Helly Hansen Alpha Shell ReviewAugust 27, 2018
- Easy to open pit zips
- 4-way stretch shell fabric
- Removable snow skirt
- Insulated exterior phone pocket
- Fit too long in sleeves
- Very oversized hood
- Stretch wrist cuffs too small for under cuff glove
- Less breathable
The Helly Hansen Alpha jacket uses a 3-layer Helly Tech Professional fabric that is comprised of a 4-way stretch polyester shell fabric with a polyurethane backing. The face fabric is fairly durable and holds its shape and color well. Zippers are waterproof and heavy duty, ensuring a durable product that is expected to last a long time. Velcro on the cuffs did show some distress after only a few uses. Utilizing a proprietary waterproof membrane ensured the shell is both windproof and waterproof.
The Helly Hansen Alpha jacket is packed with more features than any other shell we tested. The Alpha has a removable powder skirt and large wrist cuffs with built in gaiters to help keep out the elements while trapping in warmth. The wrist cuffs do extend deeper into the sleeve than on other pieces in the test, making the use of an under the cuff glove difficult and uncomfortable. Testers appreciated the location of the waterproof pit zips, which were offset toward the bottom of the jacket, closer to the rib cage, making them much easier to open and close with one hand. However, this location for under arm venting proved to not be as effective as the traditional pit zip location directly under the armpit. The Alpha Shell also received high marks because of the wide variety of pockets. There are two zippered hand pockets, an internal mesh pouch pocket, a zippered forearm pass pocket, and a zippered external chest pocket with built in padded “life pocket” that provides an insulated location to store your phone to preserve battery life. There is also an internally routed headphone port to allow wired headphones to connect to the phone through the jacket, rather than coming out of the chest pocket. Testers did mention that the pass pocket wasn’t very useful due to the incredibly small zipper used to access the pocket, forcing wearers to remove gloves to get to a pass that needs scanning. If using an RFID pass, this problem would not be an issue, but was extremely frustrating for users still skiing in resorts that have not yet made the jump to RFID. The jacket is also equipped with the RECCO Advanced Rescue System.
Testers had no complaints regarding the weatherproofness of the Alpha Shell. It was durable and kept the wearer dry in a variety of conditions. Windproofness was good as well. Being a heavier jacket, testers found they did not need to wear as much underneath the Alpha as they did with other shells in the test, but also got warm quickly when exerting themselves on boot packs or while skinning in warm or sunny conditions.
The Alpha shell breathes fairly well, but not as well as other options in the test. The shell suffered in temperature control in part because of the location of the under arm vents. By placing the under arm vents lower on the body, over the rib cage, access to the zipper was vastly improved, allowing for convenient one handed use, but the vents were then located below where the bulk of the body’s heat is generated. This meant the jacket did not dump heat very easily through the under arm vents and testers found themselves unzipping the main zipper more often (or even taking the jacket off entirely) in order to dump heat.
The Alpha shell fit comfortably in the torso and is cut a little longer than others in the test, allowing for additional protection from the elements when on a chairlift or skiing on those coveted extra deep days. The sleeves of the Alpha shell, however, were unusually long and caused uncomfortable bunching of fabric in the elbows. The long sleeves also made it extra difficult to open the included forearm pass pocket, as the fabric would move around when trying to pull against the zipper which is in line with the forearm. Another area where the Alpha lost points was the fit of the hood. Testers were very confused about the size of the hood, which was so large one tester stated that it might be better suited for a motorcycle helmet, not a ski helmet. The attached hood was an uncomfortable pile of fabric fixed to the jacket collar and was so big that it could be pulled down the chin of the wearer. Even with the 2-way adjustable cinch cords built into the hood, there is still a lot of excess fabric bunched up over and around the wearer’s head. A hood this large is really unnecessary and shows a lack of attention to detail in the design that caused a lower score.
Style & Value
The Helly Hansen Alpha shell has a great balance of value and style. Overall, it is a classic looking jacket that shouldn’t go out of style any time soon. The simple design presents the wearer with a solid color jacket, and sleek reflective piping on the pockets and cuffs. There is a single small Helly Hansen logo on the chest, as well as one on the back of the neck which is just big enough to get someone’s attention in the lift line. Coming in at $475, the Alpha shell is the second most expensive piece in the test, but stands up to its price tag by offering a variety of ski specific features. By using a proprietary fabric in the design, the Alpha shell could likely sell for a bit less than other shells of comparable design, but the quality and brand recognition from a company like Helly Hansen makes sense to land the Alpha comfortably within the $400-$500 range.Continue Reading
Adrianne Bouchard is a triathlete, skier, backpacker and lover of all things outdoors based in the Tahoe area.