The Bird's new top of the line glove, Alpha SV, created quite a buzz late last season with a few calling it a breakthrough in design, the best glove ever made, etc. I am sure that a large part of the buzz was their jaw-dropping retail price of $275 . So, I decided to take a look and ordered a pair early from backcountry.com (their return policy serving as an insurance). As of now the glove is sold out in most sizes, so either they had a very small production run, or a lot of people are curious.
Design- this is a typical gauntlet glove with pretty good coverage. The palm and some of the backside are leather-covered. The two main innovation here is that Arcteryx laminated the GoreTex membrane fabric directly to the leather and also found a clever way to make the fingers with welded seams. So the outer glove sort of looks like a bloated rubber glove, but with leather and GoreTex instead of rubber. The glove has a removable liner that is not held in place by anything, looks like Arcteryx relies on just fit to hold it in. it works with a dry glove, less so with a damp glove.
Design issues that I like: The liner is fleece at the palm and fingers and some kind of laminated nylon in the cuff area, so if you get some snow in that area you can get it out without having it stuck there and making a wet mess. Every glove liner should be made like that.
Design issues that I don't like: The glove wrist is synched by a fussy two pulls cord, and the wrist is tightened by an elastic strap that is held by a flimsy plastic buckle that comes undone as soon as you touch anything with it. A velcro would have been a lot more secure. To my astonishment, the glove didn't come with any sort of leash or keeper. There are large carabiner loops, but it would be nice to have an included leash in a $275 glove.
Fit and finish- Quality is typical Arcteryx, which means that they are flawless. This is a very attractive product. Still, the leather on the palm looks pretty thin, and there are no critical area reinforcements. Arcteryx gear has always been more durable than it looked for me, but that would be an are of concern. I already talked about the buckle. I have relatively average size fingers but the glove fingers fit a bit short, so if you have long fingers, don't bother with it.
In use: The main selling point of the Alpha SV is the increased dexterity given by the laminate construction of the outer glove. In practice, once you put the liner in, any increased dexterity is gone, it feels just like any other high-end gauntlet liner gloves. The glove was light and trim, but it didn't feel appreciably better than my Hestra Heli, and my well-worn leather Hestra RSL Comps felt much more dexterous. I have not had a chance to test it in adverse conditions, but I would say that they should breath just like any GoreTex glove, maybe a little bit better, but not by much.
Conclusion: Simply put, there is no way in hell that this glove is worth $275. The "out-of-this-world dexterity" claim didn't bear out, the durability is questionable, and the fit would be a problem for some people. $275 price for this glove is truly insane. I failed to see this glove providing even 25% better performance than Hestra Heli that costs almost three times as less. If you have short fingers (and big wallet), they may be an option for you, otherwise, look elsewhere. The Alpha SVs are going back for a refund.
Last word: True to the Bird's reputation the manufacturing innovations are real and neat, so watch out for the further editions; once Arcteryx irons out the kinks and drops the prices, they may become a viable alternative to Hestras. Sorry, Arcteryx, but so far you have missed badly on that one.
P.S. My family own quite a few of Arcteryx pieces (probably enough to keep their factory humming for a while), so I am generally a big fan of the brand.
Edited by alexzn - 12/14/10 at 8:35am