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Arc'teryx Alpha FL Review

This hardshell is an alpine climber’s dream, and is really great for skiing as well.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $425 List | $425.00 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, form fitting, great storm hood, superior construction quality, reasonable price
Cons:  Crinkly and noisy, very little ventilation, few pockets, short front hem
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
By Jack Cramer & Matt Bento  ⋅  Oct 31, 2019
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80
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 9
  • Weather Protection - 30% 9
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • Mobility and Fit - 20% 7
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 7
  • Features and Design - 10% 7

Our Verdict

The Arc'teryx Alpha FL is one of the most straightforward, best-constructed hardshell jackets that we have ever used. In Arc'teryx's terminology, the Alpha line is climbing and alpinism focused. This includes features like a helmet-compatible hood, a crossover chest pocket that is accessible while wearing a pack or harness, maximum articulation, and an emphasis on a maximum weight-to-durability ratio.

The FL refers to Fast and Light, which the company translates to mean minimalist garments with a focus on high performance. In practice, this means the jacket lacks hand pockets or pit zips to minimize weight. Arc'teryx incorporates all these design elements in a shell constructed with dependable Gore-Tex Pro fabric. Our biggest complaint is the short front hem that won't stay reliably tucked in to a climbing harness. All of the Alpha FL's other strengths, however, helped us see past this issue and earn it our Editors' Choice award for the eighth consecutive season. It's our top recommendation for nearly all types of alpine climbing, except expeditions with the absolute harshest conditions.


Compare to Similar Products

 
This Product
Arc'teryx Alpha FL
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $425.00 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$562.46 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$499.95 at REI$194.96 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$549.00 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
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Pros Lightweight, form fitting, great storm hood, superior construction quality, reasonable priceUnrivaled weather protection, decent venting options, perfect fitAwesome weather protection, fits great, very mobileStretchy, light, very packable, affordable, quite breathableOptimally designed pull-cords and buckles, recycled nylon face fabric, athletic fit, Patagonia guarantee
Cons Crinkly and noisy, very little ventilation, few pockets, short front hemExpensive, not ultralight, mediocre breathabilitySkin pockets a bit too narrow, small ventilation zips, unreliable wrist cuffsHand pockets are a bit low, hood is a bit shallow with a helmet on, fragileExpensive, not super breathable, hood not as protective with a helmet on
Bottom Line This hardshell is an alpine climber’s dream, and is really great for skiing as well.A serious hardshell for serious adventures.A solid hardshell that thrives in bad weather.The best choice for highly aerobic activities where mobility and breathability are key.A versatile hardshell that can handle any mountain environment or activity.
Rating Categories Arc'teryx Alpha FL Mammut Nordwand Advanced Dynafit Radical Outdoor Research Interstellar Patagonia Pluma
Weather Protection (30%)
10
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9
10
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10
10
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8
10
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5
10
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7
Weight (20%)
10
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9
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6
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10
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9
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7
Mobility And Fit (20%)
10
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7
Venting And Breathability (20%)
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6
Features And Design (10%)
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8
Specs Arc'teryx Alpha FL Mammut Nordwand... Dynafit Radical Outdoor Research... Patagonia Pluma
Pit Zips No Yes Yes No Yes
Measured Weight (Size) 11.8 oz (L) 16.0 oz (L) 15.4 oz (L) 11.2 oz (L) 14.2 oz (M)
Material Gore-Tex with N40p-X face fabric 3-layer 100% nylon Gore-Tex Pro Gore-Tex Pro with C-Knit backer AscentShell 3L 100% nylon 20D stretch ripstop with 100% polyester 12D backer 40D 3L 100% recycled nylon plain-weave Gore-Tex PRO shell, with a 15D GORE Micro Grid Backer Technology & a DWR finish
Pockets 1 external chest, 1 internal chest 2 front, 1 internal 2 side handwarmer, 1 sleeve, 2 internal stash 2 handwarmer, 1 chest 2 high handwarmer, 1 chest, 1 interior chest
Helmet Compatible Hood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hood Draw Cords 3 3 1 3 3
Adjustable Cuffs Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Two-Way Front Zipper No Yes Yes No No
Stuff sack or pocket Yes No No Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

Although the Alpha FL is one of our favorite hardshell jackets, it lacks a few features that some users will miss, such as underarm vents and hand pockets.

Performance Comparison


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.
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.

Weather Protection


This jacket comes close to perfection in terms of weather protection. Although we like the comfort offered by the neck cuff on the Arc'teryx Beta AR a bit better, we think the standard collar of the Alpha FL still did a great job of keeping water out in our shower test.


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 also fits great with a helmet on. Additionally, the zippers are watertight and incredibly easy to operate.

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 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 jacket is made entirely of 40-denier face fabric and Gore-Tex Pro, which offers fantastic protection against rain, wind, and cold. This fabric, however, isn't quite as burly as the 100-denier fabric on the Alpha SV. The wrist cuffs are also a little slimmer, which means they are slightly more prone to accidental opening. These small critiques aside, the Alpha FL still offers exceptional weather protection overall.

