Pros and Cons
Filed under:Clothing, Gear reviews, Waterproof Jackets, Alpkit, backpacking, clothing, hiking, trekking, Waterproof jacket
Jon Duran tries out a new middle-ground walking and trekking shell from Alpkit...
Little Alpkit the upstart web-only, direct-to-consumer rebel brand has changed. It’s no longer quite so little and, in addition to the web site, it now has no fewer than four bricks and mortar stores where you can see the whole range in analogue form.
That includes a vastly expanded array of outdoor clothing including no fewer than five waterproof shell jackets each available in both men’s and women’s versions. The Balance Jacket was one of the first waterproofs off the drawing board belonging to Rab-schooled Alpkit clothing ninja Ronnie, and sits in a sort of Golidlocks-style middle ground.
It’s not too heavy – 370g for a men’s medium – or too light. It has pockets, but not too many of them. And while there’s a highly effective hood, it’s not aimed at helmeted users, so it fits nicely over a bare head. Length? Sort of medium. Fit? Trim, but not skin tight so you can wear it over a fitted mid-layer. Price? A not outlandish £189.99.
It’s intended as a no-nonsense all-round walking, scrambling, even biking jacket. If you want lighter, check out the Gravitas. More technical? There’s the Definition. But for anything in between the Balance is the badger. Or maybe the Goldilocks.
Fit and fabric
The first thing you notice is the fabric. It’s a three-layer waterproof material using a PU membrane and an unusual, slightly textured wicking backer. The lab figures are impressive: waterproofing, measured by hydrostatic head, is 20,000mm, which is in the ballpark alongside top branded fabrics. Meanwhile a 30,000 g/sqm/24hrs MVTR lab-test for ‘breathability’ places it above most other mid-range fabrics and, again, up with the big boys. Lab tests aren’t everything, but it’s not a bad start. It also feels reassuringly rugged without being heavy and stiff. No problem wearing it over bare arms either, the fabric backer is pleasant and non-clammy against the skin.
The other immediate stand-out is the cut. It’s trim and neat fitting without any hint of restriction and with no flappy excess fabric in the upper arms or around the waist. Length is modern medium, so best worn with overtrousers in a proper deluge, but still offering a little crotch protection for those passing showers when leggings just feel like a faff to put on.
It fits and feels like a jacket from a top-end brand. albeit with a middle-market price-tag. That’s a win in my book.
We’ve been using the Balance for several months now and its been exposed to everything from dam-busting Peak District rain through to mild, showery British summer days mostly for walking. So far it’s been flawless as far as keeping us dry goes. It’s also turned out to be decently breathable, though not breath-takingly so like, say Polartec’s NeoShell. It wouldn’t be our first choice for high-tempo, high output stuff like running or mountain biking, but for normal walking, it’s been decently comfortable even uphill.
Opening the two map-sized. pack-friendly, hand-pockets allows some extra venting through mesh panels in the lining, but in heavier rain you’re best off zipping up the pockets. Speaking of which, the zips, both here and the main one, are water-resistant ones, though not the posh interlocking plastic-toothed YKK Vislon ones now common on top-end jackets. They do the job fine though.
One miss if you tend to carry a phone with you is a small chest pocket, either external or internal. It’s a relatively small detail, but actually quite a important one if, like us, you carry a mobile on the hill – or even in town.
Hoods you win
Otherwise the detailing is excellent. The hood is a stand-out. It fits well, moves with your head and the cut-away sides mean peripheral vision is excellent, no tunnel effect. It also has a mouldable, stiffened peak that works like a cap peak in heavy rain to keep water from running down your face and into your eyes. Finally chin fit is good and comfortable even when fully zipped-up.
Similarly simple hem draw cords work flawlessly and neat semi-elasticated / semi Velcro-fastened cuffs allow you to roll your sleeves up for cooling, fit over most glove cuffs and sit nicely without gloves too. All good.
We’ve already touched on it, but the medium crotch-length (for us at any rate) means waterproof overtrousers are a good call in any sort of prolonged rain, but that’s the case with most modern waterproof shells. On the plus side, a double-ended main zip is never really missed.
If you still think of Alpkit as something of a budget brand, the Balance Jacket should change your mind. It’s a neatly cut, nicely finished, super-effective all-round waterproof jacket that wouldn’t look out of place with any number of more ‘prestigious’ labels on the chest.
The reassuringly tough-feeling three-layer fabric works well for walking and scrambling, keeps the water out and breathes as well as anything bar the really top-end fabrics. The hood is excellent and the detail touches work nicely.
The one change we’d make is to add a small chest-pocket for phone and GPS use, other than that though, the Balance is an excellent, middle-ground walking and trekking shell at a very competitive price. Recommended.