Arc’teryx is known for producing some of the most durable and dependable outerwear on the market. Their success is a combination of exceptional design philosophy and cutting-edge technical innovation. The pinnacle of this combo comes in the form of the highly coveted Alpha SV.
The Alpha SV is neither average nor an everyday hardshell. In fact, the SV was designed with rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, and Big Wilderness expeditions in mind. So, yeah—it’s quite the beast. But is it the beast? To find out, we’ve narrowed down our search to three alpine hardshells that hold their own across three categories: build, performance, and price.
WHAT IS A HARDSHELL?
Before we begin, let’s define what a hardshell actually is. You’ll often hear the term “hardshell” used interchangeably with “rain jacket” or “windbreaker”. This isn’t entirely wrong: All three are built to keep the elements at bay.
The difference, however, lies at the extreme end of the weather bell curve. You see, when Zeus really blows a fuse, neither a rain jacket nor a windbreaker will protect you from his fury. A hardshell, on the other hand, will. That’s because the former two try to balance performance, weight, and cost. The latter is entirely devoted to performance.
So in alpine environments, hardshells are worn as your outermost layer—your first line of protection. They cut wind, shed water, and keep you dry without suffocating your pores. Of course, to ensure optimal weather-resistance, hardshells don’t contain any insulation as insulation tends to be naturally hydrophilic.
Instead, a midlayer softshell or thermal fleece should be worn underneath your hardshell for warmth.
The Arc’teryx Alpha SV in a Nutshell
Brand Name | Product Type
The Alpha SV is widely regarded as Arc’teryx’s flagship product. It’s also considered a masterpiece in the hardshell jacket category. To be clear, the Alpha SV is a rugged garment designed for extreme alpine conditions. This explains the SV, which stands for SeVere weather. It also explains the fairly steep $949.00 price tag.
So what makes the Alpha SV so special? One of the big hurdles when designing a hardshell is balancing weather resistance with breathability. Not only are these the two most important criteria, they also happen to be negatively correlated with one another.
To solve this problem, Arc’teryx leveraged a face fabric that’s both waterproof and breathable: GORE-TEX Pro with Most Rugged Technology. The latest Alpha SV also contains a RECCO reflector, which is a passive transponder that improves searchability in emergencies. As an interesting side note, it’s one of the only Arc’teryx products that’s still made in Canada.
Alternative 1: Mammut Nordwand Pro HS Hooded Jacket
Founded in 1862 in Switzerland, Mammut is one of the oldest outdoor apparel companies around. In 1995, Mammut launched their Eiger Extreme collection. Designed for rugged mountaineering, the line has been improved upon year after year and now boasts over 30 cross-compatible pieces.
The centrepiece of the collection is the Mammut Nordwand Pro HS hooded jacket. The Nordwand Pro HS is Mammut’s answer to the Alpha SV—an alpine hardshell designed to withstand the most severe mountain weather.
Like the Alpha SV, the Nordwand Pro HS is made from 70D GORE-TEX Pro with Most Rugged Technology. This means the face fabric does an exceptional job of balancing durability, weather-resistance, and breathability.
The helmet-compatible hood features three adjustment points. Meanwhile, the handwarmer pockets are slightly elevated for harness compatibility. To quickly dump heat, water-tight pit zips flank both sides.
One of the most thoughtful elements of the Nordwand Pro HS is the stretchy, partial GORE-TEX back panel. This section is designed to give you unrestricted freedom of movement.
Other features include:
- Zippered chest pocket
- Removable snow skirt
- Two inside bungee pockets
Designed to be the optimal combination of weather resistance and abrasion resistance, the Nordwand Pro HS delivers exceptional value and durability.
We love how customizable the jacket is. Features like the 3-point adjustable hood, removable snow skirt, and pit zips make it versatile across both mild and severe alpine conditions.
Both the men’s and women’s Mammut Nordwand Pro HS Hooded Jacket retail for $999.99.
Alternative 2: Rab Khroma GTX Jacket
Founded by Scottish climber Rab Carrington in 1981, his Rab company has earned a reputation for producing some of the most venerated—and pricey—outdoor apparel.
Rab is a brand that has stayed true to its roots. Even today, they continue to maintain close ties with the Peak District national park in England. Many of their garments are named in honour of places within the park, including the Peak Smock and Kinder Scout. They’ve also financed clean-up incentives and maintenance work throughout the park.
Though the Peak District isn’t particularly well-known for its severe alpine weather, that hasn’t stopped Rab from producing a hardshell that fares well on a good old Himalayan expedition. Meet the Khroma GTX Jacket.
Like both the Alpha SV and Nordwand Pro HS, the Khroma GTX is constructed from 70D GORE TEX Pro. That said, the Khroma’s unique hybrid construction utilizes both GORE’s Most Rugged Technology and Most Breathable Technology to enhance wicking.
The Khroma GTX boasts two spacious handwarmer pockets, in addition to a host of ski-specific pockets. Meanwhile, the helmet-compatible hood features two adjustment points for a secure fit, as well as a Vislon front zip with internal storm flap to protect your chin and neck from drafts and snow.
Other features include:
- Ski pass pocket on left arm
- Water-tight pit zips
- Removable snow skirt/inner snow cuffs
The GORE hybrid construction of the Khroma GTX Jacket makes it unique among the severe alpine hardshells. The focus of this hybrid shell is on creating a jacket that won’t let you overheat during high-output activities.
So if you hear Big Mountain adventure calling your name, consider taking along the Rab Khroma GTX. This is an exceptionally rugged off-piste ski shell, designed to keep you safe and comfortable in serious alpine weather.
Alternative 3: Norrøna Trollveggen Gore-Tex Pro Jacket
Norrøna has an incredible history. Founded in Norway in 1929 by Jørgen Jørgensen, the company has remained a family business across four generations. Thanks to their small team of devoted employees, Norrøna has kept its razor-sharp vision: To combine craftsmanship, innovation, function, and durability into each of their products.
In many ways, their success can be attributed to the Trollveggen jacket. In 1977, they launched the Trollveggen and consequently became the first European company to use GORE-TEX. Needless to say, the move was a massive hit. And, for the last four-and-a-half decades, the Trollveggen Gore-Tex Pro Jacket continues to be one of their market mainstays.
If you’ve been following along, you should have no trouble guessing the Trollveggen’s face fabric. That’s right: 70D GORE-TEX Pro—what else? As usual, this high-quality material guarantees exceptional weather-protection without sacrificing breathability.
Now, in the jacket’s latest incarnation, the redesigned construction minimizes the number of separate parts and seams. The result is a more flexible, more ergonomic hardshell with even less water permeability. Additionally, this year’s model manages to incorporate additional pockets without increasing weight.
Other features include:
- Concealed waist adjustment drawstring
- Asymmetric longer back cut
- Asymmetric cuffs with velcro adjustment
In Norrøna’s own words, the Trollveggen Gore-Tex Pro jacket is their “pinnacle of mountain performance.” And this is absolutely true. If there’s one thing Norrøna excels at, it’s their user-driven product development. Every new iteration of the Trollveggen represents a decisive shift in functionality.
For a durable and dependable alpine hardshell, the iconic Trollveggen Gore-Tex Pro fits the bill.
As you can see, the Alpha SV isn’t the only exceptional alpine hardshell on the market. We’ve looked at three beautiful and innovative alternatives. Let’s conclude with some of the highlights of each.
- The uniquely stretchy back panel found on the Nordwand Pro HS Hooded Jacket translates to unrestricted freedom of movement—an especially useful feature for alpine climbing. It is, however, 5% more expensive than the SV.
- The hybrid construction of the Khroma GTX Jacket makes it a great choice for high-octane activities, as it’s arguably more breathable thanks to its use of GORE’s Most Breathable Technology. Plus, it’s 16% cheaper than the SV.
- Though priced the same as the SV, the Trollveggen Gore-Tex Pro Jacket is arguably more refined thanks to Norrøna’s rigorous user-driven development.
- Of all four hardshells, the Alpha SV is the only one equipped with a RECCO rescue transponder.
- If you’re an eco-conscious consumer, you’ll also be pleased to note that all four jackets use GORE TEX Pro—a 100% recycled material.
For most of us, a severe alpine hardshell isn’t an everyday piece of kit. And, for such a steep investment, you may be wondering whether it’s worth buying at all. The truth is this: If you don’t see yourself undertaking any climbing trips, alpine skiing adventures, or big wilderness expeditions, then no—it’s not worth it.
But, if you anticipate embarking on even one epic journey, then an alpine hardshell will pay for itself in the comfort and safety it provides. Trust us—this is not a piece of gear you want to skimp on when nature manifests its glorious chaos.
Of course, whether you opt for the Alpha SV, Nordwand Pro HS Hooded, Khroma GTX, or Trollveggen Gore-Tex Pro, you won’t be disappointed.