Arc'teryx Alpha FL Review
Cons: Crinkly and noisy, very little ventilation, few pockets, short front hem
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.
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 does a great job of keeping precip out.
The storm hood is the best one we've tried, with three pull-cord adjustment points, one in the back and two in the front. Together these ensure a secure and comfortable fit with or without a helmet on. Additionally, the zippers on this premium hardshell are watertight and incredibly easy to operate.
The jacket is made entirely of 40-denier face fabric and Gore-Tex Pro, which offers excellent protection against rain, wind, and cold. This fabric, however, isn't quite as burly as the 100-denier material on the Alpha SV, but it's not as heavy either. 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.
A size large tipped our scale at 11.8 ounces, making it one of the lightest models in our review.
There are a few jackets that weigh fractions of an ounce less, but none of these lightweight rivals can boast close to the same level of durability.
This jacket comes with a handy 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 pocket because the separate stuff sack offers an extra barrier to protect your expensive shell. It's also incredibly useful with a minimalist jacket like the Alpha FL because the jacket's limited venting abilities guarantee that you will be taking it on and off regularly to avoid sweating it out.
Mobility and Fit
Our head tester for this review is 6'2" tall and weighs 175 pounds. He has relatively broad shoulders but an otherwise skinny frame, and we ordered him a size large jacket for this review. It fit him well.
The athletic fit of the Alpha FL is excellent in the arms, shoulders, and chest, but it has a confusingly short hem in the front. Despite our best efforts, we noticed it frequently coming untucked from a climbing harness.
This jacket is shaped according to Arc'teryx's Trim Fit — design guidelines that aim to keep garments low volume. In our tests, we found that it offered 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 want to bundle up more. 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 many 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 inside the jacket must be higher than the corresponding humidity outside. In practical terms, this means that inside the jacket, you may feel hot and moist for the moisture exchange to occur. That is why many Gore-Tex jackets also incorporate pit zips to supplement with direct airflow ventilation.
Without pit zips or other methods of ventilation, we scored this jacket relatively low for venting and breathability. We found it 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 real drawback to 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 easy to solve 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.
While some may consider limited features a drawback, we believe that it matches the intended use of the jacket: alpine climbing. Take the absence of handwarmer pockets, for example. Although these are awesome on a ski lift, they 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.
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're low profile, sewn inside the jacket where they can't snag, 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 important 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.
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 Arc'teryx Alpha FL is a top-quality, high-performing hardshell with exceptional engineering and design. It is the quintessential hardshell: lightweight and durable yet supplying 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
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