I discovered Beyond the Trailhead (BTT) after interviewing Justin Schemenauer, the founder and creator of this small company, for a Brand Bio I was writing. He had a lot of innovative good ideas for a product that has been a staple of the ultralight backpacking community for a few years now; the Alpha Direct midlayer. I was impressed, and was lucky enough to take the Rip-Back Hoodie out on some gnarly trips this backpacking season.
The big question: does the BTT hoodie hold up to its competitors?
Testing Locations: the Colorado Elk Range, the Sawtooth Mountains, the Arizona White Mountains, and the Coconino National Forest.
Gear List: https://lighterpack.com/r/wrya7k
- Alpha Direct 90gsm
- 6.08 oz / 172.37g
- Size Large
- Double-Snap Hood Balaclava
- Shock-Cord Adjustable hood with looped cord pull
- Shock-Cord Adjustable waist
- Elastic wrist cuffs
- Raglan Sleeves
- Unisex fit
The perfect morning at Grand-Staircase.
Pros of the BTT Alpha Direct Rip-Back Hoodie
My wife lovingly calls the Rip-Back Hoodie my Cookie Monster suit. The 90gsm Alpha Direct fabric is extremely fluffy, making it functionally warm by trapping body heat in between “the fluff.” However, it also makes the fleece exceedingly comfortable and soft to the touch. It’s equally nice to wear sleeping in the backcountry, around the house, running errands in town, or while lounging with a good gear review underneath a tree. I’m currently writing this review in a freezing Idahoan coffee shop, perfectly content. As soon as I got it in the mail, it became the de facto midlayer in my arsenal for one-bagging, peakbagging, and backpacking.
Justin really reached into his bag for this one, because the Alpha Direct Rip-Back Hoodie has a host of features that make it easy to wear in a wide range of temperatures. As a single data point, speaking for only myself, I have some anecdotal evidence to share.
I have comfortably worn this hoodie into the low 70s (F) while active, and up into the 80 degree range while stationary. The lowest temperature I’ve worn the Rip-Back and stayed warm while stationary was in the high 40s (F), and the high 20s while active. I do consider myself to be warm bodied, and all the features of the Rip-Back helped me remain comfortable in such a wide temperature window.
If you wanted to, you could cover your entire face thanks to the hood's shock cord.
The elastic cuffs make it so that the fabric firmly holds onto your wrists to trap heat, while also making it easy to roll up the sleeves if you need to cool off your arms. The three snaps on the neck make it so you can employ a balaclava like hood to retain warmth, or effortlessly dump heat as the day warms up. There is also a shock cord that surrounds the opening of the hood, meaning you can cover nearly the entirety of your face with fluffy warmness, limiting exposure. Or not, your choice. Lastly, there is also a shock cord around the waist band, allowing you to dump or retain the greatest amount of body heat.
My face says it all, "I am cooked." But it was a fun and limit-pushing experience. It was freezing that day, until about 11 am. The Rip-Back made it so much more comfortable. My seventh state high point.
I simply cannot “be bold and start cold.” Despite being warm bodied, I am a huge baby in cold temperatures, especially when it’s raining as well. I wear my fleeces to sleep, not only because the mountains are cold, but also because they are comfortable and boost the warmth of my sleep system. This ultimately leads to me starting my day by hiking with my fleece on.
The problem with most pieces of warm clothing is that they will soon capture and retain sweat. This is true of thin denier wind jackets and lighter weight grid fleeces — both of which will take a bit of time to dry, when you have to bathe them in sunlight during a break.
Alpha Direct is a freak of nature. I will drench the Rip-Back in sweat, and while moving, it will dry up; either from the wind blowing, or if I happen to stop to check my map and stop sweating. It will take only a few minutes to dry, even when it is soaked through with rain, sweat, or river water. This means you can spend more time hiking with one less camp chore to worry about.
If you zoom into my face, you can see I was in a world of pain. I had just finished being hailed and rained on, while climbing up a scree field to the summit of Boundary Peak. At least the Rip-Back kept me sane.
Along with the Raglan sleeves, Beyond the Trailhead includes gussets on the side panels of its Alpha fleece. By doing so, Justin added a fair amount of comfort and maneuverability to the Rip-Back. I found myself having full range of motion — when bagging peaks, hiking with a pack on, or rolling around uncontrollably in my quilt.
At several points on Borah Peak, I must have looked like a starfish while searching for the next hand hold on Chicken Out Ridge. I never felt constricted, despite the devious terrain. The Rip-Back is a technical piece of clothing.
Justin from Beyond the Trailhead is a stand-up nice guy; I had a fantastic time interviewing him for a Brand Bio. When I placed my order for a Rip-Back Hoodie, I accidentally ordered the wrong size hoodie (if you’re at the edge, size up!). With only about a week until my next backpacking trip, Justin quickly sewed together the size large that I needed, and sent it out just in time for my trip. As in, I checked my mail, chucked the package from Beyond the Trailhead into my car, and drove off on my trip. If you ever have the pleasure of speaking with Justin directly, you’ll see that he exceedingly cares about his craftsmanship and his customers. You are in good hands.
An action shot of the Rip-Back. I have full range of motion when wearing it.
The One Con: Careful Washing
I go ultralight in my everyday life, and certainly whenever I travel. I hate having “things.” So for my two week road trip across the Mountain West, I took one sweater: the Beyond the Trailhead Rip-Back Hoodie. Whether backpacking, cycling, running, or going out on the town, I only had one option.
Right after my backpacking trip in the Sawtooths, the Rip-Back began to stink (along with all my other clothes), so I did laundry when I stopped in town. Unfortunately, my options were limited, and I had to use a top loading washer. Once everything was said and done, a small hole developed in the stitching along the neck. After all the other stuff I had put this piece of gear through, ironically, it was a boring washing machine that damaged it.
Justin himself on BTT’s website states that you should wash the Rip-Back sparingly. Alpha Direct fabric can be somewhat delicate, especially to abrasion (like the kind you would find in a top-loading washer). It is also made mostly out of polyester, so whenever you wash it, it will release micro-plastic into the waste water, as well as make your hoodie a bit thinner.
Be careful when you wash the Rip-Back. Try using side loading washers or hand washing, and then hang it to dry. Generally, launder it as little as you can stomach.
Beyond the Trailhead’s Alpha Direct Rip-Back Hoodie is a technical piece of gear ready to keep you warm no matter the activity or temperature. It is one of the most comfortable pieces of clothing I have ever owned. The fleece can take whatever you dish out. Just be careful when you wash it.
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.