Thursday, August 16, 2012
BAD Gear: Arc'teryx LEAF Alpha Jacket
Undoubtedly Arc'teryx is one of the world's best textile manufacturers in the outdoor recreation sector. What most people do not know is that Arc'teryx also has a line of textiles exclusively for the Law Enforcement / Armed Forces community - which they dubbed 'LEAF'.
In recent armed conflict history, equipment-wise, there has been a lot of crossover between sporting equipment and military equipment. For example, I now run Lowa Zephyr goretex boots, which are based on a running sneaker style. Likewise the textiles used in the LEAF community are shifting towards lighter performance-based fabrics with better range of movement, packability, and durability - all gleaned from research based in the outdoor recreation sector as well as from direct input of military users. Gone are the days of heavy canvas and cotton jackets and pvc rain jackets.
One such kit is the LEAF Alpha jacket. It retails for around $750CAD at select retailers; however, with a vetted application, the price drops dramatically - which is how I came upon mine. You may be screaming WTF, and pulling your hair with gnashing of teeth at the price point; however, one must remember that the civilian equivalents can run you about that price. This is pro-grade, meaning, the warranty service is there, and the durability is there as well. Military Morons has an awesome review on the features already, so I won't get too much into detail about the features. I will point out a few select features that make it THE jacket for what I do.
The Alpha is a 2-climate hardshell- meaning it was built for temperate and arctic conditions. Due to the nature of Goretex (in fact, all gore-like material), waterproofness and moisture wicking properties don't work in tropical conditions. In desert conditions, you'd be crazy to be wearing triply ply gore material. The majority of the work locales I'm in are exactly within the temperate and arctic belts and corresponding seasonal conditions, so this is the ideal hardshell for me.
Because of its 3-ply gore-tex material it is very breathable, light, and waterproof while providing protection against harsh, intense climates, prolonged exposure to weather and abrasion from gear and landscapes. The shell features laminated taping around the seams, articulated and anatomical cut with consideration for gear. I've worn this shell with armour on top and underneath, both ways work depending on the weather. The stowaway hood is meant to be compatible with helmets, the sleeves are gusseted and articulated to provide full ROM, the underarms have zippers for venting.
Other features include sleeve pockets, laminated chest access pockets, velcro for attaching IFF or patch, and one-handed cinch cords to bring everything in. The jacket collar stows the hood when not in use, and it provides some protection from chafing around the neck when wearing armour for prolonged periods.
It comes in two colours: crocodile, and black. There's not much to say about black - it's black. The crocodile colour is one of those in-between colours, I'd say its between coyote brown and olive drab. Looking at the pictures above, you can see that my 5.11 Taclite trousers are in desert/khaki/coyote, and the jacket is in croc, and my toque and liner fleece is in army green.
Looking at this image, the colour variation is not that great. Hanging beside the Alpha, is the Combat and Bravo - along with the issued fleece. The backpack above is the Eagle IIIa 3-day pack, and you see the Cadpat ARID pack. It is a very adaptable colour.
This jacket has seen use in Africa, Arctic, West Coast, Alaska, Arizona, Asia, Middle East. In certain regions and elevations, this shell is the ideal use. For higher elevations where wind, sleet, snow, rain is encountered, this shell does its job. Since its a shell, I wear a combination of layers (LEAF Combat, LEAF Bravo, Issued fleece, poly pro undergarments, merino wool - whatever it takes to stay warm when not on the move. However when mobile, the jacket is very easy to stow as it is very packable.
For the use itself, I find the construction very durable, there are no exposed seams, all are taped to provide water ingress protection. Obviously though, if its raining hardcore and rain works its way down the collar, its game over, at least it drys quick. From the pictures above, you can see that the cut allows access to the kit mounted off my belt. Its shorter up front, and longer in the back ( like a mullet), which is ideal for accessing shit.
So some things it doesn't do well with - it does not wick away moisture if the humidity and temperature is warmer outside than the microclimate created by the jacket. Warm moisture is wicked away to colder atmosphere - therefore jungle trekking won't work, not the daytime desert conditions. You are better served with a windjacket like the Arc'teryx Squamish or Wraith. It also doesn't work when the jacket becomes excessively dirty with oil and dirt - mainly from travelling around shitty places. One thing that I do do, is to use gore-tex wash and DWR restorers after every season or deployment to maintain the waterproofness, breathability, and DWR.