I am off to do a Haute Route variant from La Fouly to Zermatt next month. My first non competitive touring for a few years. The number of people touring in race skin suits is on the up but that’s not for me and would also be putting a lot of ‘speed pressure’ on one of our party, so I had to get together some normal kit for the trip.
I have ended up with 2 midlayers, both lent to me on test, and I can’t decide between them. I have a Kurgan Jacket from Maloja and an Alpha Flux Jacket from Rab. Both jackets weigh 300 – 400g and both are a hybrid of fabrics. They are sort of for the same thing but couldn’t be more different!
Maloja, a German brand and relatively small in the UK, are one of only a few brands who can make dedicated clothing ranges for both ski touring and cross country skiing. A testament to how strong the brand and those sports are in Germany. The Kurgan Jacket uses standard double weave stretch softshell fabric combined with Gore Windstopper front panels to block wind.
Touring specific features like skin pockets and integral face mask allied to a very sporting cut especially around the arms make the Kurgen perfect for performance touring and not bad for cold mountain biking either. It’s part of a 2 piece skimo suit that took race suit features and toned them down for recreational use. The Kurgan will excel when skinning in cold conditions and on descents. My reservation is that there is not much actual insulation to the jacket so not great for long stops or night time hut use. The addition of an alpha or fleece vest would solve this but add a little more weight.
The Rab Alpha Flux is a lightweight softshell fabric combined with alpha direct insulation. Alpha Direct is a really light and breathable hairy fleece lining which has no wind resistance but amazing warmth to weight. The Alpha Flux could also be described as a high performance fleece replacement. It is one of the most comfortable midlayers I have ever worn combining stretch, good cut and breathability. The Alpha Flux has 2 panels of unlined stretch softshell (no alpha, purple bits) running up the sides, under the armpits and down the underside of the arms.
The Alpha Flux hood is a triumph. It has Alpha around the side for real warmth but the top and back part of the hood is simple softshell allowing a helmet to be worn securely and comfortably. The Flux would be a great jacket in all but cold strong winds and a fantastic layering piece. Although the Flux feels like it might be a bit warm at times, it’s amazing breathability means it needs to be a little bit warm because the air is always moving through it. So the flux would be great on the Haute Route except when skinning in really cold windy conditions. Combined with a simple pertex pull on or vest, the Flux is very versatile but really does need that extra windproof piece to cover all the bases. (There is a more windproof version of the flux, the Rab Alpha Direct Jacket but along with the more windproof outer comes a heavier weight of Alpha insulation which I fear would be too warm).
So I have 2 very attractive midlayer / jacket options, both will work and both have a little chink in the armour under certain conditions. As I also have a lightweight down jacket and a Gore Tex shell I can cover either the lack of warmth or lack of wind resistance,no problem. Therefore I can take either and still be happy. There is so much good kit out there but I still have to decide which to take…