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Hard shell selection...

Here I go again. I am once again on the pursuit for the ultimate hardshell for wet, cold, extended trips.

Some of you may remember I brought this up awhile back.

I ended up snagging up a MH Drystein and then gave it to my wife. Too drafty for me among other little quibbles I had with it.

So I am on the fence with dropping the coin on an Arc'Teryx Alpha SV but I figured I would throw a "Hail Mary" to the fine folks here and see if anyone has any solid suggestions in regards to alternatives.

I want an athletic fit, must keep me dry and be breathable(yeah here we go with the whole waterproof/breathable thing again.)

I would like it to ventilate well(pitzips,etc.)

If the product is worth it I will drop the coin on it but at the same time I want a product that will perform and perform for awhile. I am not trying to make this a regular thing of buying a new shell every season or every other season for that matter.

I solo year round so I need something I can truly depend on. If Mother Nature throws a tantrum in late Jan-Feb and my gear peters out I could be in a real bad spot.

I would like to stay around $600ish max.

I could care less about looks or color honestly(then again hot pink may not go well with my complexion .. just saying.). I just want a product that will perform when you know what hits the fan.

Thanks in advance everyone.


There are a lot of  Arc'Teryx Alpha SV's listed on eBay with many going in the $350-$500 range and many new with tags going for under $450.

I saw that. I am not really familiar with purchasing gear from ebay. 


If I purchase a new SV from there am I covered as far as the manufacturer's warranty goes?

May sound like a silly question but I don't do alot of ebay purchases for items such as this.

Did snag up an Otterbox Defender for my Droid Maxx at less than half price recently. :)

It is my experience that all the higher end manufactures of the gear we use will cover any and all of their gear they make if they list a lifetime warranty. Some, if not all,  have wording in their warranties such as, and I'm paraphrasing, We offer a lifetime warranty to the original purchaser of the item. I have however used the lifetime warranties with both TNF and Marmot (and a number of other’s) on very old items that I bought second, third and even fourth hand and they covered them without question. It would be an interesting question to ask all who have used warranties if any of the company's have asked for any proof of purchase? Again I have never had a problem with a single warranty issue and none have ever asked of proof of purchase and I buy all my gear used or at least second hand, even if it was never used by the original buyer.

you can't really go wrong with that arcteryx.  or the other gore tex pro shell alpinist jackets from some of the big brands (marmot alpinist, patagonia super alpine).  gore tex pro shell is a proven commodity, and these brands are all excellent.  i have an older marmot pro shell jacket that i wear occasionally if i expect it get torn up, old enough that i don't care.  the darn thing won't rip.  all top dollar but within your price range. 

i caveat the rest of this by saying that i'm offering up other ideas - everyone has to ultimately make their own choices.  i'll share my personal experience with brands.

Wild Things Gear updated their alpinist jacket this year.  eVent hard shell.  my experience with their gear (hard shell jacket and pants) has been excellent.  their fit used to be on the large side; it looks like they trimmed it to a more 'athletic cut.'  plus, they don't overcharge like some brands - a steal at $400.  i think the design of their jackets - hoods, sleeves, pit zips, pockets, is outstanding.

Rab Latok might be another choice.  (Latok Alpine is a lighter, no pitzip version).  UK brand, so naturally tends to be cut slender/athletic.  also eVent.  the Latok is my current go-to hard shell because i couldn't wait for Wild Things to bring their update to market.  minor gripe - European brands have left hand pull zippers. 

