Rab Alpha Direct Insulated Jacket - Review by Adam
In a Nutshell
A hooded jacket designed to keep you warm but not too hot when doing activities with a wide range of intensities in a wide range of conditions including moderate rain.
Rab list quite a few specifications for the Alpha Direct jacket, below I explain what they all mean.
Pertex Microlight Outer: This is the material on the outside of the jacket. It’s windproof, water repellent and very breathable as well as light. The material is coated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) which is hydrophobic and therefore helps water to ‘bead’ and drop off so that the jacket doesn’t become saturated. This helps to maintain breathability.
Polartec Alpha Direct Insulation: Insulation traps air between the outer and you to help maintain your temperature by slowing down heat transfer. Alpha direct is a synthetic insulation (not down) which is highly compressible and quick drying. The compressibility means it layers well with other garments and can be stored easily without taking up too much room in your backpack. The knitted construction of the insulation prevents fibers from moving around which means the baffled design you see on most down jackets is not necessary, this prevents cold areas and maintains the continuity of the protection that the jacket provides. There is not even a liner inside this jacket and so the insulation is in direct contact with your skin or whatever you’re wearing underneath. The construction of the insulation aids the movement of water vapour and helps regulate warmth making the jacket extremely versatile and suitable for a wide range of intensity of activity and weather conditions. As the insulation is synthetic the jacket does not lose its properties when wet in the same way as a down jacket and it’s also much easier to wash and maintain.
Under Helmet Hood: This makes the jacket useful for climbing or belaying and also means that the hood will fit closely to your head. An over helmet hood (AKA Helmet Compatible Hood) which is found on many other jackets can sometimes be difficult to adjust to fit well without a helmet as it’s much bigger than your head.
Roll Down Anti-Snag Velcro Tab: Simply a tab inside the jacket at the back of the neck which can be used to roll away and secure the hood when it’s not needed.
YKK Zips: YKK are regarded as the manufacturer of the world’s best zips.
2 Way front Zip: Allows you to unzip the jacket from the bottom which has a number of uses. It makes the jacket comfortable to wear when sitting down, it allows you ventilate from both the top and bottom of the jacket and it can help if you need to get to a pocket in your trousers or base layer or adjust your belt.
Napolean Chest Pocket: This is the vertical zipped chest pocket, it’s another feature which is useful for climbers as they need to have access to a pocket when wearing a harness but it is also much easier to unzip and get your hand inside at chest level than a horizontal zip.
Stretch Fleece Cuffs: Having stretch cuffs means that you don’t need Velcro adjustment tab to keep a tight seal around your wrists making the jacket easy to put on and take off. The stretch and fleece lining also help the comfort of the jacket.
Hem Drawcord: This is an elastic drawcord which you can adjust to tighten the hem of the jacket to keep out wind and snow.
Slim Fit: This makes it easier to be active in the jacket, reduces weight and aids breathability.
Fit: I chose to stick with my normal size for my Alpha Direct and found it to fit well. As I have a long torso and long arms jackets which fit around my torso well are usually too short. I think the arms are long to accommodate use of the thumb loops in the cuffs which makes it fit me nicely for normal use but I am slightly constricted when using the thumb loops. I don’t think most people would have this problem. The slim fit gave the jacket a nice shape and there was not any extra baggy material under the arm pits which made it easy to stretch my arms up without the jacket riding up too much.
Feel: The exposed insulation inside the jacket felt soft and comfortable on my skin and when zipped all the way up my neck and chin felt like it would be particularly well protected from the elements. The jacket felt warm and snug and at the same time light and airy.
Hood: The hood fitted well and the elasticated lining inside the peak helped it stay in place when I moved my head.
Overall I really liked the shape, look and feel of my Alpha Direct and the features that Rab list are impressive but it now needs some proper testing in all conditions.
How it Performed
The Alpha direct does a good job at keeping you warm given its packability. It has a great feel and is light and breathable, it’s almost like being inside a warm cloud. The collar is nice and thick and keeps your neck, chin, mouth and even nose warm. The breathability means that it doesn’t get too stuffy with condensation from your breath.
Only in very strong and cold winds would this jacket be insufficient to block the wind so an extra outer layer wouldn’t generally be needed except in wet conditions. The hood was a good shape and sealed around the face well giving the same level as the rest of the body.
The jacket performed well for short distances in wet weather and the DWR coating ensured that most of the rain rolled off the jacket rather than soaking into it. For longer periods of rain I found that the jacket layered well with a waterproof. It maintained its warmth nicely when wet and afterwards dried quickly.
The weather we’ve had so far this winter hasn’t quite been cold enough to need a jacket this warm during high intensity activities such as running and walking uphill but whenever I did get a bit hot in it I would naturally unzip from the top and bottom which worked nicely and kept the warm collar and hood away from my neck and head.
Probably my favourite thing about the Alpha direct is the level of comfort which comes from the feel of the insulation on the skin and the level of breathability which means you never feel like you’re suffocating inside it or feel uncomfortable due to perspiration or condensation inside. I described the feeling of the Alpha Direct as being like a ‘warm cloud’ and I think this sums up the feeling of lightness, softness and comfort you get whilst benefitting from its warmth. I love the look of the jacket and found it to be very versatile. The downside for me was that my long arms meant the thumb loops aren’t really useable but it would probably be unreasonable to ask Rab to offer the jacket in various arm lengths. I also found the inner material in the collar pulled on my beard slightly – the fact that I mention this as one of the negatives is surely a sign that this jacket was an absolute winner. I’m sure the Alpha Direct will remain the first thing I grab when heading to work or out for a walk in the mountains.