Three months into testing  the 40-denier Gore-Tex Pro fabric was still beading water like a champ.
Three months into testing, the 40-denier Gore-Tex Pro fabric was still beading water like a champ.

Weight


A size large tipped our scale at 11.8 ounces, making it one of the lightest models in our review.


There are a couple of jackets that weigh fractions of an ounce less, but none of these lightweight rivals can boast close to the same level of durability.

The Alpha FL's stuff sack has a sewn loop that you can back up with the cinched drawstring for redundancy when clipping it to your harness.
The Alpha FL's stuff sack has a sewn loop that you can back up with the cinched drawstring for redundancy when clipping it to your harness.

This jacket also comes with a nylon stuff sack. Although this sack adds a little weight (0.3 ounces) and it's one more thing to keep track of, we prefer it over stuffing a jacket into its own pocket because a separate stuff sack offers an extra barrier to protect your expensive shell. It's also particularly useful with a minimalist jacket like the Alpha FL because the jacket's limited venting options guarantee that you will be taking it on and off regularly to avoid sweating.

Mobility and Fit


Our head tester for this review is 6'2" tall and weighs 175 pounds. He has fairly broad shoulders, but an otherwise skinny frame, and we ordered him a size large jacket for this review.


The athletic fit of the Alpha FL was excellent in the arms, shoulders, and chest, but it has a confusingly short hem in the front. Despite his best efforts, it was routinely coming untucked from his climbing harness.

Although shorter folks didn't seem to notice  a short front hem is the chief complaint from this 6'2" tester  seen here in a size large with base layers exposed after raising his arms overhead.
Although shorter folks didn't seem to notice, a short front hem is the chief complaint from this 6'2" tester, seen here in a size large with base layers exposed after raising his arms overhead.

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 climbing or backcountry skiing when you won't be wearing a ton of insulating layers underneath. However, there are much better options for lift-access skiing or low-intensity cold weather activities when you would want to bundle up. As is typical with jackets that use a Gore-Tex Pro membrane, the jacket is mildly stiff and noisy when moving about.

Venting and Breathability


Like a lot of jackets in this review, the Alpha FL uses a dependable Gore-Tex Pro waterproof-breathable membrane. To "breathe", the Pro membrane uses solid-state diffusion, which moves water trapped within the coat to the outside world.


For this to happen, the relative humidity within the jacket must be higher than the corresponding humidity outside of it. In practical terms, this means that inside the jacket, you may feel hot and moist for the gas exchange to occur. That is why many Gore-Tex jackets also incorporate pit zips for direct airflow ventilation.

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.
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 ventilation, we scored this jacket relatively low for venting and breathability. We found it to be hotter and sweatier during our stationary bike test than some of the jackets that incorporate air-permeable membranes, like Outdoor Research AscentShell or The North Face Futurelight fabrics. Honestly, this is one drawback of this jacket, but it made little difference on cold days when we only worked hard intermittently. On warm days in the sun, this presents a much more significant problem, but it's easily solvable by taking the jacket off.

Features & Design


Designed with efficiency and weight savings in mind, the Alpha FL is a bit lacking in features, notably pit zips and handwarmer pockets. The features it has, however, 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 challenging to use and uncomfortable under a climbing harness. 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, which is a huge plus.

With three points of adjustment and plenty of space  the hood fits well with or without a helmet.
With three points of adjustment and plenty of space, the hood fits well with or without a helmet.

The two cord lock buckles on the side of the hood, as well as the dual buckles on the hem, are Cohaesive cord locks; this is a huge positive because they are sewn inside the layers of the jacket, low profile, and very easy to release with gloves on. While we found the feature set nearly perfect for alpine climbing, it still works pretty well for skiing. The most prominent caveat is that it doesn't include the vents common in most ski-specific jackets, but in Colorado and California, 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 Alpha FL might be overkill for rainy hiking  but if you already have one it also excels at the activity.
An Alpha FL might be overkill for rainy hiking, but if you already have one it also excels at the activity.

Value


Hardshells aren't cheap, and the Alpha FL certainly isn't. However, if you need a real a hardshell, you're going to have to shell out some serious cash. When you do, you can rest assured that you're getting a great value with this jacket. It's possible to spend double the money on one of its competitors, but it's impossible to find better all-around upper body protection.

The perfect hardshell jacket is equally as home diving through the deep snow as it is hanging out at frigid icy belays.
The perfect hardshell jacket is equally as home diving through the deep snow as it is hanging out at frigid icy belays.

Conclusion


The Arc'teryx Alpha FL is a top-quality, high-performing hardshell with exceptional engineering and design. It is the quintessential hardshell: it's lightweight and durable and offers incredible weather protection. It also fits pretty much perfectly. For eight years running it has been our Editors' Choice Award winner, and for good reason. It's a solid choice for anyone aspiring to go fast and light in the mountains.


Jack Cramer & Matt Bento