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Arc'teryx Alpha SV Review

   
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  • Currently 4.6/5
Overall avg rating 4.6 of 5 based on 8 reviews. Most recent review: March 26, 2014
Street Price:   Varies from $455 - $675 | Compare prices at 8 resellers
Pros:  Extremely durable, foam inserts keep shell tucked underneath harness, most comfortable hood tested.
Cons:  No hand pockets can be a drawback for some people, heavy.
Best Uses:  Mountaineering & expeditions.
User Rating:     
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 (4.4 of 5) based on 7 reviews
Recommendations:  86% of reviewers (6/7) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   Arcteryx
Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ February 18, 2014  
Overview
The Arc'teryx Alpha SV is tried and true body armor for mountain climbers. It's ideal for winter alpine climbing and long expeditions, but the shell can be used for everything and anything. The Alpha SV is the most comfortable expedition style shell we've tested. It has a near perfect blend of features: two crossover chest pockets provide quick access to abundant storage, ergonomic patterning that provides a spacious and unrestricted fit, the most comfortable hardshell hood we've ever tested, and quick and easy zippers that allow on-the-go ventilation adjustments.

The Alpha SV used to win our Editor's Choice Award but after another year of testing we moved it to a Top Pick Award because (1) 99% of the time our testers reach for a lighter, more comfortable jacket, and (2) our tests show that some lightweight jackets, like the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, are very durable. Unless you work outdoors as a climbing guide or are going on a super epic multi-month expedition we feel the Alpha SV is overkill. It weighs 18 ounces, an amount that is burdensome to carry in a backpack. However, if you want the peace of mind that comes with one of the toughest jackets available, and have the cash to push the performance envelope, the Alpha SV could be worth considering.

Check out our comprehensive Hardshell Jacket Review to see how this jacket compares to others tested.

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Performance Comparison
When the Alpha SV was introduced in 1998 it was the first hardshell to feature watertight urethane coated zippers, an innovation that has since been adopted throughout the entire outdoor industry. Our extensive side-by-side testing and research show that this is indeed the best waterproof breathable expedition climbing jacket available anywhere in the world. Over the years we have tested three different versions of the Alpha SV. The review below assesses the current model.

Features
The Alpha SV is designed for, and performs best for, winter alpine climbing, where you climb ice, snow, and rock, frequently exposing the jacket to abrasion not found in other activities like backpacking and skiing. The shell's most significant climbing-specific feature is the pocket design: two expansive bellowed pockets lie high up on the chest. The pocket zippers hug the jacket's main zipper the right hand crosses over the chest to open the left pocket, and vice-versa. This design is frequently employed in climbing shells (see the Patagonia Northwall and Rab Stretch Neo) because it provides access to the pockets without throwing the climber off balance. For example, imagine that you're high up on a mountain on a steep snow slope. You need to get something out of your left pocket so you put your right ice tool over your shoulder and reach with your right arm across your chest into the left pocket. This is more stable than a traditional handwarmer pocket design where the right pocket's zipper is on the right side of the wearer's right chest because your right arm needs to move up high and right, which moves your center of gravity away from the snow/rock/ice and away from the center of your chest. Although most people who use this shell, including our testers, only spend a small amount of time using the pockets in the environment they're designed for, the pocket design is better for climbing and easier to use in general. Crossing your right hand over your chest and unzipping the left pocket is easier and faster than reaching it high and right, where you heave less leverage to open the zipper. The drawback, of course, is that you don't have any place to hide your hands from the elements.

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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
The Alpha SV comes equipped with Arc'teryx's Storm Hood, a huge, supremely comfortable helmet-compatible hood with four adjustment points. Most hardshells have three hood drawcords but the Storm Hood adds a rear, neck-level adjustment that pulls the hood tight around your neck. We found that this sealed out the elements better than other hoods when we were not wearing a helmet. The Alpha SV's hood is large enough to comfortably wear a helmet (you can look up, down, and to the sides without being pinched or restricted) and its adjustments make it comfortable for use without a helmet. Though many other companies do a good job with their hoods we found the Alpha SV to have the best hood of the 21 jackets tested.