There are some hard shells with polartec's neoshell membrane.  worth a look based on my limited experience with neoshell.  Westcomb Apoc or Switch, Rab Stretch Neo (really a hard shell though with a softer 'hand' to the fabric) are widely-distributed examples, but there are other brands.  particularly from europe, which generally seems more inclined to adopt alternatives.  the membrane works - totally waterproof and very breathable.  every bit as good as gore tex and eVent.  whether it will last for years is an open question, but the same fears about eVent proved to be unfounded.

i have tried these on but have not used them in the field.  i do have some positive experience with the softshell version of polartec neoshell via marmot's zion jacket.  this and The North Face Jammu are quasi-softshells.  waterproof, very breathable, but not quite as stretchy as a soft shell that doesn't have the waterproof membrane.  i don't recommend these softshells as your do-everything shell for winter trips due to the way they fit.  the zion, for example, has enough room to layer a long-sleeved expedition-weight shirt and a fleece underneath, but it doesn't have enough room to effectively/comfortably layer over a down sweater or vest if you want them to fully loft.  because i don't mind carrying a few extra pounds, i'm planning to bring the soft shell as an alternative this winter and see how it does in lousy conditions while i'm working hard - see if it does a better job getting rid of sweat while i'm going up something steep.  i'll happily carry the extra pound if it works well. 

happy hunting. 

Thanks for the feedback leadbelly. I have been looking at a plethora of shells(Arc'teryx, Westcomb, blah blah blah." 

I really don't have a ton of money but if I have my eye on a product I will scrounge my pennies until I can get what I want and not make a purchase in the moment just to get by.

If I were to do that I end up more times than not spending more money in the long run because I eventually(after a few seasons) end up replacing the product so why not just purchase what I want in the first place right?

Might have to wait a little longer saving up the coin but its worth it to me.


I have been hearing that some Arc'teryx products have been outsourced over-seas. 

At the same time I am reading that the Alpha SV is still manufactured in Canada. 

Is this true?

I am thinking that being the SV is a "flagship" shell in the lineup that they keep the production in Canada as opposed to some of the lower end items being outsourced?

Scarpa does this as well. 

Thanks Tipi. I'm on it. 

I just love cold weather "death marches." :p

Very solid feedback on the SV Tipi. I like feedback that is substantiated from a user's perspective. 

No more solid advice than from those that sold their first born to purchase a product imo. 

I am probably going to snag up this shell in "Dark Olympus" if and when I do.

It is the numero uno choice on my short list at the moment. 

Granted I can see the benefit of the "brighter than a sunspot orange" in regards to hunters but I have a deer costume that works well for that. ;)

I see that convo turned into another one of those waterproof vs breathable debacles for a moment. 

Gotta love those convos. 

I noticed that the last poster said that it was over-kill for the AT...

My feelings on that logic is that I personally would much rather have too much than not enough.

Sort of relative to the logic my grandfather instilled in me growing up in regards to layering. 

"If you are too warm you can always take it off but if you are too cold and don't have it you can't put it on."

Or the...

"Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it" logic.

The difference between goretex paclite and proshell is astonishing.  I had a Marmot gtx Minima with paclite and after 2 years had several rub and wear holes in the thing---and it wasn't a cheap jacket.  The proshell Arcteryx has no wear holes.

I really like my Stoic vaporshell from Backcountry. It breathes very very well and is waterproof, has pit zips and a hood. con is it does not have hand pockets, only 1 zippered chest pocket. It is not a 'cold weather' shell, but that is what insulation layers are for. Mine works fine for me all year long, winter included.

I've got to disagree with you a little bit there Tipi. The problem you describe with your jacket has to do more with the durability of the outer fabric, not the gore paclite. The problem is when companies decide to use the paclite, 1 layer of goretex, they are often marketing a super lightweight rain jacket and hence use lighter weight fabrics without too much concern for durability.

I haven't found this to be the case for all companies though. I have an arcteryx shell, in my photo, with paclite. I've put it through hell- skiing, ice climbing, hiking, camping, etc, and it looks no worse for wear. That said my dad has the proshell arcteryx and it looks as good asnew as well.

So I think what your describing is more of a marmot issue, rather than a paclite issue.

Not sure how GORE-TEX® Active shell measures up against the Proshell for durability, but the Axiom is getting great reviews from everybody for breathability. OR, famous for its full-length pitzips, has even left them off the Axiom as now being redundant!

for what it's worth, though, my marmot gtx jacket has worn exceptionally well.  2 types of gtx pro shell, reinforced at shoulders, elbows. 

Sorry, to clarify, I meant it sounds like the marmot minima jacket was the problem, not all marmot products. As leadbelly stays, there are some quality marmot products.

