Arc’teryx Alpha SV Men’s Jacket
A Sidetracked Review | Written by Jamie Maddison
STYLE: Jackets, Waterproof Shell
WEIGHT: 492 g / 1 lb 1.4 oz
ACTIVITY: Alpine Climbing / Expeditions
WHAT THEY SAY: ‘Newly redesigned with enhanced GORE-TEX® Pro fabric with a softer face and a refined fit. A fortress for extreme mountain conditions; ideal for climbing and alpinism. Our most durable waterproof shell built with GORE-TEX® Pro textile.’
‘This weather is just stupid!’ Matt shouts across from his trotting horse, although I barely catch the words over the tumultuous wind, battering right across my face. Ahead lies a band of approaching darkness, a snowstorm dissecting the valley and blocking our retreat to the lower pastures and the grazing we need for our tired horses. Soon we’re enveloped in the clouds, cantering relentlessly through the blizzard, trying to find just an ounce of decent grass in this barren, winter-soaked valley. I pull the hood up on my Arc’teryx jacket, sheltering within its cocooning folds; a brief respite of warmth in an otherwise very cold place.
The Alpha SV from Arc’teryx represents a very serious jacket for very serious people. Its stripped-down, lightweight and hard-wearing design is quite unlike anything I have ever reviewed previously. The very first thing I noticed about this advanced waterproof shell was just how small the box it came in was, when it arrived on my doorstep. With careful folding, the Alpha SV packs down so well that I could stuff it into the smallest of my rucksack’s many tiny pockets. This – combined with a weight of just under 500g – certainly helped me save some space in an otherwise overweight expedition sack, prepped for a horse-riding adventure right through the Bayan-Ölgii province of Western Mongolia.
Manufactured with Premium GORE-TEX® Pro, the Alpha SV’s fabric is remarkably wind-proof, breathable and durable. It didn’t matter how fierce the Central Asian weather became, the tightly woven textile stopped all of the bitingly cold winds from penetrating to my core. At the same time the jacket handled the abrasive environment of the steppe phenomenally well; from horses rubbing against it, to my backpack moving continuously up and down on it with the rhythm of a drawn-out rising trot. I even fell off my steed at full gallop, tumbling across the sand and rocks without any ill effects to the jacket or, luckily for that matter, myself. And when the sun finally poked out from amongst the clouds I used the Alpha SV over just a T-shirt as an effective sun-blocker; its breathable fabric never lead onto any uncomfortable overheating issues or sweat condensing on the inside material.
The design of Alpha SV is functional and restrained (although I wouldn’t call the neon orange colour scheme of my particular jacket restrained!), with a reduced chest circumference to older models, re-patterned for a closer fit, whilst still ensuring free and efficient movement for the arms. Indeed the cut of the jacket seemed like a remarkable magic trick, bizarrely feeling as spacious with five under-layers on – including a down gilet and a down jacket – as it did just wearing a T-shirt. The helmet compatible Storm Hood™ and high high face-guard also works well on the Alpha SV, and served to protect against the winter environment, shielding my face from much of the bitter air. A small criticism here however, would be that I found the hood and collar cords quite difficult to draw in tight, allowing a correctly angled cold wind to seep in on occasion.
The pockets are excellently cut, raised high so that they can be easily accessed whilst wearing a climbing harness, and they are simply cavernous in space. Confined to the majority of each day on the back of a horse, where you can’t take your backpack off on for fear of spooking it, these pockets became lifesavers. They stored everything I could possibly need for that day, including sunglasses, penknife, horse treats, purification tablets, action video camera and, most importantly of all, my lunch. However I did find that the WaterTight™ zippers, which seal out the wet weather, could also seal me out of the pocket itself, the zips being sometimes prone to moments of awkward stiffness whilst trying to open a pocket one-handed. This was particularly true of the shoulder pocket.
Mongolia being a very dry and desert-like landscape, a proper test on the jacket’s waterproofing had to wait unit I returned to England, where our lugubrious weather readily obliged by nearly flooding me off a road in torrent upon torrent of lashing rain in the recent floods we had this November. Engineered for snow and water to run right off the fabric, the jacket was put through some of the worst weather we’ve had this year without ever letting the layers underneath it receive an ounce of moisture. Indeed, I couldn’t find one fault on the Alpha SV’s waterproofing.
On the whole I am thoroughly impressed by Arc’teryx. The Alpha SV represents to my mind the pinnacle of lightweight, wind and waterproof jackets. There are a few tweaks that could be worked on but these hardly detract from the overall quality of the finished product and I would argue that this stripped-down jacket is definitely one of the best of its type currently on the market today. Be warned the Alpha SV doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re after the very best for the most extreme conditions – whilst keeping weight to the lowest ounce possible – then this is a jacket to seriously consider.