It’s easy to forget just how radical Alpkit was when the brand first launched a decade or more ago. Back then there was no internet discounting of outdoor gear. No direct sales from brand websites. And the idea that people might buy clothing online seemed a questionable fantasy.
And then Alpkit appeared. Four guys from the outdoors industry who set up their own business selling direct from their website. The idea was to take the retailer out of the pricing equation making it possible to sell good quality, direct-sourced kit at a super competitive price. What happened then was the brand developed a reputation for producing budget-price gear that was incredible value, performed beyond its price expectations, but lacked the prestige and polish of the established, swanky outdoors brands.
The brand became known for affordable headtorches, sleeping mats and bags and iconic bargain pieces like the quirky original Filo down jacket with its distinctive beaver-tail extended back. All good and easy to understand. Except that it was never quite meant to be that way and over the past couple of years, Alpkit, the disruptors of the outdoor industry, has quietly gone quasi mainstream. To get an idea of what’s changed, we popped over for a chat with Alpkit marketing honcho Dan Thompson at the brand’s Peak District shop – yes a real life, bricks and mortar shop, one of three – in a snowy Hathersage.
Just good kit
In one way it’s easy to summarise what’s changed. Whereas before, Alpkit produced decent enough kit at a super competitive price, now the emphasis is much more on simply making the best product rather than focussing on the best value. That means using top-spec fabrics, manufacturing in the best factories they can find and working with research facilities like Leeds University to refine and improve their kit. Pricing is still competitive, still ‘good value’, but it’s not the main thing. That might confuse old customers who lament the days when you could snap up a Filo for the price of a pint of Guinness, but the bottom line is that the ‘new’ Alpkit is much closer to what the brand was always supposed to be.
…and more of it
The other thing that strikes you straight away is that there’s just so much more in the range than there ever was before. Like a whole bike sub-brand, Sonder. A comprehensive range of clothing designed initially by a talented ex-Rab apparel specialist. Tents, with more coming soon. A varied pack range. And old staples like sleeping bags, mats, headtorches and yes, even Filo down jackets, but all tweaked and improved. Even the notoriously fragile Gamma headtorch battery compartment has been fixed so, fingers crossed, it no longer breaks. And here’s a thing: Alpkit has its own in-house gear repair service, offering basic fixes for broken kit made by anyone. The only other people doing that, as far as we know, are Patagonia. And like the big P, Alpkit has its own charitable foundation funded by sales of its kit.
Show me the good stuff
All of which is interesting, but what does it mean in terms of gear? Here’s a rapid-fire walk-through of some of the more interesting bits of kit in the current Alpkit range.
Filo Jacket tweaked: One of the brands old favourites, the Filo down jacket has been completely revamped for this winter. It’s no longer super-cheap, but it’s so much nicer than before. The distinctive beaver tail has pretty much gone, but there are plenty of other changes too. Down is now 650-fillpower, hydrophobic Downtek duck down. The outer fabric is a light but tough 40D material while the removable hood is now a zip-off item rather than using press-studs. At the time of writing, it was selling for £159 and looking good as does the slick, redesigned Filoment microbaffled jacket and the hardcore alpine Phantac, which has loftier 750 fill down, a helmet hood and, interestingly for this season, a tougher, beefed up fabric for improved durability. It still only weighs 480g and was on sale at £199.
Alpkit gloves: Another relatively new addition is a whole range of outdoors and cycling gloves ranging from running ones with fold-out windproof mitt bits, right through to full-on waterproof mountaineering gauntlets. The pair we particularly liked the look of are the Frazil and Gabbro, technical winter mountain gloves in characteristic ‘guide’ leather. The Frazil is an insulated softshell glove complete with zoned pile and PrimaLoft insulation so you can still do stuff with your hands. The fit – for me at least – was excellent and they retail for £36. Spend another fiver, so £41, and you can have all that plus a waterproof Porelle liner too with the Gabbro glove, which looks like a classic winter staple again with outers made from a mix of goat leather and soft shell.
Lots of packs: Also relatively new is a full range of packs with UK-made customisable climbing packs being joined by a quirky assortment of waxed cotton sacs and, sorry guys, in blue and orange colours reminiscent of a certain NE-based brand, five neat, modern models made in the far east. They range from a 10L running pack through to a 40L mountain technical climbing pack with snow-shedding back and straps. They look refined, thought-out and contemporary. And the Gnarl, a simple 15-litre lightweight summit pack, has the best product name we’ve seen for ages. Oh, one last thing, Gourdon – the iconic, simple, waterproof pack – is alive…
Finally, Alpkit wouldn’t be Alpkit without the Gamma headtorch, for years now the default choice for anyone looking for a functional, affordable all-round headlight. It’s now the Gamma III, it looks very like previous Gammas, still has the neat red LED on the battery box for back lane safety, but guess what, revised design means the battery box lid no longer breaks regularly. If that’s the – slightly refined past – the new Quark, which shares its name with a Petzl ice tool, is the present and probably the future too. Squarely aimed at ultra-runners, it looks like a super versatile beast of a light. For starters, it sidesteps the battery or rechargeable dilemma – hello Spine racers – by allowing you to use either a USB rechargeable cell, you can get spares too, or AAAs. It’s rain resistant to IPX6 and, impressively, turfs out 580 lumens for a handy two and a half hours on full whack. Obviously you can choose lower settings for longer burn times. All for £29.
Scratching the surface
All of which is pretty impressive and we haven’t even looked at tents, sleeping bags, bikes, and the rest of the expanding range of outdoor clothing. If you’re bored, check out the neat fleece range or the quietly awesome Woodsmoke, a sort of technical checked mountain shirt made from a Polyester fibre called ThermoTech for wicking and drying and treated with Polygiene to stop smells. A little bit awesome, a little bit left-field, and yes, still a little bit disruptive.
View the full Alpkit range at