Well, after a great deal of thought and alot of research I have decided to go with the Alpha SV. I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank all of you who chimed in on the matter.

The feedback is/was greatly appreciated.

Thanks everyone.

Great reviews! Now I want one!

Fine choice!

buying advice and reviews from a well-considered website.  it happens they like the arc'teryx jacket Rick decided on the best.  Reviews are always inherently subjective.  While i don't necessarily agree with the conclusions they drew across the board, and they omitted a few very viable brands (Marmot, Wild Things), it's a useful comparison.

  I work for REI and have had several rain shells and hard shells and my latest conclusion is that for real solid heavy-duty Oregon mountain rains I'm better off choosing top notch waterproofing over the most breathable.  My most recent experience was not in the mountains but in a 3 hour downpour at a soccer game. I was wearing an eVent parka and eVent pants.  The pants, particularly, wetted out and my butt got soaked.  The parka kept me dry enough but the outer fabric was wet through and that made the arms and torso chilly.  (Partly my fault for not wearing a better layer under the parka.)

   My wife was wearing her practically new DriQ Elite parka and her arms and part of her torso were wet.

    These are all examples of choosing the more breathable fabric.  I'm looking at GoreTex next.  The eVent seems fine when I'm being active, as does the DriQ, but I want to be more certain of being dry.

you raise an interesting point.  there are a number of different ways to test waterproofing, and kneeling in water or sitting arguably present a challenge that a number of the tests (hydrostatic head, rain room) don't necessarily address.  i have watched more than my share of soccer games, in addition to hiking, and i can't recall a situation where my rain pants leaked - i have 2 pair, both at least a few years old, one gtx, one eVent.  possible the seam tape failed? that's the one area where i have seen some failure, primarily older gtx jackets and some with patagonia's H2No, which is not great in my experience.

i think it's also important to point out that all these garments, no matter what fabric they are, occasionally need to be cleaned and to have the DWR (durable waterproof repellant) renewed.  they don't function as well as they could otherwise.  i have had good luck with nikwax products, i wash them in via a front-loading machine, and i am sure there are others. 

I can attest to milspec goretex but it is heavy and it doesn't pack very well like some high performance shells. I remember being in the field for training while in Texas and it rained for three days. I was kneeling, sitting and lying on saturated ground. I was totally encased in goretex. I stayed dry but it wasn't very warm outside either so the issue of overheating wasn't present. The garments had wet out after the first couple of hours but it didn't affect the waterproofness. I've used the same goretex when I lived in Colorado and it performed well in both rain and snow. Now it sits stowed in my garage awaiting the next megastorm. It's always tough spending money on a garment and then it doesn't perform as designed. It's sad when you have to worry about sitting or kneeling on a waterproof garment and it wets through. In my opinion sitting or kneeling is not an extreme condition and the garment should be able to withstand at least that.

Have you tried the SV on? It's not an athletic fit - it's expedition fit. I'd look at the Beta AR or Beta FL. I have both the Alpha SV and Beta AR, and much prefer the Beta for fit, and it's still loose fitting compared to the FL, which I've tried on, but don't own.

trh said:

Have you tried the SV on? It's not an athletic fit - it's expedition fit.

I have and I have to somewhat disagree with you on the fit. It is more of an in between an expedition fit and an athletic fit for me.

How a garment fits will vary from individual to individual just based on the fact that we all vary in regards to the shapes of our bodies so on and so forth.

The SV may very well be an expedition fit on you but I(since the recovery of a knee injury) have gotten back into lifting weights.

I currently have a 45" chest so the Alpha actually fits me somewhat "better" on the atheletic end of the spectrum.

I have enough room for layering if need be but the fit is not "loose."

I agree with Mentalfloss.  Talk with people from the west side of OR and WA or Alaska and most of them agree that simple rain gear like Helly Hansen's latest iteration is best for really wet weather.  A high tech garment may breathe better, but is prone to get wet from the outside in places where it rains all day.  Check out the Alaska Outdoors Forum.

