/ NEW REVIEW: Montane Alpha Guide Jacket

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Summit of the Aiguille de la Perseverance., 4 kb

Charlie Boscoe reviews the Montane Alpha Guide Jacket and thinks it is a bit like Marmite...

With stretchy arms and an insulated body,  you'll either love it or hate it, but either way you can't spread it on toast...



Read more at http://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/review.php?id=5866
AlH - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to UKC Gear: I used this jacket for the first time a couple of days ago (having won it in a camp a month ago) on a cold and windy Tower Ridge and agree about its versatility and comfort on cold, windy days. I also found the hood better than expected. I must be slightly bigger than Charlie though as I found the fit to be good including round the waist and had no trouble accessing pockets above my harness/waistbelt. I wouldn't say no to a wee chest pocket but don't consider it essential. My take: http://alanhalewood.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/montane-alpha-guide-on-tower-ridge-and.html?m=1
In reply to AlH and Charlie: But how does the actual Alpha stuff work? Does it feel very different from say a thin Primaloft layer?
AlH - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to TobyA: I'd say a good deal more breathable. I'd have expected at least a clammy back with my Montane Prism (40g Eco Primaloft fill) on but there was no sign of sweat/moisture build up the other day. It'll b e interesting to see how it performs in the wet and under a shell.
In reply to AlH: Thanks Al - that's what I'm interested in. I'm going to be reviewing an Alpha jacket myself soon and wanted to get my head around the physics. I had always presumed what gets you clammy in a thin primaloft or similar top was the nylon on either side of the insulation, not the insulation itself, but Polartec seem to be saying otherwise.
BnB - on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to TobyA:
> (In reply to AlH) Thanks Al - that's what I'm interested in. I'm going to be reviewing an Alpha jacket myself soon and wanted to get my head around the physics. I had always presumed what gets you clammy in a thin primaloft or similar top was the nylon on either side of the insulation, not the insulation itself, but Polartec seem to be saying otherwise.

I understood the same as you, Toby: that the enveloping fabric lining was responsible for that clammy feeling you get in, say, a Prism, and that the more block structured nature of Alpha allows for a more breathable inner and other lining. What I can say for sure is that my Alpha softshell (Rab Strata) is a considerably more breathable than my Prism. And only a tiny bit less warm. Climbing in Wales last week I seemed to maintain a virtually constant and comfortable temperature from rest to extreme exertion. On the negative side, the elastic hem draw cord has detached from it's mooring at the front on both sides, meaning I can only tighten across the back. Poor execution on that part. Don't they know that gear on the harness is going to snag on the elastic?
In reply to BnB:
> On the negative side, the elastic hem draw cord has detached from it's mooring at the front on both sides, meaning I can only tighten across the back. Poor execution on that part. Don't they know that gear on the harness is going to snag on the elastic?

Do you mean it just pulled out of where ever the ends were stitched into? I guess on a new jacket that has to be a warranty return for fixing.

BnB - on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to TobyA: That's exactly what I mean. I'm sure they'll replace under warranty but since it's gone on both sides how likely is it that the same will happen again?
mattrm - on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to UKC Gear:

So how is this different to say the Rab Strata, Jottnar Alfar, Arcteryx LT Atom Hoody and all the other synthetic core / fleece sides & arms jackets that are coming out at the moment?

There's actually a fair bit of choice out there in these jackets (and they're mostly all new out) so I'm keen to see how this differs from the others.

I do find the hood odd. Normally Montane have great hoods, but like the Prism, the hood doesn't go over a helmet, which seems like a bit of an oversight to me.
BnB - on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to mattrm: And arguably you'd be better of with the flexibility of a gilet, be that old school like the Prism vest, or newfangled Alpha, like the sleeveless Strata.
Qwertilot - on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to mattrm:
The strata is all alpha in its construction and most of the others are primaloft/fleece mixes.
(Mammut have a strata/power stretch mix too but the price is 'interesting'.).

Alpha is rather different to PL and the like. Its at least halfway towards shelled fleece/pile rather than normal synthetic insulation. Maybe more than halfway from the pictures of it how it works....

More breathable, probably less warmth/weight, maybe less compressible/more durable etc. A much more logical sort of idea for this sort of fleece/fill hybrid garment really. It must work out quite like putting a lightly insulated windvest over the fleece.
jon on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to mattrm:
> I do find the hood odd. Normally Montane have great hoods, but like the Prism, the hood doesn't go over a helmet, which seems like a bit of an oversight to me.

Maybe it's supposed to go under the helmet?
Mr Fuller on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to those discussing Alpha itself: Alpha is something that has been around, in less-well-marketed guises, for a long time. It's a 3d spacer fabric. Google that and you get all sorts of images showing you what it is really like.

3D spacer fabrics are extremely breathable (air flows straight through them) but they are slaves to the fabrics on either side of them. There is a LOT that could still be done with spacer fabrics that would radically change outdoor kit. Most fabrics are isotropic (the same in all directions) whereas a 3D spacer in completely anisotropic, so its thermal and moisture vapour resistances vary massively from through its structure to along its structure (x and z directions, if you like). This is different to down, fleece, primaloft, etc.. Pile is a little bit anisotropic, but not to the same extent. The best Alpha designs will come out when designers realise quite how different this stuff is, and quite how important the face fabrics are.
In reply to Mr Fuller: I knew you'd be the guy to give us the skinny on this! :) I've actually just contacted the chap doing PR for Polartec to try and get further into this because it struck me that the face and inner fabric each side of the Alpha have to be super breathable to make the most of the insulation's properties; but then if you have an air permeable outer at some point the amount air permeability has got to stop the insulation from holding warm air properly - i.e. a high loft fleece is great under a windshell, ok-ish on its own on still day if you don't move but next to useless on its own if you're on your bike or its very windy.
In reply to jon: Like Al said on his linked blog post above, I tend to pull my hoods up and down a lot so have never been a huge fan of under helmet hoods.
JayPee630 - on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to TobyA:

I had a quick look at the Rab Alpha tops the other day and I think the inner fabric is quite different to the Primaloft tops that are about, it seemed to be a softer cotton like breathable fabric rather than a pertex type inner.

I do wonder if some of the breathabilty is going to be down to this not feeling as clammy as the Pertex, rather than just the *actual* breathability. I guess that was how the old 2 layer Goretex used to work with the hanging mesh liners?
jon on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to TobyA:

Me neither, but I just remember reading some advertising blurb somewhere about another jacket that was using just that as a selling point, so wondered if that was the reason.
Mr Fuller on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to TobyA: Yes, absolutely. That's where zips come in, and I think they're the future with Alpha.

Imagine a jacket where you open zips onto the insulation itself. Suddenly the insulation is useless and all the heat flows out. Close the zip and you've got a very warm jacket. It kills two birds with one stone. I've seen jackets made by academics like this in prototype stages, but they were pretty ugly (the jackets, not the academics). A pro company should be able to combine the nice theory with a cool-looking product that will actually sell.
In reply to Mr Fuller: Well, I just cycled down to the post office to pick up the Marmot Isotherm hoody I've got on test. First impression - it is very green, with the hood up I'm well on the way to having a Halloween costume as Kermit the Frog. Slightly more usefully, the inner is a netting so very light and obviously completely air permeable. That is noticeably different from normal synth "puffys" (as now it seems we are required to call them).
BeckyS on 17 Oct 2013
In reply to UKC Gear: Do Montane make a women's fit equivilent of the Alpha? Could not see one on their website.
ads.ukclimbing.com
gear boy - on 21 Oct 2013
In reply to Mr Fuller: I wouldn't class alpha as a spacer fabric, as used in rucsac straps etc. they tend to be faced with strands inbetween

