Arc’teryx is no stranger to hardshell jackets and long has been a go-to option for protection from harsh weather. At the very top of their lineup is the Alpha SV (severe weather), designed for use in the most serious of conditions. Frigid winds and heavy snow pelted British Columbia’s Coast Mountains throughout my winter of testing, so I exposed this jacket to much more than our typical heavy and wet coastal sleet. The verdict: the Alpha SV is hands-down the best hardshell I’ve ever worn. If you can swallow the high price tag, it’s an ideal jacket for multi-day ski tours and expeditions where extreme weather is a concern. Below are my experiences with the Alpha SV’s weather protection, breathability, durability, fit, and more. To see how the Alpha SV stacks up, check out our article on the best hardshell jackets.
The Arc'teryx Alpha SV was extremely impressive in its ability to protect me from frigid winds and unrelenting sleet and snow. The “SV” is short for “Severe” (as in “severe weather”), and the shell is designed to provide the most weather protection of any Arc’teryx jacket. First and foremost, the jacket’s N100p-X 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro design is essentially bombproof—as its name suggests, the material is a substantial 100 denier and Gore’s Pro fabric is known for its impressive weatherproofing. The Alpha SV also has a DWR (durable water repellant) coating on the exterior to bead up moisture, taped seams, watertight zippers, and sturdy Velcro straps on the cuffs. Moreover, the helmet-compatible StormHood is one of the best and most modifiable hoods I’ve used to date (more on that below).
In use, the shell material is impressively waterproof, durable, and abrasion-resistant. In fact, I have absolutely nothing negative to say about the level of protection the Alpha SV provides. I’ve managed to expose this hardshell to tough weather conditions throughout the early winter season and it has worked impeccably to date. Despite significant use, I’ve never had the fabrics wet out or show any sign of weakness. When exposed to heavy winds and sideways rains, I just keep thinking that I am “battening down the hatches” when I put it on.
This jacket, of course, is not designed to wear while jogging in balmy temperatures—anyone would turn into a sweaty mess. It’s designed for severe weather, and the level of breathability provided by the Gore-Tex Pro is impressive given the sturdy 100-denier material. Having said that, I have found that in temperatures above freezing, I did sweat a fair bit during high-output activities. The pit zips are a lifesaver in such situations and work effectively, especially when also lowering the main zipper a bit for fresh air. For me, pit zips truly are a must and I’ve been disappointed in the past by shells designed for cardio activities that do not have them.
I tend to do most of my ski touring or alpine scrambling in a softshell or fleece to maintain some breathability, and typically keep my shell in my bag for the descent, transitions, camp set up, and for any time hideous weather appears. Because the temperatures this season have been a little cooler than normal—down to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit)—I have been wearing the Alpha SV while touring and have remained comfortable and relatively dry. I never expect to remain completely dry (unlike my wife), but I take it as a win when my merino baselayer is only damp in a few places rather than soaked like a boxer trying to cut weight before a big bout.
The N100p-X 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro is touted as being extremely durable and abrasion-resistant, and thus far I would have to agree. The Arc'teryx Alpha SV is designed for multiple uses including alpine climbing, skiing, and mountaineering. And although not tested to the extremes of ice climbing yet, I have rubbed it against granite on many occasions, used as a sheet while putting on tire chains, and constantly stuffed into a pack filled with items such as crampons, a shovel, and climbing protection. In other words, it has taken a beating yet remains in impeccable condition.
Weight and Packability
My men’s large Alpha SV weighs in at 18.4 ounces (1.1 ounces heavier than the advertised weight), which isn’t ultralight by any means but is an impressive feat for such a durable and high-quality jacket. Though I carry it in my pack often, I would be lying if I said it was easily compressible. I tend to carry a large pack—even on day outings—so the pack size hasn’t been an issue for me. But if weight and packability are top priorities, a lighter jacket like the Arc’teryx Beta AR (16 ounces) may be a better option.
