The Gear Junkie: Arc'teryx Alpha LT Jacket

Arc'teryx is a Vancouver-based company that designs and manufactures outerwear that's pricey, high-performing and highly stylish. According to company collateral, its design team doesn't focus on incremental advancements, but on "radical improvements that heighten the user experience and affect the landscape of the outdoor industry."

A lofty claim for sure. And most of the company's (www.arcteryx.com) high-minded products come with similarly sky-high price tags. Take the Alpha LT Jacket, as example. This $499 shell jacket--which I tested this month--is made for "the fast and light alpine crowd," meaning it was built for backcountry skiers, climbers and mountaineers who want the protection of a shell jacket with zero extra bulk or weight.

Further, the jacket has to breathe and wick sweat. It needs to protect from all elements and be 100 percent bombproof in mission-critical mountain situations where a shell jacket might literally separate a climber from life and death.

This doesn't mean the jacket has to be overly bulked up. In fact, the Alpha LT's design is simple and user-friendly, with small water-tight zip pockets, a helmet-compatible hood, pit zips and nothing to complicate.

It really breathes, too. This past month I've tested the three-layer GORE-TEX Pro Shell jacket on adventures during multiple cold, wet and snowy winter days. Sleet and moisture bead up on the fabric's face. Snow bounces off the jacket. Wind does not penetrate.

But despite its weatherproof exterior, the jacket manages body heat. On hard hikes, sweat has not gathered inside to a large degree, meaning moisture is indeed escaping as per GORE-TEX's promise.

At $499, the Alpha LT is unapproachably pricey for many consumers. But if you're looking to buy the best, Arc'teryx craftsmanship is arguably unmatched in the industry. Plus--for what it's worth--the Alpha LT is designed and manufactured in Canada, not a Chinese factory as is increasingly the norm in the outerwear industry.

The Alpha LT weighs a mere 13 oz. It protects and breathes. You can wear this elements-eschewing shell to the summit of the Grand Teton or Mount Rainier, maybe Denali even on a good day, but then fold and stuff it away in a tiny corner of your backpack like a magic cape.


Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit www.thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.

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