It’s getting to that time of the year again; the mercury plummets and the climbers all begin to flock indoors. That said, if it isn’t raining, a few dedicated souls strive to hit the crag. At this time of year some folks get all excited about it being “Grit season”. Here in the Lakes, we’re all more excited to not be currently underwater. Thus starts a series of reviews aimed at jackets for the dedicated: I’ll be looking at some top picks, for a variety of uses inside the umbrella term “Climbers Jacket”.
First up: Rab Alpha Direct Jacket. RRP: £180
Aimed at the alpinists, this jacket truly is a climbers piece. Fitted, formed and fully featured the Alpha Direct is a real tool in the ice climbers Arsenal. Focusing on providing a high warmth to weight, and breathable insulation. The jacket is constructed from Polartec alpha, with Pertex Microlight on the outside for some weather shielding.
Where to test this beast, you might ask? Well, the indoor ice climbing wall obviously!
Myself and Gnash got tooled up for a good old session in them. This worked out quite well for me, as I had an opportunity to get a masterclass in all things Ice. Having only dabbled and been self-taught, my technique could only be described laughably poor. On the other hand Gnash has more alpine and ice climbing experience than anyone I’ve met. He’s also a rather highly qualified instructor, so that helps.
Thus began an hour and a half of a session, that could only be described as an intense learning experience. Ice climbing, somewhat unsurprisingly, is all about energy preservation. The idea is to get to the top by expending as little energy as possible, as getting pumped can happen very quickly if you aren’t climbing right! Getting the technique right, and trusting your feet is as important as it is difficult to do. Once I learnt to relax, and settled into a rhythm, I really felt like I’d learnt a lot.
The distinction of a good alpine climbing jacket in my opinion can be narrowed down to one brutal point. Are you aware of it when it’s on? Winter climbing is such an all absorbing activity that if something can break that immersion to cause a distraction, it’s no good. And did I notice it whilst climbing? Absolutely not! Far too focused on spooning my foot placements and missing wildly to notice my jacket.
Bottom line is that if you’re in need of a new winter piece, this jacket should be a serious contender. At the end of the day, the alpine cut and tapered arms aren’t going to fit everyone, but the jacket performs well under duress, and has the features to boot. Two full zip pockets and a chest pocket provide ample storage. The Polartec Alpha has a high warmth to weight ratio and retains warmth even when wet; a perfect companion for the Scottish mountaineer. So wherever you’re going this winter, the Alpha direct will have your back.