Why the New Arc'teryx Alpha SV Is the Future of Outerwear
A thorough review of the flagship jacket’s 2020 update, set to introduce GORE-TEX Pro 2.0, from the snowy mountains of New Hampshire
Celebrated Canadian gear maker Arc’teryx has been said to make the “Hermès bags of men’s performance wear.” A quote easy to laugh at, until you see it was ACRONYM designer (and early Burton outerwear collaborator) Errolson Hugh who said it.
But on this day in late November, braced against winds and rain in the snowy New Hampshire woods, I felt anything but dainty.
Last month, Arc’teryx invited Field Mag to the first test day of its updated Alpha SV hardshell. The jacket—a direct descendant of the brand’s very first apparel item, the 1998 Alpha SV—is the first Arc’teryx product to use the all-new GORE-TEX Pro 2.0 membrane fabric.
That’s a lot of firsts. Here’s one more. The updated Alpha SV is the first alpine jacket by Arc’teryx to include a RECCO avalanche rescue reflector. While we weren’t in any avalanche risk, the sheer girth of this battle armor jacket felt ready to take on a wall of snow. A foot of soft pack would have to do.
In the snow and ice of a White Mountains autumn, the Alpha SV cuts through it all.
Part of that cutting is the jacket’s “Glade” colorway. Arc’teryx is no stranger to bold hues. The OG Alpha SV came in a flaming Ferrari orange-red. The sample I hiked in dripped tritium green. Even the stealthiest Alpha colorway—“24K Black”—punctures its black-on-black inkness with gold logo embroidery.
If you’re spending Lamborghini money on a hardshell—this year’s pre-upgrade SV retails for $785 and reportedly takes 5 hours to build at Arc’teryx’s Vancouver factory—it might as well look the part. But that’s only half of it.
Just like a sports car, the real cutting is done by what’s under the paint. Arc’teryx’s new Alpha SV introduces a brand new Gore fabric technology that the brand calls its “most durable” face fabric ever.
That face fabric is a gnarly, burly, roided out N100p-X nylon. Abrasion-resistant doesn’t begin to describe it. Under a microscope, the 100 denier textile is tighter than a Swiss accountant. Ice, branches, and even the odd trekking pole tip are shrugged right off. Water beads up of course, too. And then things get better.
Just under that face is the core of the new Alpha SV: an evolved GORE-TEX Pro membrane tech the brand refers to as “GORE-TEX Pro 2.0.” It's an overhaul of the original GORE-TEX Pro. The no-kill-like-overkill weatherproofing remains. However, unlike the original, Pro 2.0 will be offered in three different varieties, each meant for a diverse use case.
There’s Pro Most Breathable. There’s Pro Stretch. And then there’s Pro Most Rugged, a membrane the brand claims is its most durable, and contamination-resistant ever.
Guess which one is under the very new bombproof nylon we were there to test.
“The purpose of the Alpha SV has always been to create the most durable solution for alpinists in harsh environments,” tells Greg Grenzke, Design Director, Outdoor Product at Arc’teryx. “The shift to the new GORE-TEX Most Rugged membrane contributes significantly to creating the most durable product we know of.”
A Hermès bag wouldn’t dare.
Outside of the materials changes and the athlete-led, overdue addition of a RECCO reflector, there’s a lot here that Alpha jacket faithfuls—like yours truly—will recognize. The StormHood and articulated design make for a comfortable wear. The Watertight zips look as nice as ever.
And yes, it’s still bulky (the men’s medium I tested weighed in at 510g—or nearly 5 Patagonia Houdini windbreakers). And quite warm for a shell—I wore it half-zipped for most of the 30° F hike.
It’s also worth nothing Arc’teryx employed a male-female design duo to build two same-but-different gender-specific versions of the jacket. Kudos, Canada, for shoving “pink it and shrink it” into a crevasse.
Aesthetically similar. Functionally improved. While lots under the StormHood may be brand new, in many ways, it’s still the same trustworthy Alpha SV. And with dusk falling in these New Hampshire woods and a mile still to make it back to the trailhead, that certainty sounded nicer by the second.
The new FW20 Arc’teryx Alpha SV is the latest in a near-mythical lineage.
As proof of what Arc’teryx and GORE-TEX can do together, it’s a damn impressive piece, though the minimalist design does little to let on. The two brands share a long-standing relationship, essentially co-creating the first GORE-TEX Pro membrane tech together (in 2007 the original Alpha SV became the first product ever to feature the fabric). To watch their collaboration continue to pay off in ever-harder-core tech gear is just plain cool.
It’s the outdoor industry’s Kanye and Jay-Z. But, you know, before all the church stuff.
Over a 3 hour hike through falling snow and that New England hanging fog, the only wetness—even clamminess—I felt came from the half-zip I had exposed. The rest of me? Drier than a Death Valley Mormon.
All in all, the new Alpha SV is an evolution of what Arc’teryx’s flagship model has always done best. It’s a big, burly hardshell built for swinging ice axes and now, somehow, it’s gotten even tougher.
As an outdoors nerd, that’s extremely my bag.