NWALPINE’s Alpha Hoody and Simplicity Jacket
So, full disclosure before you read this review: I am a NWALPINE “Athlete”… which means as near as I can tell that I promote the company through a relatively small amount of social media, I wear their product for appropriate outdoors exploits, and I otherwise support the company however I can. In exchange, I get a little bit of clothing once a year. Actually, that’s a bit convoluted – really it’s more of just a recognition process in which we both say, ‘yeah, what you’re doing is cool, I support that, how can I help?’ Anyway, it doesn’t mean I’m paid to spray (or paid at all) – so take that for what it’s worth.
If you’ve never heard of NWALPINE – it’s basically a cottage industry (AKA small noncorporate little guy) company out of Portland, Oregon that specializes in alpine climbing clothes. They sew all their garments in Oregon, pay all their workers fair wages, they’re basically just all around good guys. No dirt, no foreign sweat shops, etc. The clothes are built upon the concept of functionality first, style and frills second. In my experience thusfar, the craftmanship is excellent, the products are durable, and all the clothes climb really well. I’ve really liked just about everything I’ve tried.
That said, two items in particular really stand out to me (the Black Spider Hoody is a close third – and an excellent baselayer). Those are the Simplicity jacket, and the insulated jacket. After using both extensively, they’ve become my perfect 1-2 punch for any sort of climbing where the temps are likely to oscillate between about 30 and 70 degrees. In other words, this combo of layers is what I use any time I have ideal temps for climbing rock – be it sport, trad, bouldering, alpine, towerbagging, etc. With both jackets on, I feel pretty good with a temp and wind chill between about 30 and 45 degrees. With just the Alpha Hoody on, 40-55 degrees or so is perfect. With just the Simplicity jacket, anything between about 55-75 degrees can really be super pleasant. Of course, these are rough numbers, and vary depending on how aerobically you’re climbing, how long you’re belaying, how much sun is on you, how hard the wind is blowing, etc. These are just rough guidelines.
The Alpha hoody uses Polartec’s super lightweight and packable alpha insulation. The material breathes exceptionally well, stays warm when it’s wet, and is obviously light enough and compressible enough to stuff into a small sack (about the size of my forearm) and clip to your harness. It weighs less than a water bottle, or a pair of approach shoes – so for most alpine climbing applications it’s barely noticeable. It’s also a hoody with a half-zip, which is really nice when you’re trying to put it on in a heavy wind. The kangaroo pouch is great, as well, for storing things (dual zippers) and hand warming. This is super nice at transitions, or chilly descents. The hood is helmet compatible, of course, and the drawcord keeps it on snug.
One of the coolest features of the Alpha hoody is the dual-cuff design. There is an external cuff which in insulated and does not have an elastic band, and an inner cuff which is only a thin layer of stretchy fabric, with an elastic band and a thumb hole. The dual cuff setup gives you a ton of different options for hand/glove warming combos. You can roll back the outer cuff to keep your wrists cool (I usually do this when climbing), or roll it down to have almost a half glove to warm your hands (nice for belaying. It’s also super easy to roll the outer cuff back, put on a pair of gloves, and then roll it down over the glove – which is a much nicer feature than the typical elastic wrist. Finally, the thumb holes are a must have for me, and I use them all the time.
The compliment to the Alpha hoody – the Simplicity jacket – is a bit less complicated of a product. It’s a super thin, super light, single layer of 30 denier ripstop nylon that blocks wind exceptionally well. Almost every climbing company has one of these layers now, but amazingly enough, I’ve seen so many epic fails on making this layer right. You really want just four things in a wind shirt… you want it to cut wind, you want it to be light and packable, you want it to stuff easily into its own pocket, and you want it to be able to survive a chimney. I’m not sure why, but I can honestly say, the Simplicity jacket is the only layer of its kind I’ve seen that excels at all four. I’ve beat the crap out of it, I’ve stuffed it super easily with gloves on (I won’t name names, but one very popular company made the internal stuff pocket exasperatingly small), it has always kept me surprisingly warm, and it becomes unnoticeable on my harness when I take it off. I think the reason the Simplicity jacket succeeds where so many others fail is because it doesn’t go overboard on cutting weight. It’s a touch beefier, a touch bulkier, and hence a touch more durable, easier to stuff, and warmer. That said, it still only weighs a feathery five ounces. Trust me, NWALPINE nailed it on this layer. The chest pocket even fits an iphone easily (or a snack, or a topo, or some toilet paper, or whatever).
I don’t think NWALPINE clothes are as flashy as their corporate leviathan competitors, they may not rank quite as high on the style scale (as if I’d know anyway), and may have less pizazz in cityscapes. I hear some companies that make climbing clothes make really nice “Lifestyle” apparel as well. But what NWALPINE does, they do really well. If you’ve been on the fence about trying NWALPINE out, I hope this article will push you over the edge. Give it a shot. The clothes price comparably to competitors, which is saying a lot. Some of the garments may seem pricey (like any piece of outdoors apparel). That’s not because the CEO is getting rich though (I don’t believe NWALPINE even has a CEO), but because they paid their workers fair wages, instead of offering some Chinese kid a bag of rice to work a 20 hour day. If you’ve ever thought of trying to support small business, American textiles, fair labor practices, and (dare I say) fringe economics – consider NWALPINE.
To check out NWALPINE, and shop, visit www.nwalpine.com.