Mountain Hardwear Alcove Jacket



Waterproof: Water resistant Windproof: Yes
Hood: Yes Adjustable Hood: One-Way
Cinch Cords: Hem Insulation: Synthetic
Cuffs: Velcro & Elastic Pit Zips: No
Napoleon Pocket: Yes Handwarmer Pockets: 2
Sleeve Pockets: None Zipper Type: Storm Flaps
Inner Pockets: None Seams: None
Weight: 34.9 oz. Stowable: No
Chin Abrasion Guard: Yes MSRP: $265

Overview

Mountain Hardwear Alcove Jacket

The Alcove jacket, due out in Fall of 2009, is a very warm hooded shell, featuring a waterproof outer fabric and an excellent DWR.  Using Primaloft Eco, the parka is excellent for belaying or other cold-weather activities where protection is paramount.  It does have some kinks that could be worked out, though.

We here at Jacket Reviews have gotten a little taste of what Mountain Hardwear has in store for Fall of 2009.  Jonathan has already provided a review of the Refugium heated, insulated jacket, and I’ve gotten a chance to check out their new Alcove insulated jacket.

Mountain Hardwear Alcove Jacket

Pockets

The Alcove comes equipped with three standard pockets and two inner mesh pockets.  The first three consist of two basic handwarmer pockets, which are lined with a soft tricot material, and a Napoleon pocket, the front of which uses the same soft nylon from the inside of the shell, and the back of which is composed of the material making up the outer shell fabric.  The two inner mesh pockets are very roomy and would easily fit a Nalgene or a similar sized bottle, presumably to keep the liquid from freezing.

Mountain Hardwear Alcove Jacket

Zippers

The three pocket zippers are small YKK zippers, with rubbery plastic pulls about two inches in length.  All are reverse coil, which aids in water resistance.  Additionally, the handwarmer pockets are also protected by sturdy storm flaps, to help keep the nasty away from your gear.  The main zipper is also YKK, and it is dual-separating.  There’s not much protection on the outside, but just inside is a solid storm flap, with a nylon overlay that bears a striking resemblance to a seat belt (in feel, not in looks).

Mountain Hardwear Alcove Jacket

The Hood

The hood is insulated, like the rest of the jacket, and has one-way adjustment in the front, with two draw cords on either side of the hood.  They are secured in an interesting way: they are run through a sleeve of hard plastic, which has a slit in it.  Simply pull the cord up through the slit, and it’s secured.  Well, in theory, anyway.  I found during use that the slit was too large, or perhaps the cord was too thin.  Either way, the cord had an annoying habit of simply falling out of the slit, undoing the tension that had secured the hood the way I wanted it.  It didn’t fall out immediately, but even normal wear caused it to come undone.  Not thrilled with that.  I did go to the Mountain Hardwear store, and tried out another hooded jacket with the same hood adjustment (the Hooded Compressor PL jacket), and that one seemed to work better.  So this may be an isolated incident, but let’s hope it’s not a sign of something more prominent.

Mountain Hardwear Alcove Jacket

Body Adjustment

The hem is adjusted by means of dual cinch cords.  Something I thought was interesting was that the cord wasn’t, in fact, at the very bottom of the hem.  It was actually about an inch higher.  Not a problem, but interesting, all the same.

The cuffs are adjustable with velcro and elastic.

Mountain Hardwear Alcove Jacket

Extras

The Alcove, intended for use as a belay parka, has plenty of synthetic insulation to keep the cold away.  It’s constructed with Primaloft Eco, which consists of 50% recycled polyester.  The chin abrasion guard is similar to that of most MHW apparel; a soft, “Micro-Chamois” fabric which feels nice against the skin.  The Alcove comes with stuff sack, and is quite compressible for a jacket of its size (see picture for comparison with 32-ounce Nalgene).  The ends of the sleeves have elastic and Velcro, which I find to be the best of both worlds.

Mountain Hardwear Alcove Jacket

Qualms

You are now entering the danger zone.  I actually found a fair amount of issues with the Alcove.  First of all, is the issue of fit.  Like another MHW insulated shell I’ve used (the Windstopper Insulated Jacket), the Alcove has fit issues as well.  I don’t have the full story here, since I’m usually a medium and the one I’ve been using is a large, but bear with me.  I’ve got the same fit issues as the Windstopper Insulated jacket: a baggy lower torso, short sleeves, and a bit of snugness in the shoulders.  I normally don’t mind a bit of an athletic fit and I’ve got fairly broad shoulders, so that’s not a huge issue, but you see that if I were to go down a size to make the lower torso less baggy, that would of course make the shoulders even tighter and decrease the length of the sleeves even more.  Perhaps there’s a niche market for mountain climbers with narrow shoulders, short arms and beer bellies, but somehow I doubt it.  It’s kind of a disturbing trend.  Let’s hope it doesn’t continue.  Note that I’ve only had these kinds of fit issues with these bigger, insulated shells, and not really with other garments made by Mountain Hardwear.

Another kind of weird issue that I’ve discovered is that although MHW states the Alcove uses a waterproof shell fabric, the seams aren’t sealed.  In fact, many of them seem to form a little valley where the stitching was done, almost inviting water to get in.  If, as MHW says, the fabric is indeed waterproof (and also features a new DWR supposedly five times as durable as conventional treatments), would it hurt to just finish the job?  Sure, it’s Primaloft, so it retains many of its properties even when wet, but they could go further, and ensure it retains *all* of its properties.  Or, they could just take a waterproof shell and put some down in there.  Down’s the best insulator when it’s dry, after all, and if the shell is waterproof, it’ll stay dry.  It’d be a lot lighter, too; I checked out the Nitrous Jacket, made by MHW, and it was very light, but extremely warm; hot, even.

Speaking of light weight, the Alcove is not a small jacket.  It weighs almost 35 ounces, and has quite a bulky feel to it.  It almost feels like there’s too much fabric put into it.

Finally, there’s the issue of the hood adjustment, which was covered in the hood section, so I won’t reiterate that.

Warmth

On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is a long-sleeved T-shirt, and 10 an expedition-quality mountaineering suit, I’d give the Alcove a 7.  It is bulky, but it is definitely quite a warm shell.  MHW did not skimp in this area.

Waterproof?

Well, kind of.  According to the press release, the shell fabric is waterproof, and it has a new DWR that is supposedly five times more durable than conventional treatments, but if the fabric itself is waterproof, why not seal the seams?  That would ensure full waterproofness.  At any rate, with the above factors, the jacket will keep you dry for a very long time.

Conclusion

I suppose that in the end, providing samples for us to test is a good idea.  It lets us point out possible flaws before the products are received by the general public.  The Alcove is a good idea, but I think it needs some refining before its release this fall.  All the main things are there, but seam taping, a better fit, and improved hood adjusters would make this pretty good jacket a great jacket.

The Verdict: 7/10

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