Justin Schemenauer, founder and number one employee of Beyond the Trailhead Co.
“This is like… if a Senchi had a baby with a Melly,” I said. As an owner of both fleeces, I can confidently say that the new Alpha Direct Hoody by Beyond the Trailhead combines the best of both classic ultralight fleeces.
But this isn’t a gear review, that’ll come later in the year. Today, let's delve into the story behind the latest cottage company making waves in the fleece game, Beyond the Trailhead.
After years of brutal backpacking trips, Justin transitioned to ultralight backpacking.
The Early Days
Justin’s family spent a lot of time outdoors when he was growing up — especially at their cabin in Wisconsin, which conveniently sat near the North Country Scenic Trail, a trail so long and obscure, only 20 people have ever completed its 4,800-mile length. In high school, when Justin’s older brother mentioned a 20-mile stretch connecting a local town to their cabin, they decided to make a trip out of it.
“We should take 22s, hunt squirrels, and live off the land,” Justin remembered telling his brother.
“Like in Oregon Trail?” I squeezed out, between chuckles.
“Exactly. Yeah, we had no idea what we were doing. We hiked out the next day.”
It wasn’t until after high school that he took on his next big backpacking trip, a week-long section hike of the Ice Age Trail in July. With over 60 pounds of gear on his back, he did not have the best of times. But he caught the same backpacking bug that we all have.
Justin’s second in command, Bella the Golden Retriever, goes on a short trip with Justin’s son.
Sketching & Sewing Ultralight Gear
In preparation for an Ice Age Trail thru-hike attempt in 2019, Justin delved deep into the realm of ultralight. Like many other backpackers, he spent copious amounts of time, ironically online, in order to have a better time outdoors. “Turns out, you can actually backpack without breaking your back.”
Justin is inherently creative. It was during this hike that the ideas behind Beyond the Trailhead began to coalesce. He began to doodle as an outlet for his creativity. One of those doodles would become the BTT logo.
From the sketched logo of a tree emerged the name ‘Beyond the Trailhead.’ For Justin, it embodies the fusion of his outdoor passion with a sustainable livelihood aligned with his love for nature.
Justin is packed for his adventure, ready to go beyond the trailhead.
Other doodles piqued his interest in sewing. Justin's doodles often featured tents, raincoats, and even dog bowls.
He then made one of the most lopsided deals I have ever heard. In a trade with an ex-girlfriend, he was able to trade an old car camping lantern for a fully serviceable sewing machine. A complete win, in this writer’s opinion.
The Birth of Beyond the Trailhead Co.
Starting modestly with sewing stuff sacks, Justin progressively tackled more ambitious projects. Soon after the stuff sacks came an aggressively designed tent. “It was a total disaster,” Justin explained. However, he wasn’t deterred, and still moved forward.
Justin has hand-drawn and designed all the patterns for the various products he has ever made and is a self-taught sewer.
He switched to professionally making ultralight bear bags and raincoats, while still experimenting with other products like backpacks. With time, Justin realized he was quite good at making garments. By the Fall of 2021, he was making the first iterations of his Alpha Direct hoodies.
Dozens of fawning reviews attest to the quality of the BTT Alpha Hoodies that Justin is now focused on creating.
The Alpha Direct Rip-Back Hoodie is perfect for keeping you warm on a cold morning kayaking trip.
The Alpha Direct Rip-Back Hoodie 90
BTT’s flagship product, the Alpha Direct Rip-Back Hoodie 90, is indeed one of the softest and most comfortable things I have ever worn. Justin Schemenauer achieved this by using Hi-Loft 90gsm Alpha Direct fleece. Meaning the fabric is a tad thicker than the standard Alpha Direct, trapping a bit more heat. However, it still maintains the distinctive ability to shed heat the moment a slight breeze sweeps through, while maintaining an impressive weight-to-warmth ratio.
It’s an incredible piece of kit. Ideal for those who run cold, or hike in a wet environment, or happen to be into water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding, the Rip-Back 90 will thrive in your setup. It’ll keep you warmer than the traditional Alpha Direct Hoody 60gsm fleece, at the cost of about one to three ounces to your loadout.
For its weight, it carries a substantial number of features. An elastic shockcord hood, complete with KAM snaps, and shockcord encircling the hem, lets you trap or dump body heat easily.
Alpha Direct is not a stretchy material by nature, so the Rip-Back 90’s elastic cuffs allow you to roll up your sleeves to further regulate temperature, without accidentally creating a tourniquet around your arm. The perfect piece for a broad temperature spectrum, while on the move.
Beyond the Trail Co.’s prototype crewneck, sporting Polartec Power Stretch for increased maneuverability.
Justin Schemenauer’s ambitions are as high as a glacier is ancient. When his son gets older, he wants to finish what he set out to do back in 2019, and complete a full thru-hike of the Ice Age Trail; his home trail. Maybe his beautiful Golden Retriever, Bella, will join for a section or two.
Justin offers the option of a kangaroo pocket on his website.
For Beyond the Trailhead, Justin envisions incorporating Polartec Power Stretch into sections of his Alpha Direct hoodies to enhance plasticity. He also contemplates introducing a crew neck iteration crafted from Alpha Direct to further save weight.
Until then, you can find Justin in the picturesque Porcupine Mountains of Michigan, and doing section hikes of the Superior Hiking Trail. And you can find his latest batch of Rip-Backs here at Garage Grown Gear.
Rafael is a freelance writer and adventurer based in the Mountain West. You can find him trail running, backpacking, or sampling the best tacos during his free time. Follow all his adventures over on Instagram, or read more of his work over on his website.