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Zebediah Engberg in the Arcteryx Alpha SV. The Storm Hood adjusts to be worm comfortably without a helmet and covers the chin very well. The Alpha SV has the most comfortable and best overall hood of all jackets tested.
Credit: Max Neale
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We prefer the Arcteryx Alpha SV's hood (left) to the Patagonia Super Pluma and Super Alpine's becuase it's more comfortable and provides more coverage for the chin. But Patagonia's front hood cords are slightly easier to loosen.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Swinging your arms about above your head and doing gymnastic moves can be frustrating if a jacket isn't long enough, or rides up beneath your harness. Arc'teryx addresses this problem by adding two Harness HemLock foam inserts to the right and left of the bottom hem. These removable 1cm tubes provide a lightweight and comfortable way to prevent the jacket from riding up beneath a harness or a backpack's waistbelt- a unique feature among the jackets tested.

Finally, the Alpha SV's zippers, drawcords, and wrist closures are as good as it gets. The zippers are noticeably better than our other award winning hardshells because they're faster and easier to use. For example, the Patagonia Super Pluma generally requires two hands to open the main zip, but the Alpha SV slides open quickly with just one hand. This makes it easier to vent the jacket on the go and to access the interior zippered pockets with a single hand.

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Inside the Arcteryx Alpha SV. Note the two zippered pockets and the second drawcord (high up on your waist, beneath the pockets), which helps to pull the jacket in tight when you're not wearing lots of layers.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Weight
Our men's medium Fall 2013 Alpha SV weighs 17.9 ounces. This moderately light considering the jacket's mobility and durability, but by most standards the jacket is heavy. Many other hardshells weigh significantly less and some shells weigh less than half as much. For example, the Patagonia M10 only weighs 8 oz. When we compare this jacket to other types of outdoor gear we see that ultralight sleeping bags and ultralight tents weigh the same or less than the Alpha SV!!

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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
Durability
Durability is the primary reason to get the Alpha SV. The jacket uses a three-layer Gore-Tex Pro membrane with a high tech, top-tier face fabric. Gore's Pro membrane is best for extended trips in severe conditions. It's slightly less breathable than the company's Active membrane, Mountain Hardwear's Dry Q Elite, eVent, and Columbia's Omni-Dry, but it is extremely durable. Pro Shell is backed by Gore's unconditional lifetime warranty: if you aren't fully satisfied with its durability, water resistance, or breathability you can return it.

The face fabric is a critical part of a waterproof breathable garment's performance. When a fabric "wets out," i.e. absorbs water, its breathability is significantly reduced. The Alpha SV uses a new (in 2012) N80p-X face fabric, developed in partnership with Gore, that's woven from an 80 denier, false twist textured, high tenacity nylon 6.6 yarn. This is very durable and inherently more water resistant and snow shedding than most other fabrics. We started our hardhshell testing in the fall of 2011 with an Alpha SV built with a 4.9oz., 150-denier face fabric and then switched, in the spring of 2012, to the fall 2012 version that has N80p-X. The new fabric is softer and smoother to the touch, and it weighs 4.3 oz/ sq. yard as opposed to the previous fabric's 4.8 oz./ sq. yard. Arc'teryx's Design Manager in Ascent/ Snowsports says that N80p-X has the same ratio of abrasion resistance and durability as the previous fabric, but the new one has a higher quality yarn and higher density weave, making it lighter and more water resistant. See more about this fabric here. Curiously, the face fabric that Arc'teryx stepped away from is still being used on the Patagonia Super Alpine's reinforced areas.

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Face fabric comparison: the Fall 2012 Alpha SV (right) is as durable as the previous fabric (left), yet 0.5oz/ yd lighter. It uses a higher quality yarn and has a higher density plain weave that may be more water resistant.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
When is the Alpha SV's exceptional durability useful?
Answer: On long expeditions and for people that are mountain guides, or NOLS and Outward Bound instructors.

Through testing the Alpha SV for three-years we've found that the jacket is overkill for most people, including our testers, in most circumstances. However, we highly recommend it if maximum durability is more important than low weight and comfort.

Breathability
The Alpha SV could be the most breathable expedition shell available. Its tightly woven face fabric might be more inherently water resistant than thicker fabrics on other shells; we've found that the face fabric wets out slightly less than other shells, such as the Patagonia Super Alpine, and this, in turn, enhances comfort because a jacket is not breathable when its face fabric is wet.

