Review: Arc'teryx Alpha SL Jacket
The ultimate alpine rain jacket
This Alpha SL jacket has just had its 4th anniversary. The day it arrived I went out for a walk and was treated to a heavy spring shower. The Alpha SL is a lightweight, waterproof GORE-TEX® PacLite® jacket, with a helmet compatible Speed Hood® designed as an easily packable emergency storm jacket in an alpine environment.
There are many other jackets in this category with a similar specification for less money. I've owned a fair few of them and eventually they all leak. Some can be saved with a waterproof treatment, at least for a while.
Arc'teryx has a handy video on cleaning and waterproofing your (GORE-TEX) jacket. This is one of the reasons I purchased the jacket, that and Arc'teryx reputation for outdoor equipment. There are many, many brands selling clothing for the 'outdoors' but when you look at their core business, not many are as 'hardcore' as Arc'teryx.
Two years in and used outside of winter, the jacket has no problems with heavy rain and still looks as good as the day I bought it. It's spent a lot of time hiking and biking in the Chamonix valley and beyond. A fair amount of time packed in a backpack. I haven't used the hood with a helmet as it's designed for climbing helmets. The hood has a decent peak and a rear adjuster to fit your head size. I find this key to any activity in the rain, a badly fitting hood with no peak makes for a very unpleasant outing.
I have the carbon colour with blue accents. Generally speaking, Arc'teryx makes one colour products which can give the impression of rather unimaginative clothing designs. Buying one of the very bright colours may not be a great choice considering how long it will last. Orange is popular this year, but next year maybe not so much. This grey colour makes a change from black and looks smart enough when used in the city. It's not a feature jacket. It has two chest pockets, later versions only have one, pit zips, hood and waist adjusters. That's it. If you are looking for features look elsewhere.
Even though it's packable it has the decent thickness required for a truly waterproof jacket. Many packable jackets I've owned have been lighter and thinner but unless you are running the UTMB, I don't see them as comparable. This is packable for a proper alpine jacket. It doesn't feel packable when you wear it, which I prefer.
I had a very packable Oakley jacket for biking that you could squeeze into a large pocket but 10 mins into a storm at Val d'Isere and it was useless. I had a thicker packable North Face jacket that was fine for a couple of hours of rain but you got cold in it. The Alpha SL has lasted all day rain and you don't feel the cold as much.
Downsides? Well I think you have to be really picky to find any. For my body size another couple of cm of length at the front would be good. The back is fine, although perhaps a little short for biking but this isn't what it was primarily designed for. I find the short front causes water to channel to your lower half. That's fine if you are wearing waterproof trousers but not so good with jeans.
It's a simple product with a simple mission. It isn't trying to be anything else which is why I bought it and will continue to enjoy its protection, if not the weather I wear it in.