Anyone that believes that they need to spend $600 for a rain jacket is proof that the advertising hype is working.

i grew up hiking with a 60-40 shell parka and a coated nylon rain jacket for the rain.  in my experience, waterproof/breathable shells can keep the rain out all day if the seams are properly sealed and if they are well-designed and cared for, and with a much greater degree of comfort and convenience than the old solutions. 

Give the first ascent storm shell a look, it over the guide jacket is bomb proof!! That combo with a 1/4 zip base, your ready!! I guide folks in all kinds of weather, from muck to awesome! I can climb in it, hike in it, and look damn cool at the bar in it! And no I don't work for RMI, Whittaker mtneering, or FA I just dig good gear CHEERS!

leadbelly2550 said:

i grew up hiking with a 60-40 shell parka and a coated nylon rain jacket for the rain.  in my experience, waterproof/breathable shells can keep the rain out all day if the seams are properly sealed and if they are well-designed and cared for, and with a much greater degree of comfort and convenience than the old solutions. 

I have to agree. I remember wearing a rubberized rain suit (Remember them? Bright yellow? With optional sou'wester?) in heavy rain. Aside from the very heavy weight, you wound up almost as wet from sweat as from the rain!

My OR Foray jacket weighs less than a pound, and keeps me absolutely dry in any kind of weather. And when I don't need it, it bundles up to about the size of a pop can and stows away in my pack. 

ppine said:

Anyone that believes that they need to spend $600 for a rain jacket is proof that the advertising hype is working.

The reviews posted here on Trailspace on the Arc'Teryx Alpha SV all substantiate the value of buying the jacket. Sure, there's an element of hype in any marketing, but these are actual reviews from real people who've tested the gear in the field. That's why people come here.

Or are you saying that all the people who raved about their purchase were victims of some kind of advertising ploy?

ppine said:

Anyone that believes that they need to spend $600 for a rain jacket is proof that the advertising hype is working.

Who said I wanted it as a rain jacket? Precipitation comes in many forms(snow & sleet come to mind.)

Week+ solo trips in winter is my favorite type of trip during my favorite time of year. The colder and more snow the more I enjoy it. 

I love doing this on a moon lit night even more.

Did I need to dump $600+ on a solo tent and footprint? 


But from all of the feedback and research I did it seemed like the most weather worthy, reliable shelter I could purchase that met my criteria for a true 4 season solo tent.

Same goes with the Alpha. 

I haven't read many negatives about that shell nor have I received much negative feedback in regards to the inquiries I have made on this specific model. 

It just so happens that the shell carries a $600+ msrp. 

So be it. 

As I stated previously, if the product performs the way it has been presented and it handles what I can throw at it w/o grenading on me when I am on the trail late Feb when the temps are in the negatives then the price is well worth what they want to me. 

Rick - I really like my Westcomb Apoc for all seasons. Very breathable, yet softer than eVent. Very well made, I have owned it for several months now and it is the one I grab in the closet, instead of my Rab Latok.  Construction and materials are first rate.

Dewey just picked one up on Monday and loves his as well.

I just snagged the Patagonia Triolet.  3-layer Gore Tex.  The length of the back is really nice.  I bought it for backcountry skiing, resort skiing, and all winter adventures here in Colorado.  It gets great reviews, has a nice fit.  Some reviews complain about the length of the sleeves but I happen to like the fact that I can tuck my hands in if need be.

Just throwin it out there.  Seems like a pretty bomber shell that fits your criteria.

I would agree with the comments about polartec neoshell, I have the westcomb apoc and switch, both great jackets, having owned various gore and event jackets I would say neoshell is definitely more breathable than both and just as waterproof, its also lighter and in my opinion much quicker drying. A friend has rabs neoshell and i would say it has a more athletic fit than the westcomb jackets. Hope this helps.

Lighter is what makes me wonder. I am not a gram counter. Typically when a product is referenced as being "a lighter weight material" the red flags arise for me and I have durability concerns(more long term than anything.)

Question, how long have you all owned your Apocs, etc?