Key Design Features
One of the shining features of this jacket is the hood. The helmet-compatible StormHood has a laminated brim that retains its shape and four Cohaesive adjusters on the sides and back that cinch the neck area, brim, and aperture of the hood. These adjusters all are easily manipulated when wearing gloves or even mittens—an important feature when dealing with freezing temperatures and cold hands. I found that I was able to customize the fit of the hood regardless of whether I was wearing a helmet with goggles or only a beanie, and could cinch down the hood without obstructing my line of sight.
At first glance, the Arc'teryx Alpha SV’s WaterTight zippers with RS sliders might look fairly average, but there is a subtle and key difference. Zippers typically leave a very small gap at the top where they don’t quite complete the seal, so manufacturers need to add a small hood or “garage” to stop water from entering. This adds weight with the extra material and stitching. The Alpha SV's WaterTight zipper eliminates the need for this “garage” by allowing the zipper to continue up to and seal at the very top. In use, the zipper design works seamlessly. And although Arc’teryx adds the disclaimer that their WaterTight zippers are highly water-resistant and not waterproof, I have experienced no leakage through any of the zippers and have been comfortable leaving valued items such as my phone or a map in the pockets.
Two large chest pockets located just outside the main zipper offer plenty of storage and are set high enough to be accessible when wearing a pack or harness (Arc'teryx advertises these as hand pockets, but they're too high for easy everyday use). A small but important design feature of the chest zippers is that they are angled so you can open them with the opposite hand. This keeps one’s center of gravity balanced during activities like alpine climbing, and allows for easy entry when my hands feel like they’re frostbitten. Inside the jacket are two more pockets: one large drop-in space that easily fits ski goggles and one small zippered pocket that I use for items like my phone or inReach Satellite Communicator.
As with almost all their apparel, Arc’teryx has found that magical balance between an athletic fit and enough room for layering. I typically wear a men’s size large and found the Arc’teryx Alpha SV is true to size. The jacket is roomy enough for a warm midlayer (I wore the Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody for most of this test) but fitted to avoid bunching up or flapping in the wind. This premium fit is one of the reasons I love Arc’teryx products.
With gusseted underarms and articulated patterning, the shell has unrestricted mobility. I noticed the ease of movement when doing simple things such as putting my goggles on and adjusting my hood, but really appreciated it while reaching to place an anchor in a tricky spot. I’ve had other shells that are tight in the armpit area even to the point of causing chafing, but this is not an issue with the Alpha SV. It may lack the stretchiness of a softshell, but overall comfort is excellent.
Other Versions of the Arc’teryx Alpha SV
We tested the men’s version of the Alpha SV jacket, but Arc’teryx also makes a women’s-specific model. The design is nearly identical: it has the same 100-denier Gore-Tex Pro build, pocket layout, tough StormHood, and $749 price tag. Because of its smaller fit, the women’s SV is a little lighter at 15.5 ounces compared with 17.3 ounces for the men’s. In addition to the jackets, the Alpha SV line also includes an alpine-ready bib pant (only available in men’s sizes). It’s a super burly 3-layer design with an 80-denier face fabric (155 denier in high-stress areas), extended coverage that reaches midway up the chest, and long side zips for dumping heat. Purchasing the full Alpha SV kit will set you back a staggering $1,374, but it delivers unmatched levels of hardshell protection.
What We Like
- Absolutely bombproof: wind, rain, and snow protection is second to none.
- Excellent durability at a reasonable weight.
- The StormHood is as good as it gets: it’s easy to adjust and fits well with or without a helmet.
- Large chest pockets and internal drop-in pocket are functional and can hold a lot of gear.
What We Don’t
- No true hand pockets, but that is typical of alpine hardshells.
- The price is high and realistically the jacket is overkill for a lot of uses. Having said that, if I’m in a remote area and there’s a chance the weather could shift, this is the jacket I’d want in my pack.