Alpha is a lightweight version of hi-void fleece, so a lightweight version of a MH Monkey man or similar
coldwill - on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to gear boy: So I'm pretty much ahead of the game with my high loft Polartec Thermal Pro grid fleece, 397g and super compressible against the Alpha type jacket at 449g. I can't see where this is going to fit in, like some soft shells that aren't windproof enough, you’re going to need to carry windproof layer, then you're gonna overheat. The current system of stopping and throwing a windproof insulating layer over the top seems so much more practical. The new style side panel synthetics like the Atom LT might work ok to climb in on real cold but not too windy days, but how many of them do you get in Scotland?
Interestingly I've been using a lightweightish army summer sleeping bag with a mesh lining for about 6 years. Seems to work ok but no revelation, might be the best place for Alpha.
coldwill - on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to coldwill: Note, I haven't seen an alpha type jacket yet so take that as a skeptical punter comment.
coldwill - on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to gear boy: or how about a jacket made from the "durable knitted insulation layer"? Call it an Alpha fleece.
AlH - on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to coldwill: For me its going to be my mid layer in winter on fair weather days or days when I'm expecting to be moving quickly. I'll almost always carry a hardshell in winter. It'll go in as my summer insulation on fine days. Essentially for me it a fair-weather/fast moving mid layer. To beef things up I'll either add a primaloft gillet or revert to my Montane Prism. Its somewhere in between your fleece and an Atom Lt in terms of windproofness and breathability. If you 'run hot' it would be particularly good.
In winter its often a little too warm for me walking in the the Prism/Atom LT but too cool for a thermal only. It would work well then.
Look forward tp playing with it this winter… snow on the Lochaber hills today!
ice.solo - on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to coldwill:

the diffference will be in moisture. highloft is great, but get it wet and it takes waaaay longer to dry, compromising insulation. alpha, a bit like primaloft, is barely affected by water, but where primaloft is actually water repellant (an 80g layer has a HH of about 14,000, maybe more), alpha has a HH of 0.

in most cases alpha will come with a proprietry inner facing thats a soft mesh so it can breath optimally. what goes on the outside is a big deal. so far ive worn it with various pertexs, neoshall and powershield on the outside and its quite different for each.

the key to alpha i think is its ability to reduce the layers around it. ive worn it over scando fetish mesh as a base, with nothing else. before that would have been a regular base, a thin primaloft mid (or fleece if we go back that far), then a wind or heavier shell.
when properly vented (as pointed out above), alpha either dumps heat so fast - or doesnt accumulate it initially - it has a very broad spectrum of use.
ice.solo - on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to Mr Fuller:
The best Alpha designs will come out when designers realise quite how different this stuff is, and quite how important the face fabrics are.

and when the consumer can get their heads aroound a new idea.
BnB - on 29 Oct 2013
In reply to ice.solo: Near the Inn Pinn today in 50mph winds and occasional sleety showers I whipped the the wind shirt out from under the hardshell (Goretex Pro) and popped the Rab Strata (Alpha) in its place. There is stayed for the remainder of the climb, summit picnic and descent to Glen Brittle. We were moving at only moderate speed (family outing) but I swear I never felt cold, nor did a bead of sweat ever accumulate on my skin or in my clothes. An amazingly comfortable day out all in all. Now I need to see how it performs when I'm pushing hard up some icy/mixed terrain.
ice.solo - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to BnB:

thats interesting stuff. how it goes in britain is a prime factor with the humidity and all.
be very keen to hear your thoughts as winter goes along.

for what its worth i wore an alpha jacket for trips in summer and it coped very well. i wore it in the water a few times and once out it dried amazingly fast, which is what its actually designed for.
to my mind its all about the baselayer under it. as minimal as possible or even direct to the skin is where i find it works best.
coldwill - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to ice.solo: That's kind of my point, it kind of sounds like a Buffalo or Thermal Pro, faster drying maybe, but the performance is going to be completely dictated by the outer fabric.. Not much dumps heat faster than a fleece in a stiff breeze with no shell. If it's faster drying it gets my vote but not if its adding a couple of extra layers. I currently wear four layers normally, base, mid, shell and insulating belay jacket in varying combinations for just about everything. How will this new product change that? On real cold dry days ice climbing I can swap out for my Atom LT type jkt, is this the same application. Like you say, it sounds like the outer fabric is the limiting factor, it's going to be less versatile not more. I'll take the Pepsi challenge with my Thermal Pro any day.
ice.solo - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to coldwill:

it depends what you do.

for me it replaces a primaloft mid and about half the properties of both base and outer belay layer. the powershield version im currently playing with also does 80% of what a shell needs to - for the things i do.

alos, its not that different to thermal pro, especially the high loft stuff. similar technology 3d knit, only much more 'loft', ie more volume but less there.
the weight you matching it against is only a single, early version. much of that weight is non-alpha bits. think more about your t-pro plus a pertex wind layer. but less thermo efficient, especially when wet - which it will get because it wont be breathing as well.

