as part of Polartecs cross-category explosion across the textile world comes Alpha. as Primaloft ventures into fabrics and Pertex delves into membranes, Polartec is shaking up the design and application sector with Alpha insulation.

polartec alpha iceclimbingjapan teton mountain project

Alpha proto: insulation alchemy

developed hand in hand with US special forces (just as Primaloft was in the decades before), Alpha has a pedigree well tested long before it arrived in recreational applications, with its big debut at the next OR. claims are big – competing with Primaloft is serious stuff as their products hone in on down-like qualities getting closer every year – with the main points being Alpha breathes better, dries faster and is lighter to use.

at Teton Mountain Project weve just started test piloting protos in it and its not hard to see the differences; where Primaloft is a chaotic layer of nebulous fibre, Alpha is a woven sheet with lots of holes thru it. that it breathes better is in part simply a matter of the design properties – Primaloft actually repells water like a layer, Alpha would work like a collander.

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Primaloft One: in its 50g/m2 weight acting as a shell. tho easy to compare against Alpha, they are 2 very different insulations with 2 very different ranges of application

to my mind the greater difference is how it can be used in designs: Primaloft comes in a 2-part format of insulation and lining sheet either side that then requires a third and often fourth layer to house it (often pertex), whereas Alpha comes as the core insulation, but has the spectrum of Polartecs vision to cover it with, meaning just 3 layers rather than 5, therefore lighter and a more crushable consistancy. in the case of the TMP protos, polartec has covered the outside with something akin to Pertex Quantum, and the inside with something so astoundingly light it is actually see-through. by comparison, with 2 jackets of identical volume, insulation mass and size – one Primaloft One the other Alpha – the Alpha stuffs down to about 2/3 of the Primaloft one, even with 1 extra zip.

polartec alpha iceclimbingjapan teton bros mountain project

hard to photograph: the near transparent inner fabric over the Polartec Alpha insulation

of course, insulation is the main matter here, and it will take longer to test before realistic results, with trips up Fuji and deep into kaikomagatakes NE side in the next 10 days to give a better idea. as for now, the Alpha certainly feels more down-like and ‘floaty’ to wear, and tests are in the pipeline to judge one insulation against another regarding drying times and heat retention in more quantitive ways than a human wandering about cold mountains.

why does Alpha matter?

because competition breeds good results. primaloft is still outstandingly good stuff and really going places – and throwing that against Alpha will only push things faster. the days of equalling down for weight and stuff-size get ever closer, mattering not just to the climber but to a more humane industry (tho the petrochem connection is another matter…).

why would you choose Alpha? because it integrates into a system better. by streamlining what goes around it Polartec has made a huge leap in applications, by opening up the choices and ditching an unneeded factor. like the protocol behind any meta-system – simplifying to elements of greater functionality is the parsimonious ideal. and Alpha does that exceptionally. combined with a system that includes the low-mass baselayers and warm/cool shells like Neoshell in its various incarnations, Alpha further evolves the capability of what an active human in an extreme environment has to work with.