I’ve been using the Arc’Teryx Alpha FL jacket for around 3 years now and it has become my favorite piece of out door clothing. Its a totally dependable GORE-TEX Pro Shell waterproof that packs up small and is very breathable. I use it year round for everything from wet cycle commutes, climbing on those days when the weather could go either way, Alpine climbing, running, Scottish Winter climbing and hiking and it has never let me down. In this review I’m going to focus on what I think are the 4 most important criteria, especially if you are about to spend Arc’Teryx money on a jacket; Waterproofing, Breathability, Durability and Features.
The Alpha FL uses a GORE-TEX Pro Shell membrane to keep you dry, which is still probably the best membrane out there, others may be a little more breathable, but when it comes down to it Pro Shell is still the most durable and waterproof membrane out there. It just keeps working with minimal care. In the time I have owned mine I’ve washed it a couple of times (disgusting now that I think about it!) mainly so I can re apply NikWax re-proofer so it beads nicely in the wet for a while. Modern re-proofers tend not to last as long as the old CFC packed ones, but don’t worry, when the jacket stops beading it still keeps you dry!
The main zip has what looks like a relatively small internal storm flap, but its enough. I’ve never noticed any water ingress through the zip. The zip itself has that plastic feeling water resistant coating which is showing no signs of cracking as can happen on cheaper zips.
Internal seam taping is something that I think Arc’Teryx has managed to absolutely nail.† If you’re wondering about the higher price tag on and Arc’Teryx jacket turn it inside out and have a look at the high standard of the seam taping, which at the end of the day is what keeps you dry. I’ll discuss this a little more later.
The Alpha FL kept me dry on day long rides in constant rain and those horrible wet walk-ins in Scotland where the rain only turns to snow high up, so I have absolutely no complaints.
As I mentioned above there are now membranes which on paper are more breathable than GORE-TEX Pro Shell, however Arc’Teryx have managed to make the Alpha FL incredibly breathable for a proper GORE-TEX shell by using a very lightweight backer on the inside and a 40 denier face fabric (Does this affect the durability? more on this later). I’ve never felt any clamminess when running or cycling in the Alpha FL so as far as I’m concerned it works. As a pretty feature light jacket there are no pit zips for heat dumping, but I’m a fan of that as pit zips are one of those things that sets my faff alarm off.
As I’ve had my Alpha FL for 3 years now I feel like I’m in a position to offer some genuine insight in to the durability of the jacket. The Alpha FL is intended as a ‘fast & light’ jacket so its nice to see that for Arc’Teryx ‘fast & light’ is not a justification for compromising on durability at all! The Alpha FL is light (315g) and I’ve been going pretty fast in it, but it hasn’t once let me down. Its put up with some punishment on thrutchy Scottish winter routes, sliding into a crevasse in Cham and hauling heavy packs around in the rain. But there’s still no signs of anything falling apart.
Two areas that a lot of waterproofs will initially start to fail, Velcro cuff adjusters and internal seam taping as constant rubbing on high wear areas like the shoulders will start to delaminate the glue which holds them in place. There’s still no signs of this happening, The velcro cuff adjusters can also start to come away eventually but again still no sign of this so big thumbs up from me. In fact the internal seam taping still looks as good as new, and I would say the same for the cuffs if I hadn’t got chain oil on them. Top tip, don’t do that as it doesn’t come out!
As a stripped down Fast & Light jacket the Alpha FL doesn’t have a lot of features. Personally I think this is a plus point as I hate faff. There’s no pit zips to get caught in your pack straps. Elasticated hem adjuster at the bottom to keep draughts out. Simple velcro adjust cuffs that are wide enough to go over gloves. A helmet compatible hood with simple volume adjuster, the hood actually moves with you as you turn your head which is a massive plus point when searching for placements while winter climbing.
The big marmite feature is probably the pocket, yes there’s just one but you quickly realise that you only need one. Its big enough for snacks and a small guide book and is placed in the center of your chest so does not interfere with your harness.
In conclusion, if you are looking for a genuine do it all jacket that the Alpha FL really is it. A typical Arc’Teryx interpretation of Fast & Light who’s approach to design always includes bombproof. In my opinion its probably the best waterproof jacket out there. While its designed as a climbing jacket it has real cross over into running and even cycling.†If you absolutely must have lots of pockets then it may not be for you, but have your tried going fast and light? You won’t look back.
Authors note; Arc’Teryx have redesigned the Alpha FL since my version. Its now a little longer but still uses the same fabrics, and yes there’s still just one pocket.