NW Alpine is a boutique outdoor brand based in Oregon. I first learned about NW Alpine a couple of years ago when I was still living in Portland. William Amos III and NW Alpine are pretty well known in the climbing community there. Bill himself has a reputation as a legit climber and definitely knows a thing or two about what will be asked of apparel in an alpine environment. Bill is also passionate about US manufacturing and if you talk to him long, you’ll learn that he is on a conquest to keep his stuff designed and made in the United States. NW Alpine creates all its garments in Newberg, Oregon with legal labor.
It wasn’t for a little bit of time that I finally got my hands on the Fast/Light Jacket but now that I have one, it’s become my goto soft shell for most climbing.
The soft-shell is constructed of durable Tweave Durastretch. As the fabrics name suggests, the material is both tough and pliable (also made in the United States). The jacket’s athletic cut doesn’t at all restrict movement and feels sturdy. I wasn’t concerned about abrading it on rock during mixed routes and saw no damage on the shoulders from pack straps or resting tools. The piece is quite breathable and comes equipped with a DWR to repel light showers or melting ice and snow. Climbing the partially formed ice flows of East Vail this season, I was impressed by how much dripping water was deflected compared to my current soft-shell pant (which I shan’t embarrass by naming) that wetted out almost immediately.
Like most of NW Alpine’s gear, the Fast/Light Jacket has a minimalist design with the key features an alpine climber would require and not a lot of fluff required to appeal to a wider audience. You won’t find an smart phone pocket, millions of zippers and draw strings on the Fast/Light. Hand pockets are even omitted since they become useless on most jackets as soon as the wearer puts on a climbing harness.
The jacket does have a left breast pocket which is situated opposite the right side breast pocket of the NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody. This is the kind of planning we love to see in a clothing system and shows forethought on the part of the designers. Together, they two piece performed very well with the lighter weight base-layer giving enough warmth while in motion and the outer jacket keeping wind and wet at bay. NW Alpine also offers a very nice belay jacket that works in this system.
I like to strip off my climbing gloves when I switch over to belay in favor of something less wet and cold. Usually, I just shove these thin gloves into my jacket to keep them a little warmer until I don them once more but I always worry about losing a glove when I bend over or loosen my harness for any reason. The Fast/Light Jacket addresses this with two stretch pockets inside to keep stuff from dropping onto the ground.
The jacket’s hood is deep and plentiful. The stiffness of the fabric allows the hood to stand straight out to provide a little cave for one’s face in the rain or snow without need of a shaping wire or other doodad to do the job. This hood also covers a helmet very nicely and the stretchy nature of the Tweave Durastretch still allows me to swivel my head around in terror as I contemplate my fate on difficult pitches.
To summarize, the Fast/Light Jacket provides a cornerstone in NW Alpine’s clothing system which should impress and accommodate alpine climbers and all-weather cragging types alike. The stripped down nature of the garment may leave you cold if you want a warm place to put your hands while you walk around town but then again, you probably wouldn’t buy alpine climbing gear to drink lattes in anyway. NW Alpine’s target customer base probably couldn’t identify a latte in the first place, come to think of it 😉 I did find it helpful to add zipper pulls to my jacket to aid in gloved use of the pocket.
This jacket is available for both men and women with a suggested retail price of $220 US in some retail stores and online.
NW Alpine did not provide apparel for this review but is a friend of the review writer.