Words by Jamie Osbaldiston
Introduction: I’ve always looked at the Alpha Direct from Rab and wondered “where would this fit in my range?”, and I’m happy to report it has strongly cemented itself as a key piece in my layering system. The Polartec Alpha lining and Pertex Microlight outer means that this hybrid jacket is as happy as a layering piece as well as on its own. As you would expect, it follows Rab’s easily recognisable two-tone colour split (which I love) and simple understated branding… spot on! Not to mention Rab’s usual high-quality finish.
The Fit: Usually, in brands such as Arc’teryx and Haglofs, I can be 99% sure that a medium will normally give a slightly generous fit, allowing enough room for layering and for a greater ease of mobility (particularly in the shoulders); however, with the Alpha Direct (which is already a slim fit), I chose the small. I knew that the Alpha Direct for me, although extremely capable, would be used less as a layering piece and would more than likely be tucked away under a Gore-Tex Pro shell or my insulated piece for when its particularly nasty outside. By choosing a size smaller, I achieved a much closer fit, accommodating a simple base layer beneath to wick away sweat and then allow the Polartec Alpha to work its magic. That being said, I would still be comfortable in a medium, and if I knew that this would have been used more as an outer then I would stay to my normal sizing.
Features: Where do I begin? Well let’s start with the Alpha Direct’s main feature, the Alpha! Polartec Alpha is constructed from a weave of lofted knit fibres connected to a solid mesh core, which in comparison to previous forms on insulation, allows more airflow. This ultimately creates Polartec’s first form of ‘active insulation’. What does this mean? Well put simply, the harder you work, the harder it works. By wicking sweat away from the body quickly and more effectively, the Alpha Direct removes that unpleasant saturated feel that you can get with other alternatives. Neat. The outer consists of Pertex’s Microlight fabric, which maintains a quiet, soft touch feel but provides great resistance to the wind and rain. It easily shrugged off the elements on the occasion I was caught in a short shower. The Alpha Direct generously provides three pockets: two fleece backed hand pockets, easily big enough to accommodate gloves or a hat (both at a sensible height), and a Napoleon chest pocket, of which I found most useful for a phone and car keys. However, the feature that although small, makes the biggest difference is the cuffs. The soft fleece stretchy cuffs mean that there is no faffing with Velcro tabs and leaves a clean aesthetic appearance. All of this alongside the 2-way YKK zip, internal storm flap and drawcord on the hem for an impressive 480g package, means this should be seriously considered by anyone searching for a new multi-functional layering piece.
Hood: Whilst it’s not helmet compatible, it offers the same insulation that you get in the body but still fits comfortably underneath a helmet. If you don’t fancy having the hood on show, a Velcro tab allows you to roll it up and keep it in place.
My experience: Honestly, I am genuinely impressed with Rab’s offering. Admittedly, this jacket has mainly been used as my go-to for taking the pooch for walkies in the morning, walking to work, walking back from work and walking the dog again, despite it being capable of so much more. From working on the shop floor, I predict most of our customers will be using it for the same activity. Although most of its time has been spent with a Cockapoo, the instances that I have put this through its paces, nestled below my shell and above my synthetic baselayer, it has proven its ability to adapt directly to its climate. (Pardon the pun).
I have always adopted the ‘be bold and start cold’ tactic for most high output activities, however with the Alpha Direct on you don’t have to compromise. The start of Hay Bluff, for example, I didn’t feel the need to rip it off when the first few hundred metres of steep incline approached. I maintained this solid 3-piece system throughout the duration of the walk with ease. Even when stopping to consume a brew on the top I never once reached for the belay jacket tucked in my pack. Alternatively, it makes a great piece to tuck into the bottom of my 10-litre mountain bike pack and throw on after a chilly spin, something I was more than grateful for in the past few months of typical British weather. Even though this is not something that I would have considered to add to the fleet, I am very happy that it’s there.
Conclusion: So, have I been converted? Well put simply, whether you are heading up in to the mountains, talking the dog out for a stroll, walking to work, washing the car (you would be surprised how often this situation occurs) or even popping down the local for a pint, the Rab Alpha Direct jacket is one of the finest versatile, bang for buck, multi-functional pieces currently available.
Jamie is around 5ft 10, a 30” waist and overall a slim build and wears a Small.