Polartec has been on a tear, first with NeoShell, the highly breathable and waterproof fabric, and now with Alpha insulation, which it says is ultralight, compressible, and will breathe better than any synthetic insulation ever. Actually, Alpha sounds a lot like down. Even like new breeds of water-resistent down, except that Polartec is touting Alpha as both wind resistant and washable.
The product itself won’t hit retail for another year, and our test sample, a vest, arrived just yesterday, so we can’t tell you yet whether it lives up to its promise. But Alpha certainly is intriguing: To this point there’s no synthetic insulation that’s as lightweight, compressible, and warm as down. But it’s also true that even water-resistent down isn’t going to get washed very often (ideally) nor is it wind blocking. And while down is somewhat breathable, sweating in it is going to whack its insulating properties.
So if Alpha can deliver and really breathe better it’d be a huge deal. But don’t expect it to feel like down — the sample we received is low-loft, doesn’t puff like down, and doesn’t compress like down. Those are minor issues relative to whether it insulates and breathes, but if you’re looking for pure down mimic, Alpha probably isn’t it. And thin is the point — Alpha is supposed to do more with less. For all the comfort of down, it could do with less bulk.
Alpha will be used in products made by 66º North, Eddie Bauer, Eider, Mammut, Marmot, Montane, Mountain Equipment, Rab, Ternua, Terry Cycle, The North Face, Trangoworld, Vaude and Westcomb, among others. Keep an eye out.