Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Waterproof, extremely dexterous, very breathable, quick to dry
Cons: Very expensive
Best Uses: Alpine climbing, ice climbing, back country and resort skiing or snowboarding
This is our Editors' Choice because they scored near, or at the top in every category and blew away most of the products we tested in dexterity and water resistance. When it comes to dexterity, no other product is even close when you consider its level of warmth and that it features a removable liner. The articulation and the feel that they provide is amazing and you can easily ice climb in them. Arc'teryx achieved this incredible level of dexterity by constructing them more like a traditional harshell jacket rather than your typical design with a Gore-Tex insert. Arc'teryx also implemented a revolutionary three lobe pattern to better mimic the shape of your fingers instead of the traditional box pattern design. On the shell it has a Gore-Tex Proshell material and revolutionary thin seam tape while on the liner it uses a removable Gore fleece material that features a similar pattern and extremely low bulk stitching. It's really this construction that give them the level of water resistance, sensitivity and dexterity that they have. The fingers and palm are covered entirely in a durable goatskin leather that has very little break in time. Even after a full winter of skiing and a summer of mountaineering they are still going strong. While they are likely the most awesome gloves we tested, they are also by far and away the most expensive at $300 being over $125 more than the next closest priced contender.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Dexterity is really one of the biggest things that sets this glove apart from the competition. Overall, with the exception of the Rab Guide Gloves they are by far and away the most dexterous product we tested. With that in mind, consider the Rab Guide is a single all leather design that is nowhere even close to being as warm as the SV. When compared to all the other double layer designs we tested, they were a clear step above the others in regards to dexterity. In all of our side-by-side testing they were one of the few products that we felt comfortable doing all of our testing tasks in, no matter how complicated; like tying shoes, opening a car door with keys, taking pictures with a traditional point-and-shoot camera, and writing with a pen on paper. Tester Ian Nicholson even used them on Grade 5 ice in sub zero temps while early season climbing in the Alaska Range. Along with the Rab Guide and the Mountain Hardwear Jalapeno they are some of the few options in our review that we feel are dexterous enough to ice climb in.
To improve dexterity most products sacrifice warmth by reducing insulation and in turn reducing bulk thus increasing dexterity and sensitivity, but Arc'teryx took an entirely different approach to reducing bulk and thus increasing dexterity, sensitivity and breathability. Arc'teryx choose a construction that is sewn more like a hardshell jacket rather than the typical over-sized Gore-Tex insert crammed into an outer layer of leather and nylon. Then on the shell they used the narrowest seam tape available, thinner than the seam tape used on all the other models we tested, in order to continue to reduce bulk and increase breathability. The next thing Arc'teryx did on their shell was to require the least amounts of seam allowance of any product we tested. Seam allowance is extra fabric not being used on the outside of a stitch. The last and possibly the biggest thing done was to create a whole new pattern in which their product is sewn, designing a three lobe pattern instead of the traditional box pattern in which most gloves are sewn. This new three lobe pattern design not only better mimics the fingers movements but also eliminate even more stitching and seam tape thus reducing bulk and improving water resistance and breathability. Arc'teryx did several of the same things with their hi-loft Polartec® Wind Pro® fleece liner as they did with their shell. They use a similar pattern and extremely tight seams to eliminate bulk, especially bulk that wasn't doing anything.
This was our top pick for waterproofness both in real world testing and in our side-by-side bucket of water comparisons. They are made of a Gore-Tex pro-shell, with a highly water resistant and well treated leather laminated to the fingers and palm to help durability. By laminating instead of sewing, Arc'teryx eliminates thread and thread holes which are often one of the first things to start to absorb and leak water. While several designs did well in our tests, this design was the stand out winner. Even the leather on them is extremely water resistant and after a couple dozen days of use the DWR (Durable Water Repellant) is still going strong.
Warmth and Breathability
Overall the Alpha SV was above average in our side-by-side warmth tests.
