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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.