Over the last few years, Polartec’s Alpha almost single handedly created the “active insulation” category of outerwear, providing insulating power at rest while allowing high breathability while active. During the same time period, wool continued its resurgence in the outdoor industry as well, morphing into various iterations aimed at expanding the natural fiber’s benefits. Brooks-Range Mountaineering exploits both of these textiles with its new Alpha Vest.
The Brooks-Range Mountaineering Alpha Vest combines 60 grams of Polartec Alpha insulation in the main body with Polartec Power Wool side and back panels. Power Wool employs a patented bicomponent knit construction with synthetic fibers, enhancing wool’s natural strengths while mitigating its weaknesses. The natural Merino wool interior layer provides its well-known next to skin comfort, odor resistance, breathability, moisture absorption, and warmth even when wet. The outer synthetic layer improves the wool’s durability and shape retention while wicking the moisture from the wool inner layer to hasten drying. This “hardface” outer surface also improves compatibility with layering systems, overcoming traditional wool’s tendency to stick to neighboring garments. Other additions made to Polartec Power Wool are the use of silver salts to inhibit bacteria growth for the life of the garment and a DWR treatment too.
Other features of the Brooks-Range Mountaineering Alpha Vest include a 20d nylon shell fabric, a stretchy polyester liner fabric on the back and front panels, an insulated zipper draft tube with chin guard, two zipped handwarmer pockets, and one zipped chest pocket. The interior of the collar is also lined with Power Wool.
Breathability proved to be excellent following repeated bouts of aggressive approach hiking. Both the Polartec Alpha insulation and Power Wool back and side panels allowed great air permeability and moisture dissipation.
Durability during the testing period was fine and all outer faces of fabric were robust. The inner side of the Polartec Power Wool looks prone to pilling under heavy abrasion, although we didn’t actually see this occur during the short testing period.
Weatherproofing is what is expected of a vest, which provides protection and warmth around the core of the body. The 20d nylon shell fabric’s DWR coating fared well in light precipitation but the back and side Power Wool panels’ DWR finish did not.
Both the polyester lining and Power Wool were extremely comfortable even on bare skin. The fit around the torso is better for the athletic/trim side of the spectrum and is long enough to work under pack hip belts, even with my long torso.
The vest crams down to the size of a softball when rolled up, making it easy to pack in a suitcase or backpack. It doesn’t come with a self-stuffing pocket, which would be a nice feature to add in future versions of the Alpha Vest.
I found the Brooks-Range Mountaineering Alpha Vest to be a useful edge-of-shoulder-season addition to my quiver of gear. It is a light and compact piece suitable for covering the 50-60-degree dawn and dusk conditions of late spring, particular when worn over a light base layer. I felt that many of the advantages of the Polartec Power Wool were lost because vests are rarely worn as a next to skin layer, but it still earned a spot in my pack due to its usefulness as an unobtrusive mid layer that allows complete freedom of arm movement. Vests also seem to be in fashion with the outdoor set and this one is no different. It certainly offers a look that is fitting for the après activity pub crawl.
MSRP: $159.95 Verified weight: 8.9 oz, size M