Let me first state the obvious: last year’s winter (2013/2014) in the Pacific Northwest was a bizarre one. In December we had uncharacteristically cold, dry weather, giving all of Seattle’s ice climbers a chance to play in their own backyard for a few weeks. January and February turned balmy, the ice disappeared, and skiers started thinking about picking up a new hobby. And then at the end of February, the clouds let loose, finally, dumping feet of snow in the mountains and bringing things back to a semblance of equilibrium.
Suffice it to say, we had it all in the PNW. The weather has provided opportunity for quite the diversity of mountain shenanigans, and a great venue to test out a very unique jacket and pants.
When I received my Arc’teryx Alpha Comp jacket and pants, the first thing I noticed, to be honest, was the awesome raspberry-pink color of the jacket, or as Arc’teryx calls it, “Ruby Sunrise.” These polite Canadians definitely know how to cater to their female audience. On the heels of this, I saw that there were, in fact, two different shades of pink incorporated into the jacket. Why? The Arc’teryx Alpha Comp jacket and pants are composed of two separate fabrics: waterproof GoreTex fabric (ProShell) in high impact areas and Fortius 1.0 stretch woven fabric in the less exposed areas (hence the “Comp[ospite]” in the name). This combination provides a unique and innovative mix of protection from the elements and breathability.
Honestly, when I first received the Alpha Comp pair, I was skeptical. Owing to the minimalist nature of my lifestyle, I have very few jackets and pants; when considering purchasing gear I prioritize finding one piece to serve multiple functions. The Alpha Comps seemed so specialized. Why, especially when I live in the Pacific Northwest, would I need layers made only partially with Gore waterproof fabric? Rain is kind of an all or nothing thing, so shouldn’t my jacket be as well?
Yet after 15+ days of use, I am a skeptic no longer. Last winter I was lucky enough to get in January ascents of Rainier and Hood, ski tour in the Cascades, climb the North Face of Colonial, and go ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies. My Alpha Comps came with me on all of these missions and were absolutely the most ideal layers I could have brought. They are perfect for withstanding spindrift, mountain winds, moderately dripping ice on frozen waterfalls, falling snow, all while still dumping heat. And when I think about it, aren’t these the conditions I mostly encounter in my winter pursuits? I probably speak for most of us when I say I don’t often go out mountain funhogging in the rain. Yet until now, I’ve always worn waterproof shells and accepted the reality that they’re not as breathable or free-moving as I would like.
Now, in a quite diverse array of conditions (read: winter 2013-2014), the Alpha Comps have earned their place as my new go-to, wear-all-day-without-hassle jacket and pants. When I brought the Alpha Comps into the mountains, my layering/clothing became almost a non-issue. They can handle both a sunny approach and a long cold alpine snow/ice climb. I’m not one to stop and fuss around with layers, and this is a huge reason why I fell in love with these pieces; I put the jacket and pants on and leave them on, sacrificing neither breathability nor protection. Additionally, the stretchiness of both the jacket and pants is a hugely beneficial feature that should not be overlooked; the trim is nice and fit while still feeling far less restrictive than a full hardshell or winter-weight softshell piece.
Let me speak to some specifics of the first the jacket, and then the pants. The arms of the jacket do seem a bit long and bunchy compared to other of Arc’teryx Ascent pieces, but this does allow for full coverage at maximum extension. The Alpha Comp is more of a relaxed, roomier fit than the Venta MX; it layers over my Atom LT Hoody well and also fits fine over a just single baselayer. The Harness HemLock inserts, along with the just-right hem length, are great for ensuring that the jacket never rides up above my harness. The helmet compatible hood with laminated brim and chin guard on the front zip let me bury my face inside when the winds come without chafing or compromising vision. I would ideally have the pockets be higher and a bit more accessible with a harness or backpack on (much like my Alpha SL), but the chest pocket provides a handy and always accessible cell phone/bar stash. The zipper pulls are minimalist but somehow quite easy to use with gloves on. All these functions and features, and it weighs in at only 355 grams.
People tend to collect jackets more than pants, but these pants are certainly worth having as part of your lineup. The GoreTex areas are intelligently placed: I rappelled on totally water-saturated ropes and they caught all the spraying water. The ankle zips allow the pants to open up and fit over bulky ski boots. The thigh pocket is unique, and I have mixed feelings about it. While it’s large enough to fit gloves or a phone or a bar, I found it’s placement extremely difficult to access in certain stances at belays when my leg was pressed up against the front of the pant. Additionally, the flap is a blessing and a curse: it shelters the zipper from ice screws and ice/snow, but makes it hard to reach with bulky gloves on.
In sum, I think the Arc’teryx Alpha Comps are a gem. They are innovative and intelligent, and certainly one-of-a-kind. My waterproof shells still definitely have their place on drippier days, but certainly will be left on the hanger more than usual this winter.