Arc’teryx Alpha FL Jacket

Words Pete Roggeman
Photos Kaz Yamamura
Date Dec 2, 2014

If you’re like me, you’re probably getting fatter as you read this. It’s the season of shorter days, crappier weather, and nanaimo bars. When the internet’s anonymous tough guys become twice as douchey, and bikes start to sit longer between rides. But inject the right gear and a bit of motivation (read: buddies who cajole you non-stop into riding whenever the storms let up) and you might be able to fight back against the winter layer accumulating underneath your belt.

The Arc’teryx Alpha FL Jacket is designed for “climbers and alpinists” and FL stands for Fast and Light (though I could think of another. So even though this isn’t a riding-specific jacket, it is a good example of a crossover piece that works perfectly for MTB if you’re looking for waterproofness (you’re always looking for breathability). It is a 3-layer shell constructed using Gore-Tex Pro (Gore’s top tier membrane) with a trim fit and minimalist features; this jacket is all about performance without letting zippers, gussets, and other bulk-inducing elements get in the way. That doesn’t mean it isn’t carefully designed or lacks what we need, it just means they aren’t obvious or obtrusive.

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Gore-Tex Pro. That’s the good stuff. Treat it well and it’ll take care of you for years and years. And it better, since it ain’t cheap.

Arc’teryx’s track record for design and quality is uncontested, and the Alpha FL is no exception. I will, however, speak up on behalf of the durability of other products I’ve owned: a soft shell fleece that saw eight years of use. My current go-to ski jacket that is now nine years old and still going strong, and my 80L pack which has seen a lot of abuse since I got it in 2001 but still looks great and hasn’t slipped a stitch. If something does fail, they stand behind their gear and will repair or replace it.

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I especially like 3-layer jackets for rides where there is a bit of down time. A mechanical, a food stop, whatever – I prefer a bit more protection from wind and rain for those times, so you don’t get cold too quickly.

Many people complain that their gore-tex jacket or whatever no longer repels water after several years, but you have to take care of it: wash it with the right products (Nikwax or otherwise – NOT regular detergent) and put it in the dryer after. Mud, sweat, campfire smoke, etc – these things all impede the Gore-Tex membrane’s ability to work properly. This isn’t unique to Gore-Tex, it’s true of all waterproof/breathable membranes. Do you have to spend $450 to get a jacket that works? No, but Gore-Tex Pro is the swanky stuff – so much so that this jacket comes without pit zips. Lofty ambitions, Arc’teryx.

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No pit zips. You can always tell a jacket has good climbing pedigree when it doesn’t ride up if you put your arms over your head. Helps it keep in place when you’re in riding position, too.

I’ve been riding the Alpha FL since September, when it was a bit warmer than ideal for a jacket of this type. And yeah, if you over-layer or if it’s really warm out, you will sweat inside it a bit, but I never got steamed out. Barring those conditions, I found the Alpha FL breathes better than any other shell I’ve used with this amount of protection from wind and rain. I could easily ski in it, though I’d rather have a few extra pockets for that, since this jacket only has a single chest pocket. Perfect for riding, though, since it packs down smaller than other 3-layer jackets, and you can make up for the lack of pockets by stashing food in your shorts or pack. I usually put my phone in the chest pocket and leave a multitool in one pack’s hip pocket and gel/bars in the other.

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Only one chest pocket on the Alpha FL, and I didn’t feel that was a problem for riding, especially because it made for a very lo-profile jacket when stuffed into a bag.

The fit of the Medium test jacket is perfect for my 6’1″ and 185 lbs (ok 190 now that it’s December). The back is slightly longer, there is a mild taper at the waist, and arm length is perfect. The Alpha FL has a hood that cannot be detached. This used to be a cause for complaint from me but having worn it in significant rain storms, I’d rather have it there permanently rather than risk detaching it and leaving it at home. It does tend to flop forward on one side of your neck or the other if the zipper isn’t done up almost all the way, but it hasn’t bothered me too much. The hood fits perfectly over a helmet, and works nicely to keep the elements out.

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Good coverage in the back. Slight waist taper. Comfortable in the arms and shoulders.

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There may only be one chest pocket, but it’s sized well. That’s my phone in there. You could easily stash a bar or a few gels as well and it wouldn’t be too bulky, but I’d rather keep ’em separated.

