The Arc'teryx Alpha SV is ready for the most severe (that's the "SV") mountain weather you can find. This jacket is top notch for a burlier level of exposure, so it doesn't top the charts across all of our metrics—that extra burl comes at a cost to weight and versatility. But this still might be just the jacket you're looking for.
The Alpha SV is up for many snowy adventures and all-weather rescue scenarios, such as in this photo.
Ten for 10, no question here. This jacket set the standard for weather protection in this review. Putting this jacket on feels like you're sealing yourself into a bombproof bubble of warm and dry. The N100p-X 3L Gore-Tex Pro fabric is extremely burly, offering protection for extended use in severe alpine conditions. Wow. This jacket will keep pace with you on the most exciting ice, mixed, and high alpine routes. While we can't top the performance of the Alpha in this category, a few others came close, notably the Arc'teryx Beta AR and the Norrona Trollveggen.
The many heads of the Alpha SV.
This is a much stiffer fabric than the rest of the jackets in this review—that's because it's the strongest and most durable, too. And one would assume that this would come at great cost to mobility. However, Arc'teryx has found a way to lighten up a jacket this burly, and streamline the features to keep it simple. Mostly, however, they have seriously dialed in the articulation patterns of hard shell jackets, so even this stiffer material climbs as naturally as you do. Arc'teryx utilizes this similar design strategy to make the impressive Arc'teryx Beta AR and the Arc'teryx Beta SL.
The Alpha SV is an exceptional hardshell.
Arc'teryx has kept busy, updating their gear in ways we could not have fathomed just a few years ago. They continue to lead the charge in technical climbing apparel, setting the bar impressively high. With this jacket, we were impressed by the breathability to weatherproof ratio. You get some serious storm protection, which demands a thicker material, which often makes a jacket feel warmer (it's harder for your body heat to pump moisture out of a thicker jacket, generally), but they've lightened this severe-weather jacket enough that we still enjoyed wearing it on cold ski tours and especially on cold, long ice climbs. Outstanding.
Excellent low profile pit zips on the Alpha SV don't inhibit arm movement as much as some bigger or wider zippers.
Additionally, the jacket has pit zips that allow you to dump heat in a hurry, so if you pick up the pace, you don't have to worry about sweating out your inner layers. Breathability is an important consideration for this jacket, but it is designed for severely cold climates. For warmer and more humid climates, we think you'll be psyched to check out the Arc'teryx Beta SL.
At 10 ounces, this is still only a mid-weight jacket in this review. For the amount of storm protection you get out of it, this is a truly mind-boggling feat. Nice work, Arc'teryx. This jacket is stunningly lightweight for what it is. If light weight is your first priority, you'll love the Arc'teryx's Beta SL and Beta AR.
Simple, streamlined, clean—everything we have come to expect from Arc'teryx. This jacket has Napoleon pockets high above your harness, which are essentially like a pair of chest pockets. These unzip from closer to your center line, and the pocket falls away toward your sides. These are not handwarmer style pockets—you don't need those when you're wearing gloves. This style of pocket is excellent for keeping navigation tools and small snacks very readily accessible. Awesome.
We love these Napoleon pockets. The opening is close to your center line, and the pocket goes out toward the sides. They're like dual chest pockets - and we love chest pockets.
There is also an internal zippered chest pocket. All these chest pockets make our hearts swoon. This jacket also has some details for the style of climbing you're likely to be doing in it: the adjustable hem has oversized buttons that allow you to adjust the waist tightness easily with gloves; the same story for two of the four adjustment points on the hood.
This tab and draw cord make it very easy to adjust the tightness of the waist with gloves on.
Pit zips ensure that you can maintain the right temperature and ventilation, and the hood brim and cinch keeps precipitation out of your face. Lightweight velcro cinches the cuffs, and the sleeves are just a little bit bigger to ensure ease of climbing when wearing more insulating layers underneath. The more extended torso length provides a good fit under your harness and extra protection from the storm. We also liked the shoulder zipper pocket, that's cool for those who ski or ride at stormy places with electronic lift tickets.
The Alpha is full of features, and we love them all. They're very thoughtful and useful. At the opposite end of the feature spectrum, you'll find the Arc'teryx Beta SL, an ultralight jacket that still got high marks for its simple and sensible use of features: those you need, none that you don't. Otherwise, the Norrona Trollveggen has a complete feature set, making it a better all-around hard shell jacket.
The shoulder pocket is useful for many things, but mostly an RFID electronic ski pass.
This jacket was the most durable in this review, with its N100p-X 3L Gore-Tex Pro. A perfect 10 out of 10, this garment set the bar for durability in this lineup. The Alpha is our alpha dog in the Durability metric. Only a few jackets will put up a fight for this category: the Marmot Spire is made of very durable materials. The Arc'teryx Beta AR is quite tough. And the award-winning Norrona Trollveggen holds its own.
This is the only category where this jacket earned an average score of 5 out of 10, significantly knocking down its chances of getting an award. That said, if you need an especially burly hard shell for expeditions and extended alpine missions, this is one to consider. For a hardshell that might just be the one that can do everything—so you don't need a quiver of hard shell jackets—check out the Arc'teryx Beta AR, from the AR series for "all around." Otherwise, we really liked the Norrona Trollveggen for a variety of adventures and climates. The Alpha SV a severe weather jacket best suited to expeditions in cold environments, or longer trips in alpine terrain.
With Arc'teryx, you'll pay a higher price, and it's easy to ridicule those who would buy a jacket this expensive; but if you need this kind of a layer, it's the best you can get and it'll last a very long time. We would love to do a multi-year test of Arc'teryx jackets and log every day we wear the jacket, then divide the cost by the number of days once it finally wears out. We have a hunch it might not be the most expensive jacket per mountain day…
The Arc'teryx Alpha SV is one of the best severe weather jackets we've used in a long time. It's a serious financial investment, but if you take good care of it, we think it'll last for an impressively long time, through a whole lot of grand adventures.
The Alpha SV is durable, stormproof, and still easy to move around in.