'Deconstructed Polartec Alpha Direct does a fantastic job of mixing warmth, protection and comfort on the move. It might just be the Holy Grail of all-day mountain jackets'
Outdoors Magic: Brilliant evolved mix of protection, breathability and insulation that works on the move. Sleek cut, neat design, useful hood. Works as mid or out layer. Condition flexible.
Outdoors Tragic: Not the toughest shell fabric. Sleeves are just slightly too short for the thumb-loops.
Outdoors Grabbit? This is Polartec Alpha in its naked form, a sort of cross between insulation, windproof and soft shell that's a little like a highly evolved pile / Pertex combination. It's warm and protective, but wicks like a bastard and breathes brilliantly too. Wear it as an outer layer or even as a mid if it pours down, or just wear it. An all-round brilliant bit of cool weather kit. So far we absolutely love this thing!
Polartec Alpha Direct fabric / Pertex® Microlight outer / under-helmet-fitting lined hood / stretch cuffs with thumb-loops / microfleece chin-guard / twin hand-warmer pockets / single chest pocket / adjustable hem with cord tidy / two-way main zipper with storm-flap /
Full Review Below
Rab Alpha Direct Jacket - First Impressions
When Polartec first launched their Alpha fabric a year or so back, they didn't do themselves any favours with the way they described it. The idea that it was a 'puffy insulation' you could use on the move, made it seem like something that was in competition with down.
In reality, as Rab's new Alpha Direct graphically illustrates, it's far more of an evolved version of something like pile / Pertex or Patagonia's ace Mix Master and Stretch Speed Ascent jackets.
Inside there's a layer of gridded, fluffy, fleece-type fabric, while on the outside there's a shell of high wind-resistant Pertex Microlight that's also very breathable. More so than a 100% windproof fabric. On most Alpha garments, that fluffy liner fabric is hidden away, but because it's exposed here, it's much easier to see how it works.
The jacket itself is a cracker. It's cut slim and sleek and designed to be worn directly over a wicking baselayer. Up top there's a lined hood that's shaped to fit under a climbing helmet, which it does nicely. Plus you get two hand-warmer pockets and a single chest pocket for convenience storage of hands and random tat.
Hem is adjustable with corded pulls, with a neat press-studded keeper to store excess cord out of harm's way and the cuffs use stretch fleece with integral thumb-loops. It all looks brilliant too in a fluffy, insulated, technical sort of way.
More importantly, this thing works fantastically: first impressions are that it's one of the best bits of kit we've used for ages and one that's far more versatile than its alpine brief suggests.
For starters, it's deceptive warm with lashings of that snuggly, happy, fluff, feel-good fleece vibe going on. The Microlight outer fabric is nigh on windproof and the combination makes it brilliant in cold, windy conditions.
Mega On The Move
Where it really scores though, is on the move. There's none of the hot, steamy fug you often get with waterproof or windproof shells worn over a microfleece and if you do get sweaty, the liner clears and dries fast. That makes it fantastic to wear on the move in cool mountain conditions.
And because it dries and clears moisture so fast, when you do stop, you seem to stay warm and comfortable for longer than you'd expect. Something we really noticed after hanging about taking photos for 20 minutes or so on top of Kinder. Normally we'd expect to have chilled in a bath of our sweat, but it simply didn't happen.
Leave Your Hat At Home
The hood fits snugly under a climbing helmet, but it's also a handy alternative to a hat at other times. Leave your beanie at home.
And when it rains? Surprisingly good. Light to medium showers just get shrugged off by the Microlight outer fabric. And if it gets wetter, the impressive breathability of the Alpha Direct means you can simply layer in under a waterproof shell in the same way as you would a fleece.
What it boils down to, is a top that you stick on at the start of a mountain day and just carry on wearing with occasional tweaks without either boiling in your own sweat or getting cold. It doesn't mean you don't sweat of course, but when you do, it deals with it super effectively. So far, we can't remember getting that nasty, cold, damp, chilled feeling in this jacket.
It's not perfect mind. The outer fabric seems reasonably abrasion resistant, but snag it on something sharp, and it'll tear - don't ask how we know etc.
And while most Rab garments come with special elongated, climbing-friendly sleeves, this one's are - for us at least - just a little bit too short to comfortably use those thumb-loops. Fine without though.
Rab Alpha Direct Jacket - Initial Verdict
It's relatively early days yet, but so far we're properly impressed. In a nutshell, the Rab Alpha Direct is warm enough to keep you comfortable in cold conditions, but breathable and fast drying and wicking, so that you still stay comfortable when you're on the move.
And repeat. Repeatedly. It's happy with showers too. But if it does really bucket down, it does almost as well as a mid-layer fleece alternative as it does as an outer layer.
The slim, sleek cut works brilliantly and you can use it for walking, scrambling, climbing, cold conditions mountain biking and maybe even sub-zero trail-running too. So far, we absolutely love this thing. Just a brilliant, super-versatile, all-day, all-mountain, cold conditions all-rounder.