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A good look at the difference in drop from front to back.

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In years past you would have heard me complaining about wearing a jacket with a hood that didn’t detach. I’ve changed my tune since wearing the Alpha FL in terrible weather. The hood fits well over a helmet, as it should, since it’s designed for climbing and use in the alpine.

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Fit was perfect for me. Arms articulated nicely and weren’t bulky or restrictive.

Other touches like zipper garages, minimal width seam taping (to reduce bulk and increase breathability), and low profile cuff tabs are to be expected and all worked as advertised. A surprisingly effective feature called the Hemlock harness blocker – a pinkie finger-sized cylinder of foam on each side of the waist that keeps the jacket from riding up under your harness (or the waist belt of my riding pack) did exactly what it was designed to do. I’ve never had a jacket stay in place better than the Alpha FL has done.

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The cuffs are comfortable and easy to adjust with gloves on.

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Little details and exquisite workmanship – hallmark Arc’teryx.

The big question, as it always is with Arc’teryx pieces, is the price. Does $450 represent good value? You can find jackets for $100-150 less that will deliver on most of the performance that the Alpha FL does, but the low-bulk design and performance of the Gore-Tex Pro and the refined features make a case for shaking out the couch cushions. It’s an investment that won’t pay off until you’re in your 3rd or 4th…or 5th or 6th season, however it is a jacket that will easily last you that long. So choose a colour you can live with, because you’re going to get a lot of seasons of use out of it if you pull the trigger.

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There’s a good shot of the back of the jacket staying down below the pack’s waist strap. I never find myself having to push it down in the front or the sides.

The Arc’teryx Alpha FL retails for $450 CAD and comes in Carbon Copy (black with red trim), Chipotle (red with black trim) or Mantis Green (fluoro green with green trim).


Do you believe in good gear or is winter riding all about HTFU for you?

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Comments

jerschwab
0
Jeremy  - Dec. 2, 2014, 1:12 p.m.

I just got the new Alpha AR last week (as a long lasting shell jacket for winter and chilly weather) and so far it looks and fits pretty good. I love the articulation, fit and apparent durability… and pretty confident it will stay out of the way and just do it's damn job while I ride (if I decide to wear it). Arcteryx also have the best hoods for wearing helmets etc. so in that regard it's great for mountain biking.

For the price though, I wouldn't want to shred this up. I'm sure it's durable enough, but I'll likely be a bit more cautious if I ride with it on. The difference in the AR is basically more GoreTex Pro material (ie. the stronger one for shoulders and forearms), pit zips (which are a must IMO), an additional front zip pocket, plus Athletic fit (vs. Trim) for a bit more room, and of course an extra $150 (making it totally prohibitive for a piece of MTB kit I know!). The AR was meant to bridge the gap between the FL and the SV.

Great all around shell jackets (and they better be for the price), but I'm not about to go rip around the shore and risk a tear that I can't fix.
Apparently though some guys from Arcteryx left to start their own company for mountain bike gear. Don't know who where or when, but it sounds great. Hopefully they can get the price point to about half of what the Arcteryx stuff is, then we might see some interest.

My only grips are that it has no hand warmer pockets… but for the function these were built (ice climbing), they are perfect. But now for regular use, I have to carry around gloves or jam my hands in my jean pockets (or HTFU as they say).

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 2, 2014, 3:40 p.m.

I'm curious to know how often people crash on the shore these days in ways that tear anything other than gloves. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, and I totally understand wanting to protect an investment like an expensive jacket, but I was being sincere when I said I haven't torn/wrecked anything in a crash in a long time. Even gloves (which I concede are something that would be easy to tear). A few caveats:

1) I generally don't take big risks on the bike. I don't ride like a wuss either, though.
2) DH/bike park riding is different. That is generally higher speed and higher stakes riding. If you crash on Dirt Merchant or Blue Velvet or (high speed trail of choice) then it's a different ball game.

The company you're speculating about is called 7Mesh and they're almost ready to release info about their product. I have a jacket in hand (as of this morning) and it's beautiful but don't fool yourself: the guys who started 7Mesh are all about premium materials, design, and yes, price. That hasn't affected interest so far as their launch at Eurobike and then Interbike saw them get a lot of attention. We'll have more on them soon.

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jerschwab
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Jeremy  - Dec. 2, 2014, 3:57 p.m.

