Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gear Review: The North Face Thermoball Full-Zip Jacket

Full Disclosure: I am currently employed with the VF Corps, who owns The North Face, but I am not receiving incentive to write this review for them. Although, if they wanted to pay me to test out and review their products, I wouldn't say no. As it stands, I doubt anyone who reads this will care anyway. 

The Thermoball Jacket, "a versatile lightweight jacket that is ready for anything", is one of the big focuses of The North Face this winter season. Designed to be as warm as possible with minimal weight, the synthetic down used to insulate the jacket has been rated as equivalent to the warmth of 600 fill goose down and has the added feature of being able to stow into its own pocket. 

Since I work in one of the few actual, physical The North Face retail locations and am supposed to be well-versed in the products I'm selling, I decided to purchase the Thermoball Full Zip jacket to try for myself. The diamond baffling style is very cute (as well as functional - it keeps the synthetic down balls from shifting and redistributing). The jacket IS remarkably lightweight, and the stow-pocket is pretty cool. A lot of people have a hard time believing the jacket can suffice as a reasonable winter coat due to the thinness of the material.

It's a reasonable cynicism, the material is thin and the entire jacket weighs in at 10.05 ounces. The baffling does, however, leave a weakness for wind to cut through the unprotected stitching in the 100% Nylon shell. I've worn the jacket nearly every day for the past month, and have found that while it doesn't stand up so well against wind, it does suffice in resisting water (namely, from light rain showers, melty snow, or the occasional spill of water since I apparently don't know how to drink from cups). As someone who has relied exclusively on pea coats or great big puffy coats for most of my adult life, I have to say this is a welcome change to my winter wardrobe. In fact, here's a picture of me in the jacket (with bonus red-tailed hawk!). Ignore the dorky look on my face. And the Rhino name-tag misplaced around my neck. In fact, uh, I may find a better picture to use.

The fit is generous - I have a women's medium and I can easily fit a hooded sweatshirt underneath (and I am not a small girl). I believe in layering and normally wear cute sweaters, hoodies, or long sleeved shirts anyhow in my daily activities. This comes from finally resigning to my fate as a person who freezes in temperatures below 60 degrees, so my expectations for the jacket probably weren't as great as maybe someone who can wear tank-tops in mid-January. The women's fit is flattering, and like most sport-style jackets, falls at the top of the hips. I've had problems with things falling out of my pockets - I'm not sure what that's about, but I do know I have to be more careful with things now that I've misplaced my wallet twice! However, I see this being a constant companion on winter hikes and any other outdoor activities I'll encounter this winter and many winters to come. It's definitely going to transition well as a spring and fall jacket, and would have done me wonders that particularly cold night in the Grand Canyon.

Now for story time: The other night, I locked myself out of my car. Unfortunately, I was outside of my house, having just come home from work, and so my housekey was also in my car. I waited about a half hour, in the dark, for roadside assistance to come and unlock my car. The weather was dropping into the mid-20s, and this one particular evening I had opted not to wear a hooded sweatshirt and just had on a flannel shirt that was rolled up to my elbows. The jacket kept me relatively comfortable, although I definitely felt the chill in my hands, legs, and on my head (because of COURSE I had gloves and scarves in my car AND my house, but not on my person). The night wasn't particularly windy, but there was a definite chill in the air. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to test my jacket, I have to say it passed with flying colors. I was suprisingly warm given my lack of layering - however, I am positive on a windier night the chill would have cut right through.

Bottom line: the Thermoball Jacket is a great piece if you are already a fan of layering. While it's not a heavy coat that you can just wear a t-shirt underneath, it will keep you warm and comfortable without added bulk, weight, or the unflattering marshmallow look. Pair it over a sweater or fleece (or any other winter staple one would wear to work, school, or errands normally anyway), and it'll do the trick. Great for outdoor activities and emergency roadside rescues. 

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