“I am certain that a Sewing Machine would relieve as much human suffering as a hundred Lunatic Asylums, and possibly a good deal more.” –Margaret Atwood
Thermal bottoms. Cruisers. Crewnecks. Caps with cozy earflaps. Joe LaPointe of FarPointe Outdoor Gear takes functional understatement to a whole new level with his catalog of Alpha UL apparel. The fabric might be synthetic, but the results are real.
When I first connected over email with Joe, I asked him if he could meet on Zoom to chat. I knew, when he told me he’d never used Zoom before, that I was dealing with a bone-deep adventurist.
That’s not to say he’s dodged any consequences of the pandemic. Like many of us in the last two years, he’s had a heck of a lot of time to think on what time well spent really means for him.
“The pandemic allowed me, for a moment, to stop and observe what I was doing, to pause and take inventory, and ask, is this fulfilling?”
Before ramping up his solo operation in late 2020, Joe worked full time for a seafood restaurant on the coast of Depoe Bay, OR.
“There’s lots of money in restaurants. But I didn’t feel a sense of purpose,” he explained over his first ever Zoom call. “The restaurant shut down for some time, which allowed me to sew full time. I realized how badly I wanted to sew.” And sew he did.
Joe handles each step of the production process with a fastidious attention to detail. As a craftsman, he understands that creating something with your hands, and a needle, takes just as much soul as it does technical aptitude.
“I make products that I would want to use personally,” says Joe. He’s a tailor whose lab is both the loom and trail, where he field tests all his inventions. “My first hoodie had normal-style sleeves that stopped at the shoulder blade, but after some tinkering, I quickly switched to the raglan style.” For Joe, fit equals function when you’re relying on apparel to carry you hundreds of miles, and a gram of weight saved is as precious as gold.
Hunched over a backlit loom with a Black Dice record to set the mood in his studio, he fabricates an arsenal of distinct Alpha pieces: ergonomic 60 gsm caps, hybrid gsm crews that accommodate the distinct demands of breathability for each part of the body, and simple but elegant bottoms of every color in the Alpha wheelhouse.
With FarPointe Outdoor Gear, he’s not interested in riding the coattails of other notable tailors in the UL community. When prospective customers request Senchi hoodie clones, he politely suggests they wait for the next Senchi drop. But his selectivity with commissions comes less from a place of ego and more from a pragmatic sense of artistic direction—toward markets that have yet to be filled or invented, and away from money-grab imitations.
He’s looking to both collaborate with others and innovate his own growing catalog: “Soon I’d like to design wind pants, rain jackets, maybe working with Membrane 10 and Argon 67 and 49. Just experiment and see where things lead me. . . . I’m working with Stephen Seeber on an Alpha crew neck that optimizes warmth-to-weight ratio, and maximizes modularity. It will include an optional hood, perfect for those chilly nights.”
His dedicated Reddit following can attest to his achievements as an up-and-comer in the niche industry of ultralight textiles.
“Reddit hikers tell it straight and give excellent feedback,” he admits. “One Reddit user that really helped my shop grow was U/deputysean. He’s an infamous UL jerk, and he’d give me shout outs often. I saw direct business from it.”
For an idea to get traction in a market, you have to hit a certain threshold of exposure. R/Ultralight community members generously provided Joe with tools and perspectives that enriched his craft, boosted his online presence, and laid the groundwork for the deployment of his startup.
“Some other supporters include U/Arc43128, who offered excellent feedback and placed multiple purchases, U/Vancapere (Germany shout out!), and U/gratitude234, who helped me source my fabrics.”
Joe has witnessed remarkable growth since he first cut his teeth on the UL scene. “I started out with three or four Reddit sales. The second one had 15-20 items, and I was pretty nervous beforehand. I was talking with my mom like, ‘what if it’s a flop?’ But to my relief, everything sold.”
It’s surreal to think that Joe may not have landed on this grassroots UL track if it weren’t for a perforated bowel. You heard me right.
“I wound up in the ICU for a week, and had to get ambulanced in for stomach surgery.” He pauses for a moment. “I meant to go hiking that night, which would’ve probably killed me.”
Sometimes fortune comes first in crueler forms. “I wasn’t able to go back to the restaurant for two months, which created space and energy for sewing. I started a website for custom and stock orders, but mostly made-to-order. I started with a two month lead time, and after realizing I could feasibly make it just sewing, said no to returning to my restaurant job.”
He’s since returned for two days a week, but that’s just for filling up his expedition piggy bank. The rest of his time is spent churning away on new products, making FarPointe Outdoor Gear with plenty of love and elbow grease.
Every artist must start somewhere. For Joe, it wasn’t in sewing, but in experimental noise music in Chicago. Life doesn’t move in a straight line, and Mr. LaPointe is well-acquainted with loops (such as the Loowit Trail). “When I started making Alpha caps, I got the same joy I did as when I made the album art for our old band U.S. Tribes. But this time, I made some money off of them.”
“If you get a formula down, you can achieve a meditative state through the craft. Whatever it might be.”
Ultralight hiking is a tractor beam for extremists. It’s not the same flavor of crazy as paragliding or base-jumping, all death-defiant, ideally accompanied by climactic thrashing guitars. But it is extreme, in spirit. Like how meditation is extreme. You walk with the intent to discover, with nothing but the bare material minimum for survival.
Joe hopes to help you achieve a state that allows for the mental space to focus on everything else besides the clothes on your back. Those moments of serene clarity are what elevate a hike into something beyond words, where only sweat and mettle suffice.