The Rab brand surely needs no introduction. They have been an iconic manufacturer of top end clothing and down equipment for many years and I’ve been proud to use their kit for a lot of that time too. Infact, I used to visit their manufacturing facility in Sheffield in the days when Rab Carrington himself was still captaining the ship.
Back in those days, although the items they produced were as top end in quality and performance as they are now, their range was far more limited. The selection they offer today is broad and well rounded and their styling, detail and construction lead the industry.
I am very proud to have been associated with them in many ways over the years and admire the way they have grown into a major market force, Above all, though, I really value the way they have stayed true to their Alpine routes. The brand was born out of hard ascents in big mountains and that is still their soul.
I was recently asked to review one of their Alpha Freak Pull-On’s and the description on the Rab website clearly shows where they see this top being focussed; ‘Inspired by the world’s best Alpine climbers, the Alpha Freak Pull-On is a unique and innovative body mapped midlayer specifically designed for moving fast in harsh conditions over many days.’ Okay, I thought, that sounds perfect. I better get busy testing……
Body mapping is a great innovation in technical clothing. In the case of the Freak Rab have combined Polartec Alpha Direct 200 fleece to provide warmth in the core and Polartec Power Grid on the waist, sides, underarms and cuffs to allow freedom of movement and provide a thinner layer which will sit comfortably under a harness or shell layer. Finally, the under helmet hood combines more Polartec Power Grid with a windproof layer of Pertex Quantum outer.
Other features include a half length YKK front zip for venting, a storm flap, chin guard, thumb loops and single YKK zipped chest pocket. The fit is designed to be slim and streamlined and the weight for a size medium is 425 grams.
I received the Alpha Freak in time for the later part of a patchy U.K. winter season and have since used it for a winter mountaineering trip in Morocco and a trekking trip to the Nepalese Himalayas. In between it has been used for spring cragging and general hill time in Snowdonia and the Peak District.
The Alpha Freak is a great looking top. I received one in grey (Rab call this Beluga), but they are also available in a red colour called Dark Horizon. The Polartec Alpha Direct 200 is an extremely plush material with a grid pattern that looks very cool. In between this, the Polartec Power Grid on the sides is thinner and less furry. Then, finally, there is a Pertex Quantum hood. All together, it looks like a great top for keeping you warm on chilly days when paired with either a thin base layer and maybe a soft or hard shell top layer.
But, delving further into the technologies used, the Alpha material is more than just a plush looking fleece. Alpha is actually a high performance insulation fabric with great wicking properties. In the past it has often been paired with a soft shell layer but here it is used in its ‘naked’ form. Alpha is designed to be capable of being put on and then left on to minimise the on/off needed with some other fabrics during stop/start activities.
I have actually been using Alpha for years and it is a superb performer that really does work as designed. Infact, I first used it in a Rab Strata Hoodie that I took to India in 2015 (you can read my review of that here). The Strata was a revelation on that trip – I could leave the top on through a range of conditions when I’d usually have been on and offing frequently.
In this case, leaving the fabric as a single insulating layer works superbly. It is extremely efficient at keeping you warm and yet also breathes well and wicks superbly. The only downside being that, in windy weather, you’ll need to add a protective layer as the fleece is definitely not windproof – but that’s the same as most fleece. I have recently paired it up to a Rab Vital Windproof Hoody or, in gnarlier conditions, a hardshell like me beloved Rab Kinetic. Both combos work a treat.
Combining the Alpha Direct 200 with other materials also works really well. The thicker insulation is around the core and then, to minimise bulk, thinner Polartec Power Grid works superbly at the sides and around the waist, underarms and cuffs. This is a great combo – you get the thicker insulation where it is needed and less thickness in crucial areas. As a climber, this is well thought out and it works so well.
One final fabric feature I really like is the use of a Pertex shell on the hood. This has proved itself on many windswept Scottish winter belays and, more recently, on windy dragging days in the Peak. The liner for the hood is more of the lightweight Power Grid fabric and this allows the hood to fit under a helmet, but the hood can also be pulled over a helmet if needed. It is snug over a helmet and how effective this is will depend on the helmet used, but it is possible. So, you then have the flexibility to get hunkered down inside a cosy windproof hood at that belay or on that windswept ridge, but it can be quickly be popped out of the way once you start to move more. Great design.
All the other features of the Alpha Freak are as you would expect on a focussed garment of this type – the long front zip offers easy on and off while also allowing good venting options. The zip also closes up high to offer protection to the neck and chin and has both a protective storm flap and chin guard. These are nice touches, but also ones that make all the difference when you are wearing the top in challenging conditions and over long periods.
Lastly, a single zipped chest pocket will store your headtorch, compass or snack bar and I love the longer length cuffs with thumb loops. These allow the top to stay in position when you are pulling a shell over the top and keep your wrists protected inside gloves.
It is probably clear from early on in this review that I really really rate the Rab Alpha Freak Pull-On. By combining the excellent properties of Polartec fabrics with clever design, Rab have produced a very high performance top suitable for a range of users and varied conditions. Alpha Direct 200 offers the chance to wear it in a very wide range of conditions and through varied exertion levels (you really need to try this stuff to realise just how good it really is!) and the other fabrics used and the clever design have produced a top that will become a much used mountain friend. I can’t see how this top could be improved! Full details are available on the Rab website here and it is worth having a read about Polartec Alpha on their website here. The Alpha Freak Pull-On retails for £130.
Posted by Paul