It's eluded us for some time now, but we believe we've found it: the crème-de-la crème of weather shells – an unparalleled combination of durability, lightness, and warmth. Arc'teryx, a company known for its well-made gear, recently released the newest model of its Alpha SV, and it's a dream come true.
When the Arc'teryx Alpha SV jacket was first introduced in 1998, its simplicity and durability made it an instant classic. The updated model holds to this original ethos, but now sports the N80P-X face fabric, a product of five years of techy-textile research that makes it completely waterproof and heat retaining, yet incredibly breathable. The exterior surface feels impenetrable, as if you were able to climb through barbed wire while wearing it, or slide down a rocky slope on your back (which we did) – yet it's also surprisingly pliable. The tough fabric makes a snow-crunch rustling sound while moving, but, to be honest, we liked being reminded that we were wearing it, because it made us feel as though we were constantly mountaineering.
The chest circumference of the shell has been reduced from earlier models to increase efficiency of arm-motion while climbing. It sports a sleek cut, dropping just below waist level with vertical zip pockets just below the chest. The high pockets make it easier to briefly stow climbing gear closer to your hands – beneficial in a tight spot, where reaching just a few inches to your navel might cause you to slip. A fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood, dubbed the "Storm Hood," as well as multiple elastic ties, allow for comfortable adjustment over climbing gear, while zippers underneath the arms make for quick ventilation or retention of heat. It comes in five colors: black, a striking yellow "brimstone," "summit sky," a navy blue called "dark Olympus," and "cayenne." We opted for the "cayenne," which seems to emit an orange glow in snowy landscapes.
We took our jacket to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where we were ambushed by a quick, yet fierce, snowstorm. The Alpha SV rode it out beautifully. Now it smells like woodsmoke and pride, the only two substances that could possibly stain this thing. [$625; arcteryx.com]
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