Weight: 14.3 oz size M
The Alpha Comp softshell/hardshell hybrid is a solid performing alpine hiking/climbing jacket. If you don’t expect to be inundated with rain, this jacket can handle just about anything else the elements can dish out. It is tough, abrasion resistant, and highly wind resistant. The jacket is cut trim for climbing but great shoulder and arm articulation and fabric stretch give the wearer excellent freedom of movement. The jacket sports waterproof fabric in all the important areas without sacrificing the breathability of a softshell that is so important for aerobic endeavors.
Arc’Teryx’s Alpha Comp uses Schoeller Dynamic for the body of the jacket and a PTFE-laminated waterproof breathable fabric for the neck, shoulders, outside of the arms, and waist. This jacket has the same weight and durability of a stretchwoven shell but provides more overall water resistance with the addition of the hardshell yoke. Unless rain is coming horizontally at you (and we’ve been there!) you could stay quite dry in this jacket for a long time.
We did find the jacket’s limits, however. Whilst peak bagging in Northern Scotland, we experienced nonstop rain, hail, sleet, and snow, often blowing horizontally. The jacket shrugged off most of the drier stuff and light rain but during the periods of intense rain, the jacket (Scottish perception follows) “let in a little more water than we would have liked” (American translation: “we got soaked, dude”) as rain ran down and collected between the pack and our back. We did manage to burn much of this off while pushing hard uphill to bag that Munro.
The Alpha Comp also got its most serious aerobic test while on a 36 hour continuous push mixed rock and ice climb in the Tetons. We wore the jacket the entire time over a Patagonia R1 hoodie base layer. This combo kept us warm enough from an 11pm start on the approach, through a long ice climb in sub-freezing temps, and until 8 pm the following evening when darkness, an incoming storm, dropping temperatures, and high winds forced us to throw a belay parka over it. The jacket held up to abrasion of rock, ice, tool scraping and ice screw kisses. Best of all, it was a superb breather and we never got chilled or damp inside while on the climb (the night time descent we’ll save for another story).
This is a jacket designed for climbers and alpine scramblers. It has a trim cut to stay out of the way and not catch on things but has plenty of articulation for a full range of motion and enough room for a substantial baselayer. The dual napoleon pockets are great for stashing all sorts of gear as you climb (they hold an amazing amount of stuff and we were forever stuffing them with more gear). The hand warmer pockets are cut high enough to access above a hip belt. The waterproof PTFE fabric is in the strategic places likely to brush up against wet snow and ice as well as protecting the climber from precipitation.
One gripe about the jacket that we tested is that it has no hood. In Scotland we wore the jacket with a Seattle Sombrero rain hat to stay dry. We understand that in the near future, Arc’Teryx will have a hooded version of this jacket out. With a hood, the Alpha Comp increases its versatility significantly. We’ll be provide an updated review as the jacket becomes available.
At 14.5 oz, it’s a bit heavier than the lightest softshells on the market. If you expect to be wearing the jacket on most of your trip, and it won’t sit in the bottom of your pack as an “extra layer,” then we think it is well worth it: the additional weight does buy added performance.
It’s biggest disadvantage of course: the cost of owning a garment with the embroidered bird-o-saur. You’re going to have to mortgage the farm (it might be worth it) to afford it: $300. That’s a lot of money to shell out for a single piece of clothing. But it’s competitive with other high-end waterproof-breathable garments and will likely outperform them.