Alpkit’s best-selling jacket, the Balance waterproof, has had a total redesign, and with multisport applications including cycling, it’s been a great contender in ADVNTR’s winter waterproof jacket group test.
If you’re unfamiliar with Alpkit, you’re in for a treat. British based and digital first with a smattering of stores across the North, Alpkit are a multi-sport retailer with sustainability at the heart of everything they do. In fact, they recently became B-Corp certified, along with their bike brand Sonder, and are the second bike business ever to do so, following Chris King. Businesses with this certification meet the strict, verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability, not for a product or service, but for the whole business behind those too.
The new generation Alpkit Balance jacket
The Balance is the ideal waterproof for multi-adventurists… designed for moving fast and working hard, fit for climbing, scrambling and biking and hiking.
With six different waterproof jackets to choose from at Alpkit, we were advised on the Balance for its multisport application: designed to be breathable as well as waterproof for high intensity sports like riding. This Balance jacket has just been revamped from the original, including a secure hood fixture for securing when not in use, hidden pit vents and a ‘snap’ closure at the collar. More on those features later.
Alpkit Balance on test
For the last few months, the Alpkit Balance has been subjected to a whole host of conditions on rides in the South West of England; urban commuting in drizzle, day-long gravel rides with torrential downpours, rides where the waterproof has been equally useful as a windproof and many sloppy MTB rides where the Alpkit Balance has doubled up as a dirt suit. The only winter conditions that it hasn’t seen yet has been snow or extreme cold, as it’s been a particularly mild autumn and winter so far.
Fit and features
Starting with fit, the Alpkit Balance is available in both men’s and women’s cuts. I wore the women’s size 12 (available in UK sizes 8-18, mens S-XXL), which I felt was true to size with my normal clothing size and matched the size guide well. The fit isn’t close, which means that there’s ample space for layers including a base layer and mid layer. Although the women’s cut is probably marginally more fitted than the men’s, I’d say that the fit puts performance ahead of a shapely silhouette in terms of priority. A few of the online reviews on the Alpkit site suggest that the sleeves on the men’s cut are too narrow, although this isn’t something that I found at all with this jacket.
The jacket is mid-length at the front (unlike some cropped road cycling jackets which are optimised for the on-bike position), with a slightly dropped hem at the back. The hem is adjustable using elastic cords at either side, which are simple and easy to adjust to get a close fit for the worst weather conditions.
The cuffs also offer adjustability, with a velcro strap giving a great range of fit so you can clamp these down tight to avoid any unwanted gusts up the sleeves and create a close-fitting water barrier in conjunction with good waterproof gloves.
Moving up to the hood, the fit is adjustable in two axes. A toggle on the back of the head tightens and loosens the fit from the face to the back of the head at the easy press of a button, while toggles to either side of the chin clamp down the circumference of the face opening. These toggles then pass internally through a layer of fabric before being exposed externally, so you don’t get any unwanted flicks in the face!
Combined with a really handy wired peak, this hood is a real asset for winter riding. It works perfectly with a non-peaked helmet, and the fit is a little more tight with a peaked MTB lid. Stopping the cold drip of water down the back of your neck and keeping the chill off your ears, well-fitting and adjustable hoods like these on winter jackets have become a must for me.
When the jacket is not in use, you can secure it by rolling it down and fastening the elastic toggle around the material.
You’ll find no more than two roomy pockets in the Alpkit Balance, on either side of the chest, each secured with easy to open zip toggles. These were perfect for stowing a phone or any trailside litter I found on the way, without adding the bulk of numerous internal pockets that you don’t end up using.
The one note on fit that I wasn’t 100% happy with would be the high collar at the front. When fully zipped, this stands quite high, presumably to give a closer fit with the hood on, so I mostly rode with the front zip pulled down to give my face and neck a bit more space.
Materials, water resistance and breathability
My first impression of the Alpkit Balance fabric was its softness; not just the toned-down colour but to the touch. Forget the rustly waterproofs of yesteryear, the 90% Nylon, 10% Spandex outer with grey Polyester backing fabric is both soft against the skin and wonderfully stretchy. Internally, the seams are fully taped.