I know from the feedback I have received the Gore Proshell(the N80p-x face fabric) is pretty durable stuff.

I typically won't consider purchasing a product without the knowledge of how it will hold up over the long haul.

I do have $$$ but I work my tail off for it. 

I want something that will take the rigors of what I will put it through and do that over time as stated previously.

Rick- neoshells are new on the market, as you know, so I don't think anyone has owned them more than a year.. I picked mine up last Spring. The Apoc has a more durable feel to it than other jackets I have owned, such as the Rab Super Dru. I tend to lean towards bomber gear instead of fragile gear that is UL. As far as Westcomb is concerned, I have had the chance to go through all of their stuff at the OR show, and I feel that they are every bit as good as ArcTeryx.

I have the Arc'Teryx Beta AR.  I liked it better than the Alpha SV and better than any of the similar manufacturers' products.  Primary difference on the Beta and the Alpha other than the extra pockets is the back length is a little shorter on the Beta.  Both are made of similar materials with the GoreTex Pro Shell. I'm 5'9 and ithe Beta fits me better (and with a harness it is long enough).  It has been my pack jacket for the last 3 years and has seen some serious weather in Nepal, on Rainier and in the White Mtns of NH, etc.  In my pack I never leave home without it and a nano-puff mid-layer.  You can find it discounted as others have said although I have a pro deal with Arc'Teryx.  Maybe try geartrade. com   ---  Dan

Unfortunatly neoshell is quite new to the market so longevity is a bit of an unknown, I was sceptical at first as the material is lighter than usual. I got my apoc pre production to do a test on it, so I had it about six months before release, I've not had any problems thus far, and I have abused it like I would abuse any test garment. I used to think proshell was the pinnacle of shell technology and would never be beaten, I really think neoshell will give it a run for its money. I can see why people would be reluctant to spend big bucks on an unknown material though, I suppose only time will tell.

I remeber when we did early field tests of Goretex in Alaska.  It was so slippery that if you fell on a steep slope in a full suit, you needed an ice axe of at least a stout stick to self-arrest.

The Marmot Trollwall is also a solid jacket in a similar price range as the Arc'teryx. I've tried both out and liked them pretty well (though I preferred the Trollwall) but in the end I went with a Westcomb VaporFX because it was only $175 off Steep and Cheap and seemed to be of comparable quality. Turns out this seems to be the case.

My VaporFX has taken everything mother nature has thrown at it and is still in great shape after 2 years. The big difference is that it uses eVent instead of Gore-Tex but based on personal experience, eVent seems to be every bit as good as Gore-Tex. I feel like it might actually be a little better in terms of breathability but that could just be me being biased.

Just a suggestion, you keep mentioning the Arc' Alpha SV, but why not the Alpha LT?

Neither has handwarmer-style pockets so it doesn't seem like that point is important, the LT is lighter, still uses Pro-Shell, has the same amazing hood, pit-zips, and super durable.

I've had mine since 2009, and I've worn it hiking, camping, and working up in the Yukon doing geologic field work. When you're looking for rocks, nice flat trails don't exist = months of bushwhacking. The jacket held up great.

Definitely an option to keep in mind.

vostok said:

Just a suggestion, you keep mentioning the Arc' Alpha SV, but why not the Alpha LT?

First and foremost is the fact that I have not had great luck with lightweight gear and as I previously stated I am not a gram counter.

While others may think I am nuts I have no problem schlepping 60lb+ loads down the trail regardless of seasons/conditions. 

So to me weight isn't the issue, durability is. 

Next issue is where is the LT made?

I know quite a few "dead bird" models are now made in China. I know for a fact that the SV is still made in Canada.

For the type of coin I am willing to drop I am not going to spend it on anything that says "Made in China" or "Hecho in Mexico." 

I have been scrounging change and should be able to order the SV in the coming weeks. 

I will most certainly be posting a review of this shell after I hammer on it a bit. 

Rick I don't have the SV but have had Lowe Alpine Fusion GTX Proshell 3 layer for years. While it doesn't rain crazy down here in So Cal very often, I've stood in a waterfall created by a broken run gutter and had no leak-through.