We thought that most resort area skiers and snowboarders would find the bottom end of the comfort range while riding chairs to be around 5-10F. For other applications you could go much colder, tester Ian Nicholson wore them in the Alaska Range while climbing down to -10F. Compared to other contenders we didn't think they were quite as warm as either the Black Diamond Guide or the Hestra Heli. We did think that they were significantly warmer than nearly all the other single layer designs we tested like the Outdoor Research Magnate, the Black Diamond Legend or the Mountain Hardwear Jalapeno. In regards to breathability, the Alpha SV did breathe better than nearly all of the others we tested. There just isn't that much material that the moisture is forced to pass through from your hands to the outside air. Arc'teryx help Gore to developed tiny seam tape (11 mm) to seal this glove. These keeps them waterproof but allows for more open Gore-Tex XCR fabric to breathe.
The Alpha SV's are easily some of the most durable models we tested. The whole palm is covered in leather with far fewer seams than most designs that could catch or blow out on you. We got asked, "Would we choose these to handle ropes all day?" Probably not, while they are likely just as durable as almost any product we tested. Because they do cost $300, if you have a job that is hard on your gloves or you are someone who is just plain tough on gear we might suggest spending a little less and get a competitor that is nearly as durable and half the price so you can buy two. The leather used on the Alpha SV is Lezanova leather which is an Indonesian goat. It is very, very tough but also very supple. Another one of the nicest features, is that they were soft and supple right off the shelf, this is another small thing that is nice about them when compared with several of the other durable products we tested like the Black Diamond Guide and Black Diamond Legend which were very stiff and took several days to break in. The only other ones we tested that started out soft were the Rab Guide and the Outdoor Research Magnate.
Features and Ease of Use
Considering its price and how much thought goes into the construction of the Alpha SV, it is a relatively simple product with only the most basic of features. It has a well designed gauntlet that fits easily over almost any jacket sleeve. The gauntlet closure system is also well designed and easy to operate both when tightening and loosening it with only the users' one other gloved had. The keeper cords are relatively basic for a product of this price range but they work fine and are easily removable.
The Alpha SV is probably the most versatile option we tested. Because they are so warm yet still super dexterous, they have an unbelievable number of applications. We think that besides skiing and snowboarding both in and out of bounds people could use them for any number of things like winter cycling or cold weather skate skiing. They are also a fantastic ice climbing and cold weather mountaineering glove. Tester Ian Nicholson used them on a half dozen alpine climbs in the central Alaska range climbing as hard as WI5 in -5F temps and has seen them go to the Top of Aconcagua in -20F.
The Alpha SV's are $125 more expensive than any of the contenders we tested and are some of the most expensive available on the market. You do get superior water resistance, dexterity, fit, and durability coupled with above average warmth. Overall they were hands down the best preforming product we tested. Being twice as expensive as several other models we looked at, are they twice as good? Or in some cases seven times as good? Depends on the demands of the user. Are they twice as good as our OutdoorGearLab's Top Pick the Outdoor Research Magnate, ($140) which costs half as much? Simply put, no, they aren't twice as good, but they are certainly better and if you are willing to spend the money on the Alpha SV, you won't be disappointed by their performance.
The Bottom Line
Don't buy this product because you think you're spending a lot of money to get a really, really warm glove, while they are warm and above average in warmth in our tests, there are other options that are less expensive that are a fair amount warmer like the Black Diamond Guide. With the Alpha SV you are paying for an extremely dexterous and sensitive product that is pretty warm with fantastic water resistance and durability.
The Arc'teryx Beta AR Glove - Women's, $235, surpassed our hopes and expectations and won our Editors' Choice Award. The Arc'teryx Beta AR is designed with a 3-layer Gore-Tex shell, removable fleece liner, and a durable leather palm. Packaged together, the Beta AR is a long lasting, protective glove that will continue to perform over multiple seasons of use. The Beta AR Glove is the men's version of this glove.
The Alpha SV Mitt, $225, is the mitt version of this glove.
— Ian Nicholson
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: October 23, 2013
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