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.
Arc'teryx Alpha SV Review
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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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