While the Alpha FL is one of our favorite hardshell jackets, it cuts out some features, such as underarm ventilation and hand or chest pockets, in the name of saving weight. Users who are interested in this jacket but prefer more features are encouraged to check out the Outdoor Research Optimizer, a light and breathable model that still has hand warmer pockets and longer hem.
The Alpha FL combines a great fit, awesome mobility, perfect weather protection, and great features. We loved using it to ski the fresh bounty of powder at Revelstoke, BC.
This jacket represents what we believe is the very best in weather protection. We gave it a perfect 10 points, tied with our Editors' Choice Award winner, The North Face Summit L5 GTX Pro because we couldn't find any flaws in this suit of armor. While we liked the comfort offered by the neck cuff on the Arc'teryx Beta AR a bit better, we thought that the standard collar of the Alpha FL still did a great job of keeping water out in our shower test. The jacket is made entirely of 40D face fabric and Gore-Tex Pro, which offers fantastic protection against rain, wind, and cold.
The storm hood on the Alpha FL provided the best protection from a downpour, combining a high and comfortable collar with a very overhanging brim of the hood. This was easily one of the most protective jackets in our review.
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 great with a helmet on as well. Additionally, the zippers are watertight and incredibly easy to manipulate. The waistline and the sleeves of the FL were adequately long for our tester, offering superior protection when bending over and when swinging arms overhead.
OK, ok, so we didn't only test these jackets in the backcountry, we also rode a few lifts. But that allowed the Alpha FL to show off its incredibly protective collar and hood, which we happily used to ward off the wind on this frigid day at Revelstoke.
Weight and Packability
For our size, men's small, this model weighed in at 11 ounces, making it one of the lightest models in our review. Only the Outdoor Research Interstellar is lighter. This is the only jacket that we tested that comes with its own independent stuff sack. When stuffed in the sack, it is by far the smallest and most compact jacket in this test. We like that this stuff sack is included because without it the jacket would never stuff down so small, but we are also concerned that a sack is one more thing to carry, and more importantly, keep track of. We could easily see it getting lost in the gear closet. We just stored the stuff sack in the breast pocket all the time so it wouldn't get lost, but we wish that Arc'teryx had simply designed the pocket to serve as a stuff sack. As the second lightest jacket in this review, we awarded it 9 out of 10 points for weight.
Mobility and Fit
Our head tester for this review is 6'0" tall and weighs around 160 lbs. He has fairly broad shoulders, but an otherwise skinny frame, and we ordered him a size large jacket for this review. The fit was excellent but was also quite a bit more spacious than any of the mediums that we reviewed, such as the Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker.
This jacket is shaped according to Arc'teryx's Trim Fit, ensuring that it is low volume. In fact, it has one of the best and most practical fits for someone who wants to go climbing or skiing. The sleeve length adequately covers the arms even when raised overhead and the hem is low enough that no snow will work its way up under the jacket. Compared to the baggy fit associated with size large in many of the other jackets, such as the Arc'teryx Beta AR, we loved the fit of this jacket. As is typical with jackets that use a Gore-Tex Pro membrane, the jacket is crinkly and noisy when moving about, and was not as quiet as the Gore Active membrane found on the OR Optimizer. Our testers favorite fitting model is this year's Editor's Choice Award winner, The North Face Summit L5 GTX Pro. The Summit L5 has a similarly athletic fit as the Alpha Fl and has a longer hem and a more cavernous hood.
Venting and Breathability
The Alpha FL uses a 40D Gore-Tex Pro membrane. 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. For this to happen, the relative humidity within the jacket must be higher than the corresponding 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 not to breathe as well. To save weight, this product does not have pit zips; however, leaving off the pit zips allow the jacket to breathe as it should.
Skinning uphill can make for some hot times while wearing a hardshell, but luckily this day was cold. The Alpha FL has virtually no means of venting except for the front zipper, making it a better choice for cold days than warm ones.
Without pit zips or other methods of ventilating except for the front zipper, we scored this jacket relatively low for venting and breathability, giving it only 4 out of 10 points. We found it to be much hotter and sweatier during our stationary bike test than either the OR Interstellar or OR Optimizer, both of which also forego the inclusion of pit zips for ventilation but have air-permeable membranes. Honestly, this is one drawback of this jacket, but it didn't affect us at all on cold days where we only worked hard intermittently. On warm days in the sun, this presents a much more significant problem, which we typically fixed by taking the jacket off.
Designed with efficiency and weight savings in mind, the Alpha FL is a bit lacking in features, notably pit zips and handwarmer pockets, but the features it has are thoughtful and well performing. It has only one napoleon-style chest pocket. While some may consider this a drawback, we have found that for alpine climbing, handwarmer pockets can be difficult to use and at times superfluous. The storm hood is enormous 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.
With three points of adjustment and plenty of space, the hood fits well with or without a helmet.
Additionally, the waistline cut is low to allow for wearing a harness, and this also helps keep the snow out when skiing. The two cord lock buckles on the side of the hood, as well as the dual buckles on the hem, are Cohaesive cord locks, a huge plus because they are lower profile (sewn inside the layers of the jacket), and very easy to release with gloves on. While we found the feature set nearly perfect for alpine climbing, it still works well for skiing also. The most prominent caveat is that it doesn't include the vents common in most ski specific jackets, but in Colorado, we just took it off if the going got too hot, and when we needed it for storm protection, this was never a factor.
An ideal combination for adjusting the hood, shown here on the Alpha FL. Pull cords on the outside of the collar mean you can adjust the hood easily without unzipping, and the integrated Cohaesive cord locks are super low profile, and easy to release with gloves on.
The FL attached to the name means fast and light, and that is where this hardshell jacket will excel the most. It is designed for alpine and ice climbing, and for these purposes, we believe it's a solid choice. In reality, this is a do-everything jacket that is also great for backcountry skiing and backpacking, and we have used it for both of these purposes with success.
The MSRP for this shell is $425. What a steal! This is an 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.
The perfect hardshell jacket is equally as home diving through the deep snow as it is hanging out at frigid icy belays.
The Arc'teryx Alpha FL is a top-quality, high-performing hardshell with exceptional engineering and design. It is the quintessential hardshell: lightweight, durable, offering incredible weather protection and fits pretty much perfectly. For seven years running it was our Editors' Choice Award winner, and for good reason. While it has been unseated by The North Face Summit L5 GTX Pro due to the Summit L5's superior fit and features, it's still a solid choice for those looking to go fast and light.