Have you ever felt like a hydrophobic fish in a thunderstorm? Mike did whilst checking out the Arc’teryx Beta AR and Alpha SV rain jackets in New Zealand.
Arc’teryx is known to gearheads as the ‘gold standard’ of outdoor wear – especially their rainwear. In a market now flooded with options, how well does their kit hold up against the competition and the elements?
Given the task of reviewing such bomber kit, I was almost giddy when New Zealand’s MetService predicted horizontal rain. The land of the long white cloud never disappoints. Along with WAE Editor Tim and Dominic Douglas we were aiming for a return valley to summit ascent of Mount Aspiring / Tititea – a trip that explores everything from sodden beech forests to flippin’ cold alpine winds.
As someone who’s tried and trashed a shell of every major membrane out there, I was keen to see if this held up to expectations. I’ve also had gear envy whenever someone around me has been donning Arc kit… so I was a little excited. Tim and I shared the Arc’teryx Beta AR and Alpha SV jackets on this ascent in January, as well as putting them through the wringer in the Blue Mountains over the following months. It’s safe to say they’ve seen it all.
Water & Wind Resistance
I hadn’t even made it across the tarmac at Queenstown airport before Tim and I were covered in thousands of tiny beads – raindrops shedding effortlessly off both of our jackets. Even the cheapest of garments will shed water on first use, but it’s handy to have baseline ‘pre-trashing’ observations.
After days of abrasion from alpine bags and harnesses, with continually miserable NZ precipitation, neither Tim or I complained of water ingress. Visually, neither jacket ‘wetted out’, however the droplets didn’t bead as efficiently in high-wear areas, such as shoulders, by the end of the trip. After months of post-trip use, both jackets have retained this condition with no further loss of water shedding ability – a massive step up from most other garments I’ve used, which wet-out in high wear areas after minimal use. It’s also worth noting: waterproof zippers do work, seam taping does work, and if you’re not 100% dry under your shell, it’s either not working properly or you’re a sweaty bastard.
Most people won’t know if their jacket is windproof, but when you’re being bowled over by >100 km/h winds ‘n’ sleet, and you’re toasty on the inside, you know that the outer shell is doing its bit in your layering system. Wind resistance is only ever compromised for breathability in lightweight breathable fabrics such as GoreTex Active or eVent.
Breathability & Warmth
Slogging over muddy roots in an arctic beech forest on a 25 °C day with 100% humidity, I did think ‘yeah I’m getting a bit hot hey’. Opening the pit zips helped a lot – they’re just big enough to make it semi-comfortable and keep the jacket on when moving up hill and are positioned so that you don’t let water in. The GoreTex Pro breathed as expected, it’s certainly no plastic bag.
Further up the mountain I was happy as Larry to keep it zipped up while climbing – it kept the icy gale out with no condensation on the inside. I’ll note that it provides no insulation, nor is it designed to, but its wind resistance allows insulating layers to function effectively.
Durability & Quality
The quality of both garments is unparalleled. I yanked on zips, scraped it up schist (sharp, shitty Southern NZ rock), rappelled with the rope over it, rubbed bags on it and threw it in with crampons and ice screws (sharp pointy shiny things). I’ve also been poking the Beta AR with Aussie scrub for the last few months and yet it still hangs on the back of the door looking pretty much bran’ spankin’.
The Beta AR has held its water shedding ability (DWR), slightly better than the Alpha SV, however I did (finally) put a tiny scratch on the ripstop of the Beta AR after walking into a sharp stick. Tim’s held on to the Alpha SV and it’s still looking like day one (he assures me he’s been using it too!).
Warning! – Gear Nerd Paragraph
The more ‘mountain’ orientated Alpha SV has a tough 80D plain weave nylon finish, while the Beta allrounder is composed of lighter rip-stop material. While both garments use top of the line GoreTex Pro (3-layer shells), these variations in face fabric change the durability and bead-ability of the water shedding coating, so the Beta should continue to bead with more abuse, but the Alpha should be more durable.
With more abrasion, any treated surface (DWR – Durable Water Repellent), will see a decrease in water contact angle with the fabric. When this angle is < 90°, the surface tension holds the water on the jacket (it doesn’t bead), it soaks in and ‘wets out’. Arc’teryx, like most major (good) players, is committed to removing the use of PFCs (Perfluorinated compounds) in DWR treatments and has already transitioned from harmful C8 (long chain) to C6 (short chain) fluorocarbons, with continuing development in this space.
Comfort, Style & Practicality
It’s easy to walk in most outdoor jackets, but climbing needs a new level of flexibility. The articulated (and long) sleeves on these jackets mean there’s no restriction of movement when climbing.
Also, I’d just like to throw this out there: ‘All praise the drop tail!’
No more wet butts and you can still high-step without restriction. If you’ve tightened the elastic, you can also reach up without the jacket riding up. Both garment’s hoods fit a helmet without restriction, yet don’t fall off an un-bucketed noggin. I will say, the collar on the Beta AR is nothing but a fantastic idea.
A big consideration is pocket placement. The Alpha SV has cross-chest pockets which sit above harness height and are great for one-handed operation, whereas the Beta AR has more traditional pockets with zips high enough that they still work above a harness. Both jackets have internal safeguarding pockets.
As with all Arc’teryx products, the style is ‘professional and practical’, so I can get away with wearing it to work – a quick shake and it’s pretty much dry, so say goodbye to soggy wetted-out jackets dripping beside your wheelie chair. It’s worth noting that they run American sizes, so try (and buy) in store where possible.
Initially, I wanted to review these jackets after making them fail, letting them wet-out, poking holes in them, breaking zips etc. but I haven’t been able to, and it’s been 6 months. Sure, I could use unreasonable force, but that wouldn’t prove anything. The reality is that Arc’teryx shells live up to their expectation, in design, construction and function. I’ve always worried about my shell layer, used it sparingly, protecting it (and I’ve got a few top brand jackets in the wardrobe), but with bomber kit you get to spend less time fussing and worrying and more time having fun.
Mike & Tim were provided the Arc’teryx Beta AR and Alpha SV Jackets for review purposes and got to keep them. The views are entirely their own.
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Photos by Tim Ashelford
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