The fabric of the jacket has a waterproof rating of 20,000mm and a breathability rating 20,000g/m/24hr, as well as being treated with a completely PFC-free durable water repellent (DWR) coating which helps water to bead off the surface.
Tested in all weathers, I was really impressed by just how waterproof the material is. Even after a day of downpours I was only mildly damp beneath, and the jacket also dries out pretty quickly after a few hours indoors. Perfect for that post-downpour pub stop…
To aid breathability, the jacket has in-built vents under the armpits. Unlike sometimes fiddly to reach ‘pit zips’, these are permanently open, although directional so the water doesn’t get in here. In addition, a snap fixing on the collar means you can secure the jacket up top while unzipping completely on the climbs to let off heat without having to stop to take the jacket off.
I’ve found it a bit hard to quantify just how effective these two features are. I liked the ‘permanently on’ style of the pit vents, having previously wrestled with extensive pit zips on Endura MT500 and Rapha winter jackets, which can sometimes let the rain in when riding in warm but wet conditions. I do enjoy a two-way zip for breathability, and I suppose the snap fixing is designed to emulate this without complicating the zip fixture. I only used the snap fastening once as I mostly forgot it was there, but did ride a fair bit with the front of the jacket unzipped to cool down on lengthy climbs or when in between needing to keep the jacket on or take it off!
Longevity and aesthetics
The Alpkit Balance jacket is available in this Fern Green colour for both men and women, a slate grey for men and a bright blue for women. Gladly, branding is really subtle with a single Alpkit word logo on the left chest in a reflective print.
Aesthetically, it’s minimal, just like the features, and I really appreciate that.
I’ve washed the jacket a few times during the test period at the recommended 30 degrees, when it’s become utterly filthy. I did notice that it became a bit stinky in between washes, perhaps V3 could work on ways to reduce odour? Alpkit recommend that you reproof the jacket’s DWR treatment once or twice a year, dependant on use, by using wash-in or spray-on treatment. They suggest using Nikwax or Grangers re-proofers as these are both PFC-free.
I can’t comment on Alpkit’s claim of the toughness of the jacket as I’ve had no rubber-side-up moments, but even after months of heavy use the Balance looks almost as good as new. The only tell-tale that it’s not is the subtle mud staining up the back from a few mucky days on heavy clay soil. This is the lightest colourway of the three, so if I was to buy one of these for myself I’d opt for the slightly darker (and brilliantly eye-popping) bright blue to try and minimise this.
Alpkit Balance: the verdict
I’ve had a hard time finding the drawback to Alpkit’s second generation Balance jacket if I’m honest. Brilliantly fitted with heaps of adjustability, properly waterproof and with some subtle features to aid breathability for hard rides, this jacket has everything you need and nothing that you don’t.
I love the minimal design and features, which makes for an outer shell that’s both easy to wear and pack for days out on the bike – or even on foot – where you’re not quite sure what the weather is going to do. Which, for the record, is pretty much every day here in the South West!
At £179.99, it’s not a cheap option. This is towards the higher end of the price bracket for our AW20/21 winter waterproof jacket group test, but having seen how the jacket has performed so far I’d like to think that it represents value for money where longevity is concerned. As well as their 3 year Alpine Bond warranty against manufacture defects, the jacket is also eligible for discounted accident replacement (not including normal wear and tear), and you can send the jacket (or equipment from any brand) to Alpkit’s Repair Stations at Hathersage or Keswick for a reasonably priced quality repair to extend the life of your gear.
Besides producing a fantastic piece of kit that warrants the price tag, Alpkit give you a whole raft of reasons why you’d want to support this pioneering, sustainability-first brand. I’ve been impressed by the Alpkit Balance and it’s certainly at item that I’d buy again.
Alpkit Balance waterproof jacket£179.99 €202.95 $247
A brilliantly designed waterproof that's optimised for higher intensity activities like riding but equally as useful for day to day bad weather activities9.5/10
- Truly multi-sport friendly
- Brilliant hood adjustment, fit and wired peak
- Bright, fun coloured soft outer material
- High collar fit
- Gets a little stinky between washes
Last modified: 22nd December 2020