- Not easily compressible.
|Arc'teryx Alpha SV||$749||17.3 oz.||3L Gore-Tex Pro||100D||Yes||5|
|Norrøna Trollveggen||$750||20.5 oz.||3L Gore-Tex Pro||80D||Yes||3|
|Black Diamond Sharp End||$549||16 oz.||3L Gore-Tex Pro||70D||Yes||4|
|Mountain Equipment Lhotse||$565||18.2 oz.||3L Gore-Tex Pro||40D x 80D||Yes||4|
|Arc'teryx Beta AR||$575||16 oz.||3L Gore-Tex Pro||40D x 80D||Yes||3|
|Arc'teryx Alpha FL||$425||11.1 oz.||3L Gore-Tex Pro||40D||No||2|
|Arc'teryx Alpha AR||$575||14.1 oz.||3L Gore-Tex Pro||40D x 80D||Yes||3|
The Alpha SV is in the upper stratosphere of hardshell jackets and consequently its direct competition is limited. Norway-based Norrøna makes an appealing Gore-Tex Pro shell for all things alpine called the Trollveggen, but this jacket uses a thinner 80-denier face fabric, weighs more (about 20.5 ounces compared to 17.3 for the Arc’teryx), and lacks the premium fit and finish of the Alpha SV. If you’re going to spend up into this price range, we’d go with the proven SV. Black Diamond also throws its hat into the ring with the Sharp End, another Gore-Tex Pro shell with alpine-centric features like pit zips, harness-compatible pockets, 70-denier face fabric, and a reasonable 16-ounce weight. At about an ounce lighter and $200 cheaper than the Arc’teryx, the Black Diamond Sharp End is a solid value. But for the most extreme mountain conditions, we turn to the tried-and-true Alpha SV.
Mountain Equipment’s Lhotse is another jacket that should be on the radar of serious mountaineers. The Gore-Tex Pro shell offers similarly bombproof weather protection and boasts a full feature set including a helmet-compatible hood and pit zips. The 100-denier Alpha SV is more robust than the Lhotse, which uses a mix of 40- and 80-denier fabrics, but our main gripe is weight and bulk: despite this thinner build, the Lhotse still comes in 0.9 ounces heavier than the Arc’teryx jacket. Further, it can be tough to find Mountain Equipment products in the States, as the company is based in the U.K. But at $184 cheaper than the Alpha SV, the Lhotse is definitely worth a look if you can track it down.
Arc’teryx is the clear leader for serious hardshells, so some of the toughest competition for the Alpha SV is in-house (it’s important to note that Arc’teryx tailors each of their pieces for specific uses, so it’s often not a matter of which jacket is better overall but which jacket is best for what you’ll be doing). The Alpha SV sits at the top of their hardshell lineup in durability and weather protection, but if you don’t need the most bomber setup, Arc'teryx's Beta AR hits a nice middle ground. This stalwart shell is strong enough to handle some rough alpine treatment, shaves off 1.3 ounces, and packs down a bit smaller, but the offsetting 40- and 80-denier fabric is less of an impenetrable fortress than the 100-denier Alpha (for more information, see our in-depth Beta AR review).
A couple final shells to consider come from within Arc’teryx’s climbing-focused Alpha line: the minimalist FL (fast and light) and the versatile AR (all-around). The Alpha FL ($425) is the lightest of the bunch at 11.1 ounces and aimed at those traveling quickly through the mountains. You sacrifice some durability with a thinner shell fabric (40 denier compared to the SV’s 100 denier) and the jacket lacks pit zips and hand pockets, but we love its trim cut and tiny packed size. As its name suggests, Arc'teryx's Alpha AR ($575) is more of an all-rounder than the SV, designed for a wide range of alpine conditions with a slightly thinner Gore-Tex Pro build (40D x 80D) and 3.2-ounce-lighter weight. Both have a long cut for excellent protection and leave enough space for layering underneath, but we can’t help but come back to the Alpha SV’s notable advantage in the absolute worst of conditions. If you need the best of the best, the SV is the one to get.
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