An overlook – Squak Alpha UL

For many years, people had a choice of two types of fleece – Your classic solid fleece and the somewhat newer grid fleece.
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There are many nuances; the overall synopsis is that “wear grid fleece if breathability is the focus; standard or solid fleece if you want a more well-rounded layer.”
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Fleece makes for a durable, versatile, and (overall) reasonably priced garment that’s stood the test of time.
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However, a newer fleece-like fabric has become increasingly popular since its introduction in 2017 – Polartec Alpha Direct.
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A successor to a similar design in 2012 for the US military, it’s a highly breathable, quick drying, very low bulk, and fast-wicking garment that makes an outstanding warmth-to-weight ratio. It is NOT wind resistant but works exceptionally well under a shell.
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The major downside of the fleece is its weave makes it prone to potential snagging and would not work as a standalone garment in brushy or technical conditions. Alpha Direct has found a niche for on-trail and wide-open areas such as alpine terrain.
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Alpha Direct fleeces come in four general “flavors” with various degrees of breathability, warmth, and durability rated in grams per square meter of fabric (GSM).
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This chart, initially available on Garage Gear in a different form, sums up the options well (notes and equivalent  use are mine, however)-
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Alpha Direct Types
GSM Type Weight for a medium, approx. Rough Traditional Fleece Equivalent Use Notes
190gsm 9.5 oz / 270g 300 wt Heaviest and most durable, less breathable
120gsm 8 oz / 227g 200 wt Comparable in weight to a grid fleece but warmer and more breathable
90gsm 5 oz / 156g 100 wt Not quite as warm as above, more breathable, somewhat less durable
60gsm 4 oz / 113g Heavy thermal top The lightest but also the least warm and wind resistant. Least durable.
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What does all this mean?
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From a backpacker’s perspective, The 120gsm makes an all-purpose layer with a weight and warmth combo that works well for different uses and could pass easily for more casual wear.
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If breathability and weight are more of a concern, the 90gsm type works well without sacrificing as much durability and warmth as the 60gsm for not much weight penalty. The look is more technical but not as “Muppet-looking” as the 60gsm and makes acceptable post-trip clothing in an outdoor town.
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This brings me to the latest garment I recently added to my clothing quiver – The Squak Mountain Co Alpha UL hoodie.
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I’ve used their grid hoodies for cold weather activities, and they’ve become “go-to” clothing for Joan and me.
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I readily agreed when this Utah-based company offered their new garment to test. Just in time for mountain season. (A lot less brush versus our desert haunts)
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Initial impressions –
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The Alpha UL reflects the trail-running roots of the company’s founders. This 90gsm hoodie trends towards a trim fit and is not a cozy garment for lounging in camp like a Melly fleece or similar. The Squak grid fleece hoodie also runs on the athletic side, but the Alpha UL garment is even more so. In other words, it’s a garment for active use overall.
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The garment comes in unisex sizing. Per the company’s advice, I sized up to a large weighing ~4.8oz / 136g. The lack of a pocket fits the practical bent of the hoodie and assists in trimming weight, too. There are thumb holes on the sleeve to make a closer fit (I am not a fan of thumb holes overall, but that’s a personal preference.)
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All these features and details reflect the purpose of this garment – you aren’t hanging out in camp or town; you throw it on when actively hiking or stash it in a small bundle in your pack until a break comes up.
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The fleece makes a highly breathable garment that packs small. The trim fit also fits easily under a shell to increase warmth and mitigate potential snags. The hood cinches up nicely for some increased warmth.
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The fit is not so tight that it feels like a baselayer but rather just enough looseness to add to the breathability and comfort without adding weight that takes away from the practical nature of the garment.
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Because of the trim fit, unlike other fleeces, including the Squak grid fleece hoodie, does not come down much past the hips. Some people may prefer that type of coverage, especially for camp use or if you tend to run cold.
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In the field –
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The warmth-to-weight ratio impressed me off the bat, and it felt extremely comfortable. It hardly felt like I had any garment on at all. I could walk around casually and not judge myself to get overheated.
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Esp when combined with a shell. PCO Joan.

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Even more, than those aspects, I liked how well it packed down and did not take up much space in my pack.
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I did notice it stuck slightly to some rougher fabric on my pack. Though 90gsm makes a more durable fabric than 60gsm, I still would not want to take this garment when I wear it in the brush Joan, and I often find ourselves in from mid-fall through early spring. Again, less of an issue during our mountain hiking season of late spring through early fall.
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Overall?
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If you wish to purchase an Alpha Direct fleece for on-trail or non-brushy use, the Squak Alpha UL makes an excellent use for the person looking for a practical garment with a trim fit that lends itself to active service. The large (I usually wear a medium) weighs under 5 oz. At $90, it makes a competitive price versus similar options from other companies.
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Don’t buy this garment for some “cozy camp wear” but as a tool in an ultralight backpacking strategy for when you find yourself hiking more and weight is a concern.
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This hoodie will become a favored piece when hiking in the mountains when the brush is less of a concern and when the cold wind (such as skiing or winter bike commuting) does not factor in.
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PCO Joan.

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Squak Mountain Company made another piece of kit that’s practical, reasonably priced, made with attention to detail, and works well for active use.
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I look forward to its continued use.
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And it does work for the occasional post-backpacking camping trip with beer! PCO Joan.

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Disclosure – Squak Mountain Co provided the fleece for my review.
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I did sign up for an affiliate program where I’ll receive a small commission for any purchase you make with no additional cost. You can also use a coupon code to get 10% off your purchase.
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Squak Alpha ULCoupon Code = PMAGS-SQUAK
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Roger Moore
Roger Moore
1 year ago

And that DOPE color! You will be the Bell of the Ball!

(I love mine too. Same blue.)

Scott
Scott
1 year ago

If you are a cold sleeper could this pull dual duty as active insulation while hiking and baselayer for sleeping?

Jeremy Werlin
Jeremy Werlin
11 months ago

Hi Paul,

I get that the Alpha fabric needs a windshell (or similar) to get max insulation value, but would you venture to say the warmth of the 90 gsm is similar to a midweight base layer or more like a Patagonia R1 when used with a shell? Thank you.

Jeremy Werlin
Jeremy Werlin
11 months ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Roger that. Thank you again.