Editor’s Note: welcome to the latest in our ‘From the Founders’ series. Today we welcome Joe La Pointe, founder of FarPointe, who’s going to give us the 101 on Alpha fabric!
Alpha Direct has been gaining quite a bit of momentum recently. This fabric, with its signature fishnet look, is incredibly lightweight. Unparalleled breathability, active-insulation properties and colorful designs further tailor it to the hiking community.
While Alpha might seem like a new, cutting-edge innovation in the outdoor clothing world, the ultralight fabric is actually a decade old; its roots go back to 2012 and a collaborative effort between the U.S. Military and Polartec.
Breathe In The Air
We can all have a nice big laugh at the idea of ‘trickle down economics’ but as far as ‘trickle down Military gear’ goes … well, that is a different story! From aviator sunglasses, aerosol bug sprays, super glue, duct tape, GPS and the Internet itself, the U.S. military is to thank. Alpha Direct, as it turns out, is no exception.
In 2012 Polartec partnered with the U.S. Special Operations Forces to develop the first active insulation, Polartec Alpha. They needed a performance fabric that was ultralight, packable, fast drying, durable, warm, and most importantly could breathe.
Polartec nailed it, and through a collaboration with Patagonia, they began making their 3A jacket with Alpha insulation, which became standard issue for all S.O.F. operators, remaining so to this day.
Jump ahead five years to 2017, when Polartec developed a more durable and rugged successor, Alpha Direct. While Polartec Alpha insulation requires a backing fabric, Alpha Direct works as standalone fabric, i.e. it can be used to create next-to-skin clothing.
It’s difficult to appreciate Alpha insulation when it’s sandwiched between nylon, but when you take the shell away, Alpha Direct really shines.
Its weight-to-warmth ratio, its comfort in a wide range of temperatures, its extremely fast-wicking properties (I’ve seen it come out of the washer practically dry), and its incredible ability to breathe is what has caught the attention of both bigger outdoor clothing companies and ultralight cottage gear makers.
Alpha Direct does not have very good wind resistance, but when coupled with a wind or rain jacket, it can also provide an impressive amount of heat retention.
Rab, Reddit And Beyond
One of the earliest designs I’ve found with Alpha Direct as a stand-alone garment is the Rab Alpha Freak. It’s made using a combination of Polartec Power Grid and Polartec Alpha Direct 190gsm, with a windproof layer of Pertex Quantum over the hood, which is pretty much a nylon material. I personally have one of these rare grailz of the outdoor world and it is really quite a piece of technical wonder. Rab has since stopped making it, for reasons unknown, but the outdoor brand continues to incorporate Alpha insulation and Alpha Direct into some of their more popular items.
My first experience with an Alpha Direct hoodie was on Reddit. I was scrolling through ULGearTrade and came across a used Macpac Nitro hoodie, which was exciting since they don't sell them new in the States. They are a well made, simple Alpha Direct hoodie, with a slightly smaller fit — something to generally keep in mind if you’re thinking of purchasing an Alpha Direct garment, as almost all designs being made tend to run small.
The Macpac Nitro hoodie is made from Alpha Direct 90gsm, which is semi-transparent. While I was looking forward to receiving it and testing it out, there’s no doubt that I looked funny sporting a see-through fleece while playing tennis with my brother.
It was not long after that I sold the Macpac and began making my own Alpha Direct hoodies and hats under the name FarPointe Outdoor Gear. Since then, my small garage grown business has been moving at a great pace, with my best seller, the Alpha Cruiser hoodie leading the charge.
We are now starting to see more cottage brands using Alpha Direct, giving the consumer a variety of styles and designs to choose from.
This brings us to the biggest player in the Alpha game right now, Senchi Designs. Founder Ryan Windus got his start selling small batches of Alpha hoodies on Reddit. He quickly grew a devoted following eager to snatch up one of his innovative hoodies, evidenced in the mere minutes it takes him to sell out each time he drops a new batch of inventory.
Sechi’s staple garments are the Lark, Wren, and Merlin hoodies. Each design correlates with the weight of Alpha Direct fabric used to create it. (GGG periodically offers our own surprise Senchi drops! Sign up for our newsletter to get the inside scoop!)
A Weight Has Been Lifted
Alpha Direct fabric currently comes in a variety of weights, ranging from 60, 90, 120 to 190 GSM. The 60 and 90gsm are your most common and popular weights, both being semi-transparent and offering a similar warmth-to-weight ratio.
A typical 60gsm Medium hoodie will end up being under 4oz. It’s when you venture into the 120 to 190 weights that you see a significant increase in both durability and weight. The heavier weights are NOT transparent and look much more casual when worn in settings outside of backpacking. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that the 120gsm is the “all around” best weight for being durable and versatile in a wide range of temperatures and environments.
Garments made from each of the fabric weights are all highly compressible, with the lighter weights packing down to nearly nothing.
The UL Way
Alpha Direct has been put through rigorous tests by troops in the field and by Youtubers in the bush, and the verdict is in: Alpha greatly outshines any fabric at its weight and is a game changer of the likes we don’t often see. Just keep it away from Velcro!
A List of Alpha Direct Makers
- Senchi Designs
- FarPointe Outdoor Gear
- High Tail Designs
- Superior Fleece
- Vado UL
- Beyond The Trail Gear
- Skylight Designs
- LearnMYOG (pattern design)
- Alpine Lite Works
Joe La Pointe is the Owner and Founder of FarPointe Outdoor Gear. Located on the Oregon Coast, this small cottage brand focuses on hand made-batches of outdoor clothing using natural and synthetic fabrics, including merino, hemp, Wind Pro, and Alpha Direct. Check out their products on Garage Grown Gear, through their site www.farpointeOG.com and follow them on Instagram for updates and new releases.