Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Simple, lightweight, compact, more breathable than Gore Pro Shell, slim fit, lightest shell with a full length zipper and lightest to use Gore Active Shell, excellent external zippered chest pocket and super comfy hood..
Cons: No pit zips requires proper layering while moving to prevent overheating, stuff sack could be smaller.
Best Uses: Fast and light climbing and skiing.
The Arcteryx Alpha FL is our top rated lightweight hardshell. It beats the Mountain Hardwear Quasar and three other lightweight shells because it provides an excellent assortment of well designed features, packs down super small, and is more durable than the lightest shell tested. As for specific features, the jacket has a full-length zipper, helmet compatible hood, and a single large external chest pocket that provides quick access to the things that matter. The Alpha FL is best for fast and light climbers and backcountry skiers that want a hood that fits over a helmet, but it's also our favorite hardshell for hiking.
Stepping into the medium duty category, the 14.1 oz Patagonia Super Pluma is out top rated all-purpose hardshell with handwarmer pockets. Compared to the Alpha FL, the Super Pluma is more durable, more versatile, is built with Gore-Tex Pro Shell membrane (more durable, less breathable), has a stronger face fabric, and two handwarmer pockets. Go for the Super Pluma if you want one shell for skiing, hiking, climbing, and everything else.
For the most durable and versatile piece of mountain climbing body armor choose the Arcteryx Alpha SV. This shell represents the ultimate in simplicity and function, and boasts a slew of well-refined climbing specific features. The Alpha SV is ideal for climbing mountains that cross multiple climates: start low by bushwhacking through dense, wet forests and finish up high on technical ice and snow. The Alpha SV is much more durable than the Alpha FL. Itís also more durable and has more room for layering than any lightweight shell or the Super Pluma.
For those on a budget we recommend the Rab Stretch Neo. Available for around $350 this jacket is nearly half the price of the Arcteryx Alpha SV, weighs nearly the same amount, and has nearly the same feature set. It's an excellent value.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Arcteryx Alpha FL is the lightest hardshell tested with a full-length zipper. It weighs 1.2 oz. more than the lightest shell tested (Mountain Hardwear Quasar) and is therefore the lightest jacket that uses Gore-Tex Active Shell. Active shell, though more breathable than Gore Pro Shell, is slightly less breathable than the Quasar, which uses an air permeable Dry Q Elite membrane. The difference in breathability is slight, and while the Quasar scored one point higher in that category, the Alpha FL scores two points higher in the durability category. Why is it more durable? Answer: the Alpha FL uses two types of face fabric. N30p-X (the 30 denier version of the Alpha SV's n80p-X) covers the torso while the more durable n40p-X reinforces the shoulders, hood, and elbows. In comparison, the Quasar uses a superlight 15 denier face fabric that we found to be significantly weaker. Disregarding specific features, is this increased durability worth the extra 1.2 ounces? Absolutely!!
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, just like the company's Alpha SV.
The Alpha FL intentionally and intelligently omits pit zippers (Active Shell is sufficiently breathable and you can vent through the main zipper). The jacket is cut very trim- similar to the Mountain Hardwear Quasar. Skinny people will have room for a lightweight fleece or insulated jacket, but this piece is not designed for standing around in cold, bad weather. Like all Active Shell jackets, the Alpha FL is meant for high exertion activities.
As with any hardshell, itís important to layer properly while wearing the Alpha FL. The jacket doesnít have pit zips so just be sure to dress appropriately. People with larger builds might find the Alpha FL to be too slim- try the next size up. Finally, the Alpha FLís expansive helmet compatible hood could be drawback for non-climbers. Though the hood is very comfortable when worn without a helmet, hikers will have no need for such a large hood. When compared to ultralight rain shells (7oz), however, the Alpha FL's increased durability makes it a great choice for extended ultralight trips or for anyone who wants something that lasts. All-in-all, the Alpha FL is lightweight, compact, has excellent features, and isn't super fragile. What more could you ask for?
The Arcteryx Alpha FL is best suited to fast and light climbing, but it works very well for hiking, backcountry skiing, and as an insurance piece.
The Alpha FL offers the best bang for your buck in ultralight hardshell jackets.
Other Lightweight Arcteryx Hardshells
Arcteryx offers two other noteworthy lightweight shells that we didn't test. The pocket design is the main thing that separates them from the Alpha FL (all use Gore Active Shell). The Tecto FL (Spring 2013) skips all chest pockets and is made entirely of the Alpha FL's lighter, less durable material- it's the company's lightest shell. The Beta FL ($50 more than the Alpha FL) steps in at a few ounces heavier than the Alpha FL and Tecto FL and adds two chest high handwarmer pockets- best for around town. Choosing between these comes down to pocket design and durability. Our testers find the Alpha FL's single chest pocket useful, but don't believe the Beta FL's additional pocket and additional $50 cost to be worth it.
The women's version of this jacket is the Arcteryx Alpha FL - Women's which is the same price, a little lighter, and comes in different colors and a different cut.
— Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: June 13, 2012
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