as limiting for me as it might be.

I can easily fit a warm base later, and an Atom LT hoody underneath - and although I've never tried, probably my Atom SV too - and it would have to be SUPER cold before I could require more insulation.

However - it's quite correct that if you are in need of more warm weather layers, there would not be enough room.

I do own a second jacket - a Theta SVX - for exactly that reason.

The Alpha FL is amazing. For something so light it's amazingly durable and its every bit as breathable as it needs to be. I don't like Neoshell - in the UK it's nowhere near as windproof as it needs to be, making it most useless for the majority of days in the hill. It also requires you to wear too many warm layers to compensate, which means personally, I overheat too much.

The FL is beautifully designed and engineered - Arc'teryx put together their jackets better than anyone in my view - and I even like the colour. (Chipotle).

A great piece.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Dec 18, 2014 - 07:19pm
Watto · Backpacker · Sydney
This is a great jacket, but I do find that the Arcteryx trim fit is a double edged sword for my application.

I need a jacket that can be used in a broad range of environments, sometimes all within the one trip, so having multiple jackets is not an option. For instance, a 25 day walk through temperate low country that includes mountain passes in the middle where it would be preferable to be able to fit multiple layers, or a puffy jacket, under your shell.

The Alpha FL is great in terms of weight and packability for most of such a trip. But the trim fit does not allow for enough layering on the cold nights and over the pass. The trim fit does improves the breathability of the jacket; and this is why it is important to get the correct fit for these jackets, access fabric will reduce the effective breathability.

I think the reviewers are right; for what they are doing it is the best jacket. I think it is worth being realistic about exactly how you will use the jacket though before going out and buying it.

I recently discovered and purchased the Alpha AR, which is not reviewed here, and for which there is little feedback on the web at all. It seems to fit exactly in the sweet spot for my application.

The Alpha AR is only 60 grams (2 ounces) more than the Alpha FL. For your 60 grams you get an extra chest pocket, pit zips, an internal pocket, a microsuede chin guard, N80p-X reinforcements in key areas (protection from wear when carrying a heavy pack), and most important to me of all an Athletic, rather than a Trim fit, which allows for more layering options. The fit walks that fine line between roomy (not as roomy at the BETA AR) and fitting, (not as fitted as the Alpha FL)giving you a combination of the benefits of both, without specialising in either. It is hard to believe that you get all that for 60 grams, and for me it makes this jacket more applicable to my specific application.

I would love to hear what the Outdoor Gear Lab team thought of the Alpha AR. For me, and people like me, this jacket could be a great option, but it might just as easily fall through the cracks never to be heard of again.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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Arcteryx Alpha FL
Credit: Arcteryx
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