Mobility
The Alpha SV has ergonomic 3D patterning that provides an expedition cut (tons of room for layering underneath). Critically, it does this without feeling too restrictive. The jacket is surprisingly comfortable despite the tougher, crinkly fabric and the heavy duty Pro membrane. Lightweight shells, such as the Arc'teryx Alpha FL and Patagonia M10, are much more comfortable than the Alpha SV.

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The Alpha SV has a spacious expedition fit that accommodates cold weather layering.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Limitations
People accustomed to handwarmer pockets may not like that the Alpha SV doesn't have them. The reality of backcountry living, however, is that on extended trips in warm weather your hands get wet regardless of a jacket's pocket design. In such conditions the crux is keeping your hands warm when wet. In cold conditions the challenge is keeping your 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: the pockets are uninsulated. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when you're walking at a reasonable pace your hands will either be swinging at your sides, gripping trekking poles, or firmly attached to ice tools. Hardshell handwarmer pockets, therefore, are best for urban environments when you're caught out in the rain without gloves.

All of the Alpha SV's other features, from its cut to face fabric, and zipper pulls to drawcords, are top-notch. Truly top-of-the-line.

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The Arcteryx Alpha SV's zipper (blue) is much easier to pull than the zippers on the Patagonia Super Pluma and Super Alpine (orange). All are wind and waterproof.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Best Application
The Alpha SV is designed for technical ice and alpine climbing and for extended trips in remote areas. It's best for climbing large mountains that cross multiple climates. The jacket thrives in areas with dense vegetation, off trail approaches, and technical terrain because it's durable enough to withstand bushwhacking through heinous forests, light enough not to be burdensome, and is equipped with features for technical climbing found at higher elevations. The Alpha SV combines an excellent feature set with the best abrasion-to-weight ratio of any shell tested.

The Alpha SV, however, is not an ideal "backpacking" jacket. It's too heavy, the crossover pockets, ultra durable face fabric, and gigantic hood are unnecessary for walking.

Value
$625 gets you a fortress of a jacket that could last for a decade of hard use. Along with all Arc'teryx products, the Alpha SV holds an unlimited lifetime warranty.

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Arcteryx Alpha SV in Hyalite Canyon, Montana.
Credit: Chris Simrell

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Zebediah Engberg on a three day traverse in Glacier National Park, Montana. He's wearing the Arcteryx Alpha SV and Cilo Gear 30L W/NW pack.
Video

Other Versions
If you're looking for a more affordable shell, check out the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, $400, or Arc'teryx Beta FL - Men's, for $450.
Arc'teryx Alpha FL - Women's, $400.
Arc'teryx Alpha SV - Women's, $650.
The The Arc'teryx Modon is a lightly insulated shell jacket built for those that "run hot" in wet and warm climates, $700.
At only 21.7 oz, the Arc'teryx Fission SL is very warm and fully waterproof, $750.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: March 26, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (4.4)

86% of 7 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
8 Total Ratings
5 star: 88%  (7)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 13%  (1)
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   Mar 26, 2014 - 09:08pm
I have been using this hardshell for 3 years, works great with every backpack i've tried. the pockets are at the best place they could be because they are accessible at all time whatever the sport. It is extremely durable, easy to clean and comfortable. Works great with a harness. On the plus side it is garanted as long as you dont cut it yourself.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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   Dec 30, 2013 - 06:11pm
MuffinMan · Other · South Lakes border, UK
I purchased this jacket in October 2012.
The main zip locater fell off at the start of December 2012. Fortunately, I wasn't up a big hill when it happened.
Arcteryx wanted me to send it to Switzerland (14+ at my cost), for it then to be sent off to Canada for a repair. Apparently made in Canada, so was to be repaired in Canada. Something so new and expensive, I would have expected it to be replaced without question.
It also had glue on the arm where it had made it through the stitching when it was being taped. You wouldn't expect this from their super-duper Canadian factory. China, maybe. Fortunately the shop that I purchased it from replaced it without question. The lady's words, "We value your custom and you shouldn't be left coatless during winter, for up to a month, when it was defective".
Arcteryx make it awkward & costly for uk customers to send back defective items to the point its not worth it.
I nikwax wash treated my replacement Alpha SV a few weeks ago ready for winter….
Today, 30/12/13, I went up Helvellyn. It rained, and rained, and snowed. Within 2 hours it had wet out. My Gamma MX worn beneath, was soaked through by the time I got back to my car, which was about 3.5 hours. This was rain wet and not sweat wet. Someone at a rave wouldn't sweat that much.

Now then, would I recommend Arcteryx? Not a chance! Seriously people, save yourself a fortune and buy a cheaper brand. I say cheaper, cheaper doesn't mean its going to be worse. The money you save you could use to buy dwr treatments that will see out the life of the product.

You don't see any UK Mountain Rescue wearing Arcteryx. That alone should tell you something.

This is boasted as a 'storm fortress'. In your dreams Arcteryx.

Worth 500? No way. Its as effective as a Sunday Market pac-a-mac.

My Haglofs Spitz jacket took over 3 years before it started to wet out in driving rain. That was washed monthly with normal soap powder. I'm going to nikwax it and start using it again.

Arcteryx are good at one thing, its called Marketing. Don't be drawn in by it, because the Arcteryx bubble is a big expensive bubble to burst.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Apr 13, 2013 - 12:50am
dae1775 · Kayaker
I was nervous about dropping the coin on this jacket but it is a well worth the investment. If you are hard on your kit like I am, I would take a hard look at this jacket. It is warm and completely waterproof. It doesn't bother me that much but the helmet-cut hood is crazy big. I wish that it was a little smaller to save weight and decrease the chance of it impeding your vision when not wearing a helmet. The pocket placement isn't great for warming hands but that is what gloves are for.

I had heard that ArcTeryx was "designer" clothing and prohibitively expensive but that is not my experience. It is hard use gear that gives you a good return on investment. The ArcTeryx site is great for comparing all of their jackets.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Dec 17, 2012 - 01:40pm
andyi · Skier
Hi!

I am using this product and it is great!

but I have a question…what would be a better 4 season combination of goretex jacket:

alpha sv + alpha lt (for summer and warm days just for protection)
or
alpha sv + beta fl

thanks!

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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   Nov 6, 2012 - 08:06am
DomLodge · Hiker · Northampton, UK
You don't have to be an ice climber or Alpine hero to get the most out of this incredible piece.

I live in the UK and use this jacket whilst roaming the hills and mountains of the English Lake Distrcit and the Scottish highlands.

Through March to November, my Beta FL Active shell jacket does just fine.

Once winter sets in, out comes the Alpha.

Winters here are hideous. Extremely cold and wet, I've been caught on mountains in Scotland in 120 mph winds, and in anything other than this SV may well have been in serious trouble.

My partner and I are more adventurous than most. The path rarely trodden is often the one we tread, and as such we have - quite literally - scraped our way through some very questionable terrain.

In this environment, the Alpha is perfect. I do little climbing, and so don't really use the hemlock feature, but we scramble, scrape and craw our way through the trail, and the remarkable fit, incredible durability and total weather protection of this piece make it an essential piece of kit for me.

I like the pocket alignment. On the trail, I never use hand warmer pockets, they provide no real warmth and would often leave you unbalanced. I do prefer the chest position of the ones on this piece.

The length is perfect - hip length in the front, backside covered at the back.

As I mentioned above - some would possiblly be put off by the idea that this jacket is only of use to either professional climbers or full-on Alpininsts. I am neither. I love it because it is an amazingly comfortable, durable, lightweight, piece which protects from the most extreme weather better than any shell I have ever owned.

PS - the hood is te best on the market. By miles.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Sep 11, 2012 - 11:58pm
I have the Alpha SV jacket in the dark blue color, the correct name is escaping me right now. This is among several Arcteryx jackets that I own, and I find myself using this jacket for more technical adventures. The Hem-lock feature is great (foam inserts that secure it from coming out of your climbing harness if climbing in inclement weather), and the pockets are positioned well to be able to carry and access a bunch of gear. Gore rates products differently, and this one qualifies for extreme wet weather protection. Believe me, it holds up to the moniker. Lastly, the micro grid backer on the inside of the coat is great when layering and is meant to also help the durability of the jacket. *please note that I was given this jacket as a part of the MountainTechs program. I was not give the jacket for the purpose of writing a review, and the review would be the same if I would have purchased the jacket. Arcteryx makes an incredible product and coupled with Gore-Tex technology, this is a slam dunk.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jun 14, 2012 - 10:01pm
Sergio Colombo · Climber · Red Rock
only one word to describe this shell: bombproof.

Considering it will last a lifetime, it's still a good buy.

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