Comfort When Polartec’s synthetic Alpha insulation hit the market a few years ago, it was a big hit for its breathable warmth. (Indeed, we gave Rab a 2013 Editors’ Choice Award for the Alpha-filled Strata Hoodie.) Now, Rab debuts a new benefit of Alpha: It’s cozy-soft next to skin. Since the insulation doesn’t need a backer to hold it in place, Rab eliminated the interior lining (saving weight), so it’s just fleecy Alpha under a shell. Testers loved how soft and warm it felt, especially over a T-shirt. We liked the Direct for skinning in temps below 15°F, but it was a bit warm for active duty above that. Ding: “The insulation grabs at your baselayer sleeves when you put the jacket on,” one tester says.
Protection One snowshoer loved the full-coverage hood, which “turned back blasts of cold air.” The Pertex Microlight shell thwarted high winds on Thompson Pass, Alaska. Downside: The shell took breathability down a notch. m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL