Salomon introduced a new line (called X Alp) of mountaineering and ski mountaineering clothing, footwear, and packs late last year for a spring 2015 launch. The intention of the line is to facilitate “light and fast” adventures into the mountains whether by foot or by skis. The products are light, include new and/or innovative fabrics and constructions, and they are very tailored to the intended use. Only a limited selection of the line is available in the US and I purchased a couple of items and have now put these through some extended use this fall and, now, into winter. The item reviewed here is the X Alp Mid-layer Hoodie. Whilst this piece is presented as a “fast-and-light mountaineering” garment, it turns out to be very versatile in other such high-output endeavors and I am surprised with how often I use it either separately or as part of an upper body system.
S Lab X Alp Mid-layer Hoodie
The X Alp Mid-layer Hoodie looks like a rather pedestrian 3/4-zip mid-layer but upon inspection and use one realizes how versatile this piece is.
The construction consists of a 3/4-zip design utilizing a lightweight base fabric of highly breathable Polartec PowerGrid with strategic areas (chest, hood, and wrists/forearms) additionally over-layed with a stretch woven wind resistant fabric. I find these overlays to be critical to the versatility of the mid-layer. A typical mid-layer without the wind resistant overlays has limited use as the high breathability of the PowerGrid fabric (or other typical fabrics used for such midlayers) would lead to poor performance in the presence of even a mild wind at cool to cold temperatures (about 40F/5C and below). The addition of the over-lays makes this piece an excellent stand alone garment in a wide variety of conditions, something that many other mid layers are not capable of. The additional warmth and wind protection in these strategic areas leads to surprising overall comfort combined with excellent breathability. The overlays also are somewhat water repellent and in light rain have allowed for continued performance for an hour or more.
The close-fitting, helmet-compatible hood is comfortably snug and is cut so as to not restrict peripheral views. With the stretch woven overlay, this hood is warm even in windy conditions.
The fit is what Salomon calls “active fit” which is a close fit but not tight. I find this fit to be comfortable, but, according to my wife, I represent a good example of a “skin and bones” user ( BMI below 20). Salomon have also designed the X Alp midlayer with their “Motion Fit” program that intends to facilitate large amplitude, dynamic, bind-free motions. The design also includes thumb loops, something that I seldom use, but something that I can imagine how they may be functional for some users in certain situations.
The zipper is asymmetric and closes to the right of the mouth eliminating that annoying “zipper-over-mouth” discomfort typical of many other mid-layers when fully zipped. Instead you have the soft, highly breathable PowerGrid material over your mouth- much better!
I have extensively used the X Alp midlayer both on trail runs and while cross country skiing in a variety of conditions ranging from sunny and cool (<40F/5C) to sunny and well below zero F/-18C, to rain showers and cool (30-50 F/0-10C) temperatures. The X Alp midlayer performed very well in all instances. I have also used the X Alp Mid-layer on some high (>10,000 feet/3000 m) mountain adventures as a stand alone piece and in combination with a technical top layer in some adverse weather (snow, rain, hail, and high (>60 mph/ 100 kmph) winds). Performance has been exceptional.
For running, I have found the midlayer to be a highly versatile stand-alone top that I now use for all of cold weather (<40F/5C) runs whether it be sunny, lightly raining, or snowing. Combining the midlayer with a wind shell (like the S lab Light Jacket) or, if it is raining hard, the S Lab Hybrid Jacket, the versatility is even more remarkable. I have found this mid-layer to perform well in day-to-day winter conditions trail runs in valleys or in the mountains, on day long cool-to-cold mountain adventures, and as a midlayer for cross country skiing on cold (near zero F/-18C) days in combination with a performance top layer (e.g. S Lab Motion Fit Jacket).
The close-fit, helmet-compatible hood is critical for comfort in high wind and cooler temperatures. In a typical cool-to-cold weather trail run here in the Northern Rockies, it is most comfortable to have the hood down in the valleys and protected areas but once up on the ridges deployment of the hood makes all the difference. The hood is also a welcome addition for cross country skiing where it replaces the more common “babushka lady” arrangement of a buff brought up the back side of the head combined with a hat that the Norwegians have made popular. The hood option is a simpler, less fussy, and more versatile option in my opinion, but not often seen on the ski trails. Perhaps in time we will see more hoods in cross country skiing.
$160 US. A bit on the expensive side but, given the versatility of the X Alp midlayer hoodie, a good value given how often one will likely use it from Fall through Winter and into Spring.
The Salomon S Lab X Alp Midlayer Hoodie is a highly versatile, lightweight, and stand-alone winter running top and midlayer for cross country skiing. Combined with a wind shell, a water-resistant/waterproof overlayer, or a technical top layer (e.g. the companion S Lab X Alp Smartskin Jacket)* a wide variety of high-output activities in mountain conditions can be comfortably pursued. Highly recommended.
*Note 26 April 2016: Salomon have changed the X-Alp Smart Skin Jacket, taken it out of the S Lab line-up, and they are no longer bringing it in to the US. The link is now updated to the latest product. Note 16 Oct 2016: The X Alp Smart Skin Jacket is no longer part of the line up and seems to have been replaced by the X Alp 3L Jacket. The link is again updated to this latest product. I will be doing no further updates.