Pro-Shell is impressively durable and has breathed well enough for me for sure. The SV should serve you very well.

Rick, I have an arcteryx alpha sv in practically new condition (made in canada) for sale if interested.  Its a size small

Arcter-yx.jpg Friend of mine says his is warm in the coldest conditions, but has a tendency to ice up a bit. I suggested he might want to look for one with full-length pit zips. Or maybe he just sweats a lot.

In really cold conditions, you don't need waterpoof, just breathable.

Peeling and adding clothes is an art in cold conditions with a lot of exercise.  It takes practice, and some people struggle with it.

jeppuda said:

Rick, I have an arcteryx alpha sv in practically new condition (made in canada) for sale if interested.  Its a size small

 Lil too small for me. I am a large-XL. 

ppine said:

In really cold conditions, you don't need waterpoof, just breathable.

 you don't need waterproof, but you do need windproof sometimes.  the most 'breathable' hard shells don't have a membrane - and don't do as well with high wind as shells with a membrane.  


Your point is well taken.  I will always give up some windpoorfness for breathable.

A lot of expensive light weight materials don't hold up in the brush.  They are too fragile.  Fine for trails and standing around but not so good when they get ripped to shreds working where there are no trails except the ones made by bears and moose.

indeed, bushwhacking is a modern high tech gear manufacturer's happy dream.  you shred the gear and have to buy more.  another reason i'm intrigued by the hybrid soft shell materials - they are much better equipped to deal with grabbing branches. 

ps - Outside Magazine's winter buyer's guide loves the Alpha SV.  particularly the N80p-x outer shell material, described as crinkly-noisy but uber-tough.  

The Alpha SV wins every award and ranks #1 on pretty much every mountaineering site and in every magazine.  It is the best designed, most bombproof alpine hardshell ever made.  It is, however, a mountaineering shell so you may not like the pocket configuration or "expedition fit", which is geared towards wearing a harness/heavy and for arm mobility.  Nothing compares to Arc'teryx's storm hood for fit.  It's the one helmet-compatible hood that actually fits like a glove when cinched down and offers full range of motion and visibility.  A poorly designed hood will annoy you for years.

I never really understood, however, why fellow packers insist on wearing expedition weight mountaineering hardshells.  Just because they are the most expensive doesn't mean they are the best for packing by any means.  I grew up in the rainforests of Oregon and now live in the rainforests of British Columbia so I know all about wet.  In my opinion a highly breathable, wind-resistant softshell combined with a packable waterproof rainshell is the perfect combination.  It gives you more options year round.  Here I find that a good softshell takes care of me 70% of the time.  A good rainshell covers me the rest.  If I'm in the perfect storm of sleet and freezing rain at 33 degrees then I can stack them.

The Arc'Teryx Alpha SL Hybrid is designed for mixed use.  It is 25% lighter and at $380, it's nearly $300 less than the current $675 MSRP on the SV.  It's GT Pro in the high wear areas and Pac-lite on the body.  AT's face fabrics are bomber so I wouldn't worry about the durability of the Paclite one bit.  eVent and Neoshell may let all the moisture out but having no pit zips sucks when you want to cool off during high-output activity without opening your jacket.  Fast movement on a temperate or warm day in the hard rain can really suck.  It all depends on how hot you burn during aerobic activity...I like to feel cool.

Westcomb is also making amazing stuff and all of their jackets are built right here in Canada.  I haven't owned any of their stuff but I hear awesome reviews.  For value, I think it is hard to beat the bang for your buck offered by Rab.  They make pro-level stuff at mid-level prices.  Westcomb is somewhere between Rab and AT on price.

I would try to find a high-end outdoor store and try the stuff on.  Pick the jacket that functions the best for you and don't be seduced by the status of wearing the Armani'teryx logo.

I like to buy my stuff from Backcountry because if the manufacturer tries to stiff you on the warranty you can send it back to the retailer no problem.  If I was going to drop big bucks on a hardshell I would buy new so I got 100% product life and full warranty coverage.

November 25, 2020
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