Overall Rating: 4/5
The Alpha Direct was a great option as I am making the move away from down insulation due to a number of failures linked to our changeable UK weather. With synthetic insulation you can generally rely on it to be much more effective at keeping you warm even when it’s wet. I sometimes find it difficult when I’m in the hills and mountains to avoid rain or indeed perspiration so I’ve spent some time researching the different synthetic materials that will meet my needs.
The Alpha Direct is aimed at being worn as an outer or mid layer depending on conditions. As far as I’m concerned I see it more outer than mid due to the Pertex Microlight outer fabric. Microlight (soon to be included in the Pertex Quantum range) is windproof and water resistant among other things so it feels and looks more like an outer shell. When I was caught out a while back in cool conditions watching the football I ended up standing for close to 60 minutes completely exposed to the wind and pretty heavy rain. I’d heard that the jacket isn’t great at repelling water but, other than the elasticated cuffs, I watched the rain bead up and roll straight off while I stayed dry throughout. I was more than impressed. The synthetic material used meant that it dried up quickly afterwards and packs down easily afterwards. This jacket weighs in at around 480g for a medium size so it’s pretty good for an insulated outer shell but still enough that you wouldn’t just throw it in your pack as a just-in-case item.
The inner material is Polartec Alpha which was originally designed for the US Special Forces for its ability to insulate the body effectively when at rest or while active. With 125g/sqm this jacket provides a moderate amount of insulation which is increased by the protective Microlight shell. In reality this isn’t the warmest jacket and it is designed around breathability and wicking away moisture which it does surprisingly well. I initially doubted its ability under more intense conditions as the outer material feels like it’s going to trap heat and moisture in but the soft Alpha material is perfect at drawing it away.
Rab Alpha Direct Jacket – Pertex Microlight Shelly from you. My main reservation with this jacket is that it works best over a base layer so the Alpha material can do its thing but at the same time it doesn’t provide enough warmth for me to venture out in proper cold conditions without putting a genuine mid layer on. This then has an impact on the Alpha properties so the breathability is reduced meaning the weather has to help you get the most out of this jacket. It works perfectly in cold wind when showers are a risk and you are going to be active so I’ve used this regularly in the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales and easy hill walks in the Lakes when those weather conditions are pretty common.
On a simpler note, the jacket is unbelievably comfortable to wear. The Alpha material is really soft and feels great against the skin while extras like the extended elasticated cuffs make every aspect of it comfortable. I have a large size jacket, which I was a bit dubious about since I‘m not big and half expected it to act as a sail in the wind and blow me away. It does fit me really well, with room for a decent mid layer underneath, but this would make me question the sizing overall since I don’t own a single other large size and some mediums hand off me.
Overall, I really like this jacket and want to use it more but I feel like it is stuck in between being a true mid layer and providing sufficient insulation as an outer layer. I know how and when to wear it but the right conditions mean that I feel a bit limited for getting enough use out of it, hence the lower rating. It is still really comfortable and I love the feel, style and features of it so I do wear in when walking in the hills and lower areas rather than the mountains.