For me, I generally ride above my ability… mainly cuz in reality I'm not as good as I think or I'd like to be. I just love the sport and happy to be back in it after years of doing basically nothing. I have silly stupid crashes every now and then and tear my shirt or shorts etc. I understand jerseys are quite a bit more fragile than jackets… but I've generally beat the hell out of any of those that I own. Not sure I'd want to put my jacket through those crashes regardless of the apparent durability. That being said, I will ride with it…

Cool, thanks for the company name… will keep an eye out!

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 2, 2014, 5:03 p.m.

Fair enough. I'm not as good as I'd like to be, either 😉

Welcome back to riding. I'm betting you'll crash less as you ride more.

Reply

andrew-oneal
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Andrew O'Neal  - Dec. 2, 2014, 11:52 a.m.

Damn you teasing us with the 6c! Who cares about the jacket we want the 6c!

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craw
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Cr4w  - Dec. 2, 2014, 7:50 a.m.

If you're even marginally taller than average you probably figured out that Arcteryx fits pretty small. A similar jacket from Eddie Bauer First Ascent called the BC Ultralight is available in a much longer fit as well as a tall option. Plus it's significantly cheaper. http://www.eddiebauer.com/product /bc-ultralight- jacket/38832169/_/A-ebSku_0880700907000070__38832169_catalog10002_en__US?showProducts=&backToCat=Men&previousPage=LNAV&tab=first%20ascent&color=907

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 2, 2014, 8:21 a.m.

I'm not sure I would say it fits small. As I state in the article, the M I tested fits me perfectly and I'm 6'1″ and 185 - that's normally L territory. In addition I have a longer than average torso and the Alpha provided suitable coverage length-wise. Chalk that up, again, to the fact that a climbing jacket has to work under a harness, meaning it needs a little extra length to be pulled all the way under a harness.

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 2, 2014, 5:05 p.m.

One more thing I'll say that I didn't mention in the review: Arc'teryx have a cool function on their site that helps predict what size would suit you for a given garment based on a few key dimensions. Cookies mean that as you cruise around, it updates for different garments. I might've thought I was a large but it said I was definitely well within the Medium range, and it was right. I think other apparel sites use it, too, and it seems to work well. I found it handy.

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Capitol-Forest_-WA
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OJim  - Dec. 2, 2014, 9:42 p.m.

I would consider the Arcteryx fit to be more on the athletic fit side than the small fit side. Their cuts are lean and efficient with proper tailoring to allow unrestricted movement.

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bavaria-20
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Bavaria 2.0  - Dec. 2, 2014, 7:42 a.m.

No pit zips is a deal breaker for a membrane jacket. We sweat more on the climbs than your average ski tourer. Arcteryx makes some superior stuff, though!

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 2, 2014, 8:24 a.m.

Not me! I'm a sweaty mess when I ski tour, no matter how hard I try to take it easy.

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bavaria-20
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Bavaria 2.0  - Dec. 2, 2014, 9:37 p.m.

And one more thought on the membrane jacket - these membranes breathe better the greater the temperature gradient. We typically ride in cold or cool vs ski touring in sub freezing temp conditions. Those membranes are performing better in the sub freezing temps.

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nat-brown
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Nat Brown  - Dec. 2, 2014, 11:14 a.m.

I'm with Pete: ski touring > riding. To an extent I think a lot of people get hung up on how well these sorts of jackets breathe, but I don't deny the importance of it. It just that it's often neglected that one might get damp from sweat without the jacket at all- they're not magic machines that facilitate evaporation.

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matt
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Matt  - Dec. 2, 2014, 12:57 p.m.

Thirded, ski touring is just hard work. For me pit zips or large vented pockets are vital, especially with Goretex Pro, which is not the most breathable membrane in the world. I know Arcteryx does a lot to keep the face fabrics from interfering with the membrane, but I'd still want pit zips in anything but a lightweight emergency shell.

Reply

kwfnjfn
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kwfnjfn  - Dec. 2, 2014, 1 p.m.

ditto, no breathable fabric will ever vent as well as an open hole.

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poo-stance
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Poo Stance  - Dec. 2, 2014, 7:24 a.m.

Crashing in that would be painful on the wallet, no?

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 2, 2014, 8:24 a.m.

