As soon as the Alpha came out of the packaging, it was obvious that it was something a bit different and was clearly going to be a “Marmite” piece of gear.
Montane have taken the comfort and practicality of stretch fleece and added it to the warmth of Polartec synthetic insulation to make a pretty unique item. The sleeves are stretchy and breathable while the torso area is thicker and warmer so it isn’t immediately clear where the Alpha will fit into a clothing system.
As it turned out I adapted my system to accommodate the Alpha and used it just about every day I went out. My initial thought was that it wouldn’t come in to my clothing systems, because I already own a stretch fleece and a Polartec jacket and I didn’t see where a combination of the two would fit in. It worked because it offers the best of both worlds without compromising too much on comfort, warmth or breathability and really has proved to be versatile. I loved the fact that I could stick it in my bag for just about any day and know that it would be used almost regardless of where I was going.
When the wind is biting and you’re moving fast, the Alpha is ideal as it lets the air come in through the arms but keeps you nice and snug around the torso. It also works well as a piece of insulation in summer conditions and is much warmer than it initially appears. The hood is also excellent, and engulfs a helmet whilst also being pretty snug when you don’t have a lid on. I’ve no idea how Montane managed that but it’s pretty impressive and really adds to the warmth of the jacket with or without a helmet.
It’s not all positive though and I do have the odd gripe with the Alpha. Firstly, the drawcord around the waist doesn’t do up quite tight enough. I’m pretty thin but so are most climbers and mountaineers and it would be better if the waist tightened up slightly more. The other issue is that there is a slight shortage of pockets, with the Alpha only having 2 hip pockets and nothing else. Normally that’s fine for walking but with a harness or rucksack on it leaves you a bit short so I would stick a chest pocket into the jacket. I do like the general lack of faff with the Alpha (no pit zips is always a bonus) but I think one more pocket wouldn’t hurt. The final small problem is with the thumb loops – a feature which I’ve never seen anyone use and is unnecessary in my opinion. Luckily the sleeves grip nicely at the wrist so they don’t get in the way too much.
This is a versatile and unique piece of kit that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you want something to wear for shaded rock climbs, long mountain scrambles or belay duty at a chilly crag, then this is for you. Given that most British climbers are going to experience all those three situations in any given year, I can see this being a bit hit and rightly so.