primaloft is great too, but it doesnt breath anything like alpha. itsalso heavier by nature as it needs baffling that alpha doesnt. but then, it does different stuff.
i find a combo of alpha inside primaloft is good.

dont get me wrong - alpha isnt for everybody or everything. thermal pro etc all have their places too.
coldwill - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to ice.solo: is it possible to make an Alpha jacket with no lining/shell?
If I'm heading uphill in the mist or at -10 carrying a pack I'm gonna be a sweaty mess no matter what. I normally use a different base layer for this like most people. I'm then going to change at the base or as close as possible to the route I intend to do. I'll be wearing a shell of some type over a fleece and base maybe for the route. Any thing else that adds layers like a mesh or stretch Pertex whatever is going to stop the moisture transfer when under a shell. I can see where this will be useful if you were doing routes where you're going to keep moving and could take a shell on or of as required or ski touring, but not on technical routes in it's current form.
What I should do is have a look at one before spraying really.
ice.solo - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to coldwill:

alpha jackets exist with totally permeable facings either side (which the inner facing is anyway in most cases). they feel like a high loft top but half the weight, dry in 1/3 the time and pack down 1/3 less. but the market doesnt demand them (dont start me on that...).

if youre sweating feverishly at -10c theres more wrrong with your system than a single alpha layer will fix, but it will dry faster (mostly by not retaining the moisture in the first place) when you stop.
swapping out baselayers is nice but very inefficient when you can be avoiding the problem to begin with. thats more a baselayer matter than a midlayer one (another thread for another time), or a shell layer problem. alpha doesnt magically fix those things, it just helps avoid them.

its still insulation. the difference is its less compromised by moisture. it lets far less build up, and what does has minimal consequences.

it all depends what you want it for.
coldwill - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to ice.solo: I think it's more to with the speed we head up than anything else.
So where can I get one of these highly permeable jackets.... C'mon
ice.solo - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to coldwill:

the R&D stuff is a bit outside general circulation. until the big players see the demand its in the hands of pilot projects, who are notoriously hush hush.
lithos on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to ice.solo:
> (In reply to coldwill)
>
> alpha jackets exist with totally permeable facings either side (which the inner facing is anyway in most cases). they feel like a high loft top but half the weight, dry in 1/3 the time and pack down 1/3 less. but the market doesnt demand them (dont start me on that...).


sounds like an improved HH double pile pullover / jacket
BnB - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to lithos: For me, it's not how the Alpha mid/outer performs on the walk-in. I'd expect to cover that with thin, breathable windproof layers like wicking base layer, Rob Boreas, VR gilet etc. It's the performance at the sharp end, where external cold and internal heat generation are at their maximum, that interests me.

Can the Alpha mid/outer breathe sufficiently as you climb to keep you dry, and even do so under a hardshell in adverse conditions, yet retain the heat (not the moisture) for half an hour on belay to prevent you having to dive automatically into the pack for your belay jacket every pitch?

Now that would be revolutionary. It just hasn't been cold enough to find out yet!
ice.solo - on 30 Oct 2013
In reply to lithos:
> (In reply to ice.solo)
> [...]
>
>
> sounds like an improved HH double pile pullover / jacket

same lineage of development in many ways, so very much so yes.

i hate sounding like propaganda, but alphas big thing to me is using it over long trips where drying out is a problem. primaloft has always been ok, but alpha really excells here as its much better to sleep in and drys faster all round.
sleeping in primaloft i always found had the problem of insulating much of your body heat from the bag itself, so moisture gradually built up. with alpha this is less so.
In reply to Mr Fuller:

> Imagine a jacket where you open zips onto the insulation itself. Suddenly the insulation is useless and all the heat flows out. Close the zip and you've got a very warm jacket. It kills two birds with one stone. I've seen jackets made by academics like this in prototype stages, but they were pretty ugly (the jackets, not the academics). A pro company should be able to combine the nice theory with a cool-looking product that will actually sell.

Trying to write my Alpha article currently Matt, and found this whilst googling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnqQyzs6ANQ the pockets seem to function just as you suggest they should, to dump heat.
Siward on 31 Oct 2013
In reply to ice.solo: no need to swap mine for anything else just yet then!

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