Depending on how you crash, I'd think it would be more painful on the wrist/elbow/ankle/collarbone…

I did crash several times while wearing it, but crash damage is so subjective it's hard to say it was overly durable or not. I haven't torn a jacket or shorts in a long time - or gloves for that matter - but if you're the type of person who often crashes violently, then yes, it might hurt. Although it's likely more damage would be done to a fork stanchion, brake master cylinder, frame, etc…

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poo-stance
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Poo Stance  - Dec. 2, 2014, 2:28 p.m.

Nope, I don't crash too often. The Sombrio Vapour jacket withstood a high speed bike park crash with hardly a mark, (localized scuffed fabric). Moto shorts help with not blowing out on crashes.
Mtn bikers seem to be two things though: Cheap, and complainers. So I was just getting the ball rolling on that one!
I'd be more willing to accept the price of this jacket if it was a cycling specific jacket. Acre, Mavic, the elusive unicorn that is 7Mesh, etc.
I guess it is a nice change to see Arc'teryx making outerwear with colourways, and designs that aren't still stuck in the late 90's. I do however like the full time hood. I go for that feature on all my jackets, weather I use it or not;)

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 2, 2014, 4:01 p.m.

Unicorn? Orly?

Reply

poo-stance
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Poo Stance  - Dec. 2, 2014, 4:28 p.m.

One sample jacket doesn't make a company. Their site is currently just a hype machine/social media blog.

I get it, I get it! The people behind this company live in Squamish, they are friends, are friends of friends, are riders, are bros, are beer/coffee drinks, are from Squamish, probably enjoy breathing a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen and small amounts of other atoms and exhaling CO2, used to work for some other company…

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 2, 2014, 5:04 p.m.

Haha. Well, available in Feb is what I'm told. They're excited and don't want to put stuff out there too much before they're ready but they're chomping at the bit and want people to know about them. I can understand that.
/thread derail

Reply

poo-stance
0
Poo Stance  - Dec. 2, 2014, 5:59 p.m.

Cool, so it likely won't be mtn bike vapourware!
Having done zero research, Im not sure how big the market for über-expensive mtn bike jackets is but I guess time will tell?
Anyway, if I was in the market for a new cycling jacket it absolutely would not be this Arc'teryx jacket, or any of their jackets tbh. The 7mesh does have a cool logo, so you know I'd be interested in seeing one up close. The Acre jacket, if anything like their packs should be a winner! (likely where I'd drop my cash) GORE had some nice looking ones last year, that I almost dropped cash on. That is until I realized Im made of sugar and will melt in the rain! Mavic seems to be pretty gimmicky.
With Sugio taking over Sombrio it would be good to see the Vapour jacket go to the tailor, and trim the jacket down to fit into the Trail/Enduro/Aggro XC/New DH that is oh so trendy today. That jacket has/had a good blend of tech features, I don't recall it being priced into the stratosphere either. Just slightly too baggy by todays slim fit standard.

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tuskalooa
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tuskalooa  - Dec. 2, 2014, 5:12 a.m.

Like the tips on articulation, riding up the arms etc…the price is off putting though. That said if I buy another jacket in quest for the perfect one my missus is going chuck me and the jackets out!

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dan
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Dan  - Dec. 2, 2014, 11:54 a.m.

I don't recommend trying to save money and going for the SL version of this jacket. It's tempting, as you get essentially the same jacket, except in paclite fabric, for $280 retail.
However, while the fit of the jacket is amazing, the paclite fabric really doesn't breathe well, and that's compounded by the lack of pit zips. To be fair, it's sold as an emergency shell, and for that use it's fantastic - just not great for high output activities like biking.

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dave
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dave  - Dec. 2, 2014, 1:13 p.m.

Paclite and Active Shell use the same membrane but the backer on the Active Shell does a better job of absorbing and dispersing water over the surface. So technically it does breathe a little more, and it certainly feels less clammy, but the breathability is only marginally better. I hear ya on pit zips though.

eVent and Neoshell are more breathable than Gore. Unfortunately Arcteryx is contractually locked into Gore so you won't see these in their line.

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yeti115
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yeti115  - Dec. 2, 2014, 1:03 a.m.

OK, but what about the SB6c you ride ? That should be the most important part of your review or am I wrong ? 😉
PS : Thxs for the jacket review.

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Dec. 2, 2014, 8:21 a.m.

Patience! Coming soon.

Reply

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