The Arc’teryx Alpha FL

I first came across the Arc’teryx Alpha FL shortly before heading out for my trip to the Annapurna region in Nepal in 2016.
This the North Face jacket taught me that quality in a hard shell matters and it is usually worth the cost when this jacket failed me entirely.
I purchased it on sale on backcountry.com and it has been one of my favorite pieces of gear ever since.I had previously had a terrible experience with a North Face Hyvent raincoat in Peru (long story short, the North Face jacket failed on my first day out and I wore a clear plastic bag the rest of the trip). Put simply, I was willing to invest some money in a solid hard shell/rain coat.

My search did not lead me directly to the Alpha FL however. My first stop was the Patagonia Refugitive jacket, which set me back $500. Don’t get me wrong, I liked a lot about the Refugitive jacket, but it had one fatal flaw. The brim on the hood was too smallĀ and water hit me right in the face and ran down my neck completely negating the jacket as a raincoat. As a result I returned the jacket (which I got at REI where you can return things within a 1-year period, no questions asked). I then did a ton of research on OutdoorGearLab.com (which is a great website you should checkout). Outdoor Gear Lab has consistently listed the Arc’teryx Alpha FL as an Editors’ Choice and the top rated hard shell jacket in their bakeoffs. They describe it as a “virtually perfect design.” That sold me, I bought one, and have been in love with it ever since.

Background Description

The Arc’teryx Alpha FL is a hard shell jacket that Arcteryx lists as being built for alpinists and climbers who move fast. The “FL” designation by Arc’teryx means, “fast and light.” The jacket is built with N40p-X face fabric (“N” stands for Nylon, 40p means it is 40 denier, “p” stands for plain weave, and “X” stands for exceptional durability to weight ratio), GORE-TEX pro throughout and weighs in very lightly at 315 grams. The jacket has a helmet compatible storm hood and has a system for holding the jacket in place under a harness. Though the system for holding a jacket in place under a harness varies based on your year model. Specifically, the newer models have a hemlock (which I’m so-so about), the older models have a foam roll (which I love). The jacket has one large chest pocket as well. Finally, this jacket comes in several different models that can easily be seen as almost completely different jackets. In particular, they have a SV or Sever Weather model, an AR or All Round model, and an SL or Super Light model.

What Works

Versatility
As far as a hardshell goes, this piece is extremely versatile. It functions as an alpine piece, as a raincoat, as a hardshell for skiing, and even as a water proof shell out on the ocean. This jacket has survived some of the most difficult of environments I could have put it through. It functions in both hot and cold days, I’ve worn this piece in the summer in the rain, and I’ve worn this piece at high altitude in Nepal. It works to keep wind and rain out and functions very well to make jackets like the Patagonia R1, a down jacket or a synthetic jacket function to the best of their ability in keeping a persons temperature appropriately moderated. Of course, do not make the mistake of thinking this jacket is more than a shell. It isn’t. This jacket may do well at keeping you somewhat warm in places that really only feel cold due to the wind or the moisture (for example San Francisco), but it won’t keep you warm when temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Packability
This piece is extremely packable. The jacket itself comes with a stuff sack which fits simply and lightly into a pack. It is not as packable as some lighter raincoats but unless you are such a gear head that you want to have a separate raincoat and hardshell, then the packability is well suitable for both situations.

Where it has succeeded:</strong

  1. The Tour Du Mont Blanc, France/Italy/Switzerland
  2. The Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
  3. Glacier hiking, Alaska
  4. Glacier climbing, Iceland
  5. Various hikes, Iceland
  6. Various Colorado hikes
  7. Kayaking, Alaska
  8. Everyday Use

What Doesn’t Work

The Pocket. Oh the Pocket!
The Alpha FL has one giant chest pocket. One. This drives me nuts! Arc’teryx designed the jacket this way so that it would as light as possible, which is critical for alpine users. Again, alpine use is what this jacket is designed for. However, this jacket is built in a manner that makes it versatile in almost every way EXCEPT in its storage. If Arc’teryx were to have used two hand pockets (with WaterTight zippers and RS zipper slides) the way that they do with the Beta, this jacket would be perfect. It would be flat out perfect. But alas, they don’t, you have this one giant chest pocket, which, although functional, on cold rainy days leaves the user trying to figure out a way to keep their hands warm.

For me personally, this has necessitated me searching for thin waterproof gloves, and the perfect hardshell. At this point, I now own a Arc’teryx Beta, an Arc’teryx Beta LT, and an Arc’teryx Mountain Guide Jacket. None of these would fit the description of perfect, so sadly, I am left to a system of multiple hardshells.

Fit and Crinkle
I’ve heard complaints of the fit of the piece and the crinkle noise it makes when walking. These aren’t issues for me but they are worth mentioning as it will be a problem for some. Arc’teryx shells tend to be on the baggier side of things, which works out fine if someone is attempting to deploy a full system (base layers, insulation layer, etc) underneath it. However, if the jacket is purchased as a standalone piece, it could be somewhat of an annoyance.

Durability
This one is a little bit difficult to highlight since the piece is extremely durable. The N40p-x face fabric on the Alpha FL is surprisingly tough, but it isn’t anywhere near the N80p-X face fabric of the Arc’teryx Mountain Guide jacket I own or the N100p-X face fabric of the Alpha SV Arc’teryx makes. I have brought the Alpha FL out on adventures it was not designed for and while it has never, I repeat NEVER, failed me, there are situations where I could feel the limitations of the piece being stretched. In particular, I have on more than one occasion brought the piece into extreme temperature situations that were extremely wet. In particular above the arctic circle on the sea in Alaska as well as underneath waterfalls and ice climbing in near freezing temperatures in Iceland. While the piece performed well in these environments, I had a general sense that it was near failure and was somewhat concerned that an abrasion could rip the face fabric.

Again, the jacket has in no way shape or form failed me in any environment where I took it, but the risk manager in me recognizes that there have been times where I would have been better off with a jacket with a bit more denier.

Verdict
A good, versatile, hardshell is an essential piece of gear. The Arc’teryx Alpha FL is currently my personal choice for that essential piece of gear. I have pushed it to its limits and time and again, it has succeeded at being a hardshell of the highest quality over and over. There is no question that this is one of best (if not the best) hardshell on the market. It is expensive, but if you are an avid outdoors person, the value is worth every penny. That said, the flaws in this piece of gear, namely in the pocketing system and the relatively lighter 40 denier (as it is designed for lighter use) have necessitated my continuous search for the perfect hardshell. Furthermore, with so many valid competitors, some of which come from Arc’teryx itself in its Beta line are so similar, it is difficult to say that this particular jacket is an absolute must have. Much of this is a matter of preference, for me, the Arc’teryx Beta is too short, the Alpha SV is too heavy, and the Alpha SL isn’t durable enough and I am keen on the quality of Arc’teryx, so the Alpha FL is perfect for me. However, you should have a hard shell jacket and the quality this Arc’teryx jacket easily makes it a great choice.

Montejam

View posts by Montejam
Michael is an Information Security Executive with more than 14 years of security services, security strategy development, risk management, security research, vulnerability management, threat management, incident response, integration, and network and data security experience. Michael specializes in Executive-level security advisory. Michael has experience within the financial, technology, retail, power and energy, healthcare and public sectors. He has previously functioned as a technical and practice leader of Managed and Professionals Security Services within IBM as the North America Director of Security Intelligence, as a Senior Threat Researcher on the IBM X-Force, as an industry analyst, and as public sector vulnerability management coordinator and incident responder.
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