Over the last couple of months I’ve been testing out the Rab Alpha Flash Jacket, a breathable midlayer jacket ideal for use under a shell or windproof when working hard. Sorry for the lack of action photos – as it’s a midlayer I never wore it without a shell over the top!
Everyone knows the drawbacks of fleece; it’s not packable, it’s quite heavy and it offers virtually no protection from the wind yet they take seemingly ages to dry when wet. The Alpha Flash is better than fleece on 3 of these fronts, it’s lighter and more packable plus the Alpha Direct Insulation wicks and dries incredibly fast. It does however offer no protection from the wind so don’t even consider using it as an outer, it would be pointless. Considering its weight and pack size it offers a huge amount of warmth when paired with any kind of wind resistant outer, so much more than a traditional fleece.
Despite it basically being a fancy fleece I actually love the Alpha Flash, what impressed me most about it is just how breathable it is. Under a softshell in the Lake District on a cold and windy November day it was brilliant. It was so breathable that I didn’t have to take it off even when walking up steep hills and it worked similarly well under my thinner windproof on a slightly warmer day. It also made for an excellent midlayer underneath my hardshell when skiing, again the breathability meant that I could keep it on, and with the shell over the top to stop the wind it kept me a comfortable temperature when skiing and sitting on the lift.
In terms of fit and style it works fine as a midlayer. You’re not going to win any beauty prizes wearing it – the fuzzy outer just isn’t a great look, but it’s not designed for that. The fit was good for me, it was close fitting enough to easily go under any outer layer and I even wore it briefly as a 1st midlayer under an older Alpha Insulation jacket on a cold day when skiing (note: double layering Alpha is seriously warm).
I thought that the thin fleece side panels were a great addition. They stop the Alpha Insulation rubbing against itself so there’s no resistance from the arms against the body when moving. They should also help the Alpha insulation last longer and not wear through – more on this below – as well as helping the excellent breathability the jacket already has.
It does have some downsides; I would not want to wear it without a shell over the top like I would a normal fleece. This is for 2 reasons, firstly it provides zero wind protection, even less than a normal fleece and secondly the longevity of it. The Alpha Direct Insulation is a very soft outer with a thin fleece like inner, I honestly can’t see it surviving very well being worn under a pack, it just looks and feels like the pack straps would rub the Alpha off leaving it looking like a mangy cat. I would also worry that over time this might happen with repeated washing, though so far so good after going through the wash a few times. I also didn’t see the point in the chest pocket, other than to add a bit of styling, it’s too small for anything useful and as it’s a midlayer why would you put anything in the pocket anyway?
Overall I think the Alpha Flash Jacket is absolutely superb and despite my reservations on longevity (I am careful to not wear it directly under a pack) I wouldn’t hesitate to immediately buy one if Rab demanded this one back.