Review: Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket

Hooded Fleece Jacket
Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket
$180, 12 oz./340g (men’s medium)

On days of resort and backcountry skiing ranging from relatively mild winter temperatures just below freezing to a frigid day ski touring that dropped to 10° F by the time I finished, Beyond Clothing’s hooded Alpha Aura Jacket demonstrated its versatility as a supremely breathable middle and outer layer for cool- to cold-weather activities year-round, with unique design features that improve its weather protection and durability under a backpack.

At 12 ounces/340 grams (for the men’s medium, on my scale; Beyond’s stated weight is 13.4 oz./381g, presumably for a larger size), this hooded fleece outer/middle layer is intended for a range of cool to cold temperatures.

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The Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket.
The Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket.

The Alpha Aura distinguishes itself from similar jackets by using Polartec Alpha Direct loft-knit fleece, a very open, fast-drying, high-loft fabricthat traps heat efficiently while quickly releasing moisture building up inside—making it a good piece for hiking, walking, climbing, skiing, and similar activities year-round. And the soft fleece is about as luxurious as fleece gets; I wear it around town (I go mostly to pretty casual places).

It breathes so well that I have worn it as an outer layer over two base layers while skinning uphill in the backcountry in temps below freezing without overheating, and the sweat in my first layer dried quickly once I reach the top of a climb. Similarly, when I heated up while skiing downhill at resorts with this jacket under an insulated shell, the moisture moved rapidly through the Alpha Aura instead of remaining trapped in the layer against my skin.

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The Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket.
The Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket.

In short, the jacket strikes a versatile balance of warmth for its weight while being lighter and more packable than many traditional fleece jackets: Stuffing the jacket into its hood enables me to squish it down to slightly larger than a cantalope.

We logically tend to think of fleece jackets as fall/winter/spring insulation and store them in the back of the closet during summer. But while I’ve used it only in fall and winter so far (it was new this past fall), I can see a hooded fleece jacket this light and packable replacing a long-sleeve, midweight top on cooler, three-season backpacking trips. It then becomes another insulation layer in camp, meaning the Alpha Aura allows me to bring a lighter puffy and forego a midweight long-sleeve shirt—thus trimming my layering system weight by replacing or reducing two other layers. Few pieces of apparel increase your layering system’s versatility while reducing its weight.

This is the type of jacket that people who get cold easily will reach for often and people who don’t get cold easily will simply wear in a lower range of temperatures. With this kind of breathability, anyone would wear it in a variety of situations.

As with any garment this breathable, of course, the wind cuts right through the fleece fabricbut the Alpha Aura again distinguishes itself from the fleece jacket field with solid, 54 percent recycled, 20-denier micro ripstop nylon panels on the entire hood exterior (it’s lined with soft fleece) and the shoulders, front and back. Without reducing the jacket’s breathability, those panels provide a significant warmth boost—especially in the hood—and durability in the shoulders for wearing a heavy pack. The nylon is treated with a 100 percent PFC-free DWR (durable, water-repellent treatment)—although the panels cover so little area that you’d quickly get wet and cold wearing this a jacket even in a light shower.

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The Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket back of hood and shoulders.
The Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket back of hood and shoulders.

Curiously, the women’s version of the Alpha Aura does not have the nylon panels in the hood and shoulders—just Polartec Alpha Direct fabric. That may explain why it’s 20 bucks cheaper. Given the range of men’s and women’s sizes, depending on your body type and build, you might choose men’s or women’s based on your preferred hood style.

The comfortable, regular fit is roomy enough for wearing a second base layer or a vest underneath without feeling bulky. My only complaint is that the sleeves tend to ride up my forearms; I think they need a little more length or perhaps a little more articulation in the shoulders. Anyone in between sizes may want to size up.

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The Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket.
The Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket.

The full-length front zipper enables venting and zips up over your chin, while the close-fitting, non-adjustable hood stays put, turning with your head even with the jacket open. However, the hood fabric is a little too bulky to fit under a ski or climbing helmet.

The two zippered hand pockets have a mesh lining to maintain breathability there, and they create two large, internal drop pockets—each of them spacious enough for a pair of three-season gloves or one warm, winter glove.

My one concern with this light fleece fabric is durability: It seems more likely to tear, pull, or pill than heavier fleece fabrics or insulated jackets with a tighter weave. A little extra care with how you use it is advised.

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The Verdict

With good packability and warmth for its weight, superior breathability, and a soft, comfortable fit and feel, the Beyond Clothing Alpha Aura Jacket offers four-season versatility for many outdoor activities, including backpacking, dayhiking, resort or backcountry skiing, climbing, and fitness walking.


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See all reviews of outdoor apparel at The Big Outside, including “The 12 Best Down Jackets,” “The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry,” “The Best Base Layers, Shorts, and Socks for Hiking and Trail Running,” “The Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking,” and “The Best Ultralight Hiking and Running Jackets.”

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of all gear reviews and expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”


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