I have something of a glove fetish. I also destroy gloves fast for some reason. So when Arc’Teryx launched their revised Alpha SV gloves, I wanted to get my hands in a pair. This winter I’ve had the opportunity to put my Alpha SV gloves through some hard wearing, both inbounds and touring. And I’m impressed — though you’ll have to make the call yourself as to whether the price is worth it.
What makes these gloves so special is that they are seam-sealed GoreTex Proshell, built like a jacket, with a removable liner. You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but creating a GoreTex seam-sealed glove like this is much harder than it sounds; constructing the articulation for a glove is very tricky business, and doing so with a Gore membrane and seam-sealing even moreso. Previous to directly bonding the membrane to the shell, the membrane was a separate insert. This meant that water became trapped between the shell and the membrane, creating heavy, water-soaked gloves that would take days to dry. Needless to say, Arc’Teryx cracked the problem of directly adhering the GoreTex membrane to the shell (so did Mountain Hardwear, with their own glove membrane technology called OutDry, which I’ll mention again below).
The result is a glove that truly does breathe freely. This is especially apparent when touring. Most of the time I wear Hestra Army Leather Heli-Ski gloves with a removable liner. These are classic leather and nylon shells. For the most part these are fantastic for day-in, day-out powder skiing, given you can dry them out at night in the hut or house, for the leather and shell soak through after a day’s use, even when wax-proofed. They also sweat hard when you get hot. In West Coast conditions, they’re often too warm, and often not breathable enough. The Alpha SVs are a huge step up in this respect: they breathe well, dry very, very fast, and retain warmth when damp. They are also lighter, and less bulky in the finger tips. They aren’t quite as warm as the Hestras, at least not initially; but once they warm up they retain their warmth quite well.
The articulation of the Alpha SVs is superb, by which I mean the dexterity of the fingertips and joints. The gloves are carefully sculpted and shaped and allow for manipulation of most buckles and zippers. That said, I feel the sizing could be more precise. The sizing difference between a Men’s medium and large is subtle; it appears to be just the length of the digits, and I can fit either size. By comparison, Hestra offers a numbered sizing system which allows for a much more precise overall fit.
When I first saw the Alpha SV design several years ago, my first question to the Arc’Teryx rep was: where’s the leash? At the time he scoffed at the idea, saying it would add too much weight, so I scoffed at him: a $300 pair of gloves needs some form of leash! I am a frequent leash-user: I throw off my gloves, expecting them to stay on my wrists. All quality gloves are built to be used with leashes. Well, this production season (2012/13) deadbird has included – gasp! — leashes. This makes some sense given that the gloves cost $150 per hand. Which brings us to the question of price: are these gloves worth the cost? Three hundred clams can purchase all kinds of kit. But gloves?
The Alpha SVs certainly perform well, especially in the backcountry. Their fast-drying performance will be welcome most during multi-day expeditions. But even during daily outings, the difference is substantial: I have yet to see the Alpha SV let me down. Indeed, this one pair of gloves has replaced having to carry two pair on longer tours. But the real test is durability. How will the leather palms hold up? The GoreTex membrane? The liners? The dye? For these answers, I’ll write back here in 12 months. If the gloves deliver year after year, then yes, they are a worthy investment for dedicated outdoor users who will be putting these gloves to the tests of abuse they were meant for. Quite simply, they might just save your fingers in dire situations; they might just keep your fingers warm the next day when a less-savvy glove will be soaked and/or frozen through.
In the meantime, there remains significant competition in the field, not just from Hestra, but Mountain Hardwear and Outdoor Research, both who make very high quality, well articulated, dextrous gloves at lower price points. Mountain Hardwear undertook some especially awesome innovation with their blown-in waterproof breathable membrane called Outdry. I have a few pair of MH gloves that perform just as well as the deadbird, but at 2/3rds the price; the difference is in the construction. The Alpha SVs are, quite simply, bomber built and better articulated.