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Arc'teryx Alpha SV Review

Excessive weather protection with a price to match
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Price:  $799 List | $549.50 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Extremely durable, superior weather protection, great hood, easy to manipulate zippers
Cons:  Heavy, bulky, overkill for many, no handwarmer pockets, expensive
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
By Jack Cramer ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 21, 2020
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 14
  • Weather Protection - 30% 10
  • Weight - 20% 4
  • Mobility and Fit - 20% 6
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 7
  • Features and Design - 10% 7

Our Verdict

The Arc'teryx Alpha SV is tried and true body armor for mountain climbers, which is why it's been sold for the better part of two decades. It has a near perfect blend of features include two cross-over chest pockets, which provide quick access to abundant storage, ergonomic patterning with a spacious and unrestricted fit, and quick and easy zippers that allow on-the-go ventilation adjustments. That said, unless you work as a climbing guide or are going on a super epic multi-month expedition, this jacket might be overkill. It weighs 18.4 ounces for a size large, which is a hefty 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, it could be worth considering.

Color Updates

One of the most recent colorways for the Alpha SV is shown above.

March 2020

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Although we believe that lighter weight jackets are the ideal choice for the vast majority of outdoor activities, there are still some circumstances when you might want something a little tough, such as long expeditions to remote places with severe weather. Enter the Arc'teryx Alpha SV, which is a durable heavy-duty hardshell with an outstanding track record.

Performance Comparison


The Arc'Teryx lineup of Alpha clothing is designed for "minimalist climbing and alpinism" and those are the situations where our testers were most happy wearing the Alpha SV jacket.
The Arc'Teryx lineup of Alpha clothing is designed for "minimalist climbing and alpinism" and those are the situations where our testers were most happy wearing the Alpha SV jacket.

Weather Protection


The SV in Alpha SV stands for severe and that's exactly the type of weather this jacket is good for. It's 100-denier Gore-Tex Pro fabric is exceptionally waterproof and the durable water repellent treatment continues to consistently bead water three months into our tests. At first the hood may feel a little baggy without a hood, but tighten the rear drawcord, and it snugs right up.

Water continued to bead on the 100-denier Gore-Tex Pro fabric throughout our entire three months of testing.
Water continued to bead on the 100-denier Gore-Tex Pro fabric throughout our entire three months of testing.

In our shower test, this hood proved effective at directing water away from the tester's face in part thanks to the sturdy 3-inch reinforced brim. The hook-and-loop wrist cuffs also provide a reliable closure that kept the sleeves in place through a variety of movements.

The Alpha SV weighed in at 18.4 oz for a size large  making it one of the heaviest jackets in the hardshell review.
The Alpha SV weighed in at 18.4 oz for a size large, making it one of the heaviest jackets in the hardshell review.

Weight


One of the consequences of the Alpha SV's considerable water protection is some added weight and bulk. At 18.4 ounces for a size large, it's one of the heaviest jackets in our hardshell review. This is obviously a problem for long distance adventures or drier climates where you end up carrying a hardshell more often than wearing one. The added weight shouldn't be a problem, however, for this jacket's intended use: full-on wintry expeditions.

The Alpha SV offers great wind and snow protection on the downhill  but you'll probably want to take it off for the uphill because it's not especially breathable.
The Alpha SV offers great wind and snow protection on the downhill, but you'll probably want to take it off for the uphill because it's not especially breathable.

Mobility and Fit


The Alpha SV has a noticeably more baggy cut than its Arc'teryx relative, the Alpha FL, and most other hardshell jackets. This can make it look less than stylish for skinny folks or anyone wearing thin layers underneath. Our dislike for this billowy fit disappears, however, when we add extra midlayers or tuck it into a climbing harness. In these cases, the fit of the Alpha feels a lot better and our climbing testers praised the freedom of movement it offered while remaining tucked in.

The Alpha SV has a pair of underarm vents for shedding excess heat. These are a nice feature for moderate levels of exertion  but inadequate for sustained uphill charging.
The Alpha SV has a pair of underarm vents for shedding excess heat. These are a nice feature for moderate levels of exertion, but inadequate for sustained uphill charging.

Venting and Breathability


At 100-denier, the Gore-Tex Pro fabric on the Alpha SV feels thicker than lower denier Gore-Tex Pro fabrics found on many other hardshells. In our stationary bike test, this thicker fabric also seemed to be slightly less breathable. This jacket manages to negate this drawback to some degree with the inclusion of underarm vents for shedding excess heat. These help a bit, but for sustained high intensity activities, you can expect to sweat.

A small piece of felt on the inside of the zipper protects your chin and lips if you need to keep the Alpha SV fully zipped up for anything length of time.
A small piece of felt on the inside of the zipper protects your chin and lips if you need to keep the Alpha SV fully zipped up for anything length of time.

Features and Design


Without the restrictions of ultralight weight targets, the designers of the Alpha SV had the freedom to add a few nice features. The most useful is probably the pit zips that boost your venting options. Another appreciated feature is all the storage space. The Alpha SV has no less than five pockets: two external chest, one internal chest, one on the left sleeve, and a internal mesh stash pocket. What it doesn't have is hand pockets, but that's okay because it leaves the jacket smooth across the waist where a backpack belt or harness might rub.

Without a belt or harness to tuck it into  the Alpha SV can feel a little billowy in the front.
Without a belt or harness to tuck it into, the Alpha SV can feel a little billowy in the front.

Value


This jacket's astronomical pricetag is sure to raise eyebrows, especially when you pick one up and realize it's just a thin, uninsulated shell. The cost could be justified, however, if you can appreciate the sophistication of its design and the 217 step process that is needed to make one. We believe that most shoppers don't need a jacket this serious, but for those that do, its high cost actually presents a decent value for the performance it provides.

A hardshell jacket is an important piece of clothing  but without good insulating layers you'll end up like these icy stalagmites: frozen.
A hardshell jacket is an important piece of clothing, but without good insulating layers you'll end up like these icy stalagmites: frozen.

Conclusion


The Alpha SV has been a cornerstone of the Arc'teryx technical clothing lineup for more than twenty years, and it's easy to understand why. This jacket is extraordinarily high-quality which offers weather protection that few other models can match. The 100-denier Gore-Tex Pro fabric is also sturdy enough to stand up to extended abuse. If your ambitions demand clothing for the harshest conditions on planet earth, the Alpha SV remains a worthy choice.

Jack Cramer