Sunday, December 16, 2012

Guideline: Alta Jacket

Over the years I have owned or worked with all of the major U.S. brands of wading jackets (Simms, Patagonia, Orvis etc...).   I fish year around in Michigan and my equipment takes a real beating between 90 degree days in the summer and fishing off shelf ice in February with temps. holding in the low 20s.  Integral to any good fishing insulation system is a wading jacket.  Wading Jackets offer protection from rain and snow and allow moisture to escape (trapped moisture is perhaps the greatest hinderance to staying warm during winter fishing).  A good wading jacket also allows an angler to load up everything they need for the day and offers a storage system that not only makes finding what you need quick, but also does not generate bulk so as to interfere with casting.  For a long time I used the Orvis Pro Stretch Wading Jacket, but found that the large pockets lacked the necessary structure to organize.  Additionally, the cut of the Orvis jacket (like most Orvis products) is way too loose.  The front pockets of the Orvis jacket are internal so they do not provide much bulk which is a very nice feature, but the lack of structure in the pockets makes them more like black holes.  On the other end of the spectrum i've also fished Patagonia's SST jacket, which is a great all around wading jacket, but the large billow pockets on the front (loaded or unloaded) are always getting in the way.  The pockets offer a ton of storage, but at the cost of becoming cumbersome on the river.  Simm's wading jackets suffered from the same problem as the Patagonia jacket too bulky.  The pockets simply puffed out thus making them difficult to get a good clean casting stroke.

Last year I was introduced to the Guideline Alta wading Jacket and I was blown away by the all of the design features.  Leif Stavmo is Guideline's chief product designer.  Leif's understanding of rod design, lines, and technical clothing is second to none in the industry and his attention to detail comes through in every stitch of the Alta Jacket.  The Alta Jacket is a no frills fishing jacket that can handle the worst weather mother nature can throw at you.  It also is the only jacket, in my opinion, that gets the pockets right.

The Alta Jacket is made from Japanese Toray Dermizax EV fabric, which offers unparalleled protection from moisture both on the outside and inside of the jacket.  With breathability rates at a high 20000g/m2/24hrs and resists water to a level of 20000 mm/psi.  Translation: The shell of the Alta Jacket repels water and breaths more efficiently than a shell made from Gore-tex.  I have personally used this jacket in straight downpours where it was impossible to even get a cast off.  The jacket left me warm and dry the entire day and even after walking a mile or so upstream I hadn't built up any sweat.  Here are a few of the features that really set the Alta Jacket apart from the rest:

The front pockets on the Alta are large and have plenty of room for fly boxes, shooting heads, and just about anything else you might want to bring for a day of fishing.  The pockets also feature elastic bands that hold the pockets tight to the contents.  This allows a streamline pocket regardless of how much you pack into it.  Each chest pocket also features a retractable tool clip that will easily accommodate nippers or a pair of hemostats.  On the outside of the front pockets there are well placed hand warmer pockets for those days when even gloves don't work.  The inside of the pocket (the side next to the front zipper)  features a deep velcro pocket that allows for quick access for items such as gloves, a hat, or tippet spools.  The right front pocket also features a mesh outer pocket for easy identification of contents.  The thought that went into the pocket design alone of this jacket is worth the price of admission!

The cuffs on the Alta are pretty standard for a high end wading jacket and feature a water tight adjustable cuff that keeps water out when releasing fish.  A nice clean design that does not get hung up on anything.

For extra storage the Alta also has two protected zippered pockets that offer the perfect place for a camera, leader wallet, shooting heads, wallet and keys, or just about anything you might want to take with you.  The pockets are protected from the elements by both the storm flap that protects the main zipper and the individual zippers featured on each pocket.

The hood on the Alta was one of the first things I noticed.  The hook offers a number of quick adjustments that allow you to cinch it down to an almost closed position when the rain or snow is coming at you sideways and with a quick adjustment you can have the hood off your head for when the sun comes out.  The front bill of the hook offers plenty of protection and there is room for wearing an insulated had underneath.  Really a great feature to the jacket!  I hate messing around on the water trying to get the hood to fit right and Guideline nailed it!

The Alta jacket also features a mesh internal pocket for small items.

Finally, I'm not generally one to use the back pocket of wading jackets too often, mostly because the access placement tends to be awkward.  Zippers placed too high or too low or worse yet a top access  pocket that means you have to take the jacket off to get to the contents.  I was pleasantly suppressed when I went to grab my headlamp from the rear pocket of the Alta that the zipper placement was perfect.  I didn't have to fumble for it and it didn't require some strange awkward movement  to open and close the zipper.  Again small things like zipper placement are the hallmark of Guideline design and they really set this jacket apart from the rest.

In sum: The Alta Jacket is bar none the most functional wading jacket I have ever had the pleasure of using.  The shell outperforms Gore-tex shells and the design elements right down to pocket design and zipper placement place this a jacket in a league of its own.  The Alta is light enough to wear in a summer rain and in the winter it provides the necessary wind and moisture protection.

Disclosure- Guideline provided the featured products free of charge for me to review. I was not compensated in any other way for this blog post.

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  1. You should try the Alta wading clothing along with the Alta Hoody and the Alta Thermal Shield Bibs, it is an awsome combination of keeping you warm and dry.
    Guideline knows exactly what they are doing with functionallity.