The North Face Radium Hi-Loft Jacket
$170, 15 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
Given all the modern choices in outdoor apparel for the backcountry, is the classic fleece jacket obsolete? Not hardly. An insulating layer that’s highly breathable remains indispensable when you’re active in cold temperatures; I always have some kind of fleece layer when out backcountry skiing, cross-country ski touring, hiking, or snowshoeing in winter or any time of year in temps in the 30s or colder. The good news is that advancements in fabrics have transformed your father’s fleece into a more versatile outer or middle layer—like The North Face Radium Hi-Loft Jacket. Wearing it quite a lot while cross-country skiing on a four-day, December yurt trip in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, and as a middle layer while resort skiing as well as around town, I found it impressively warm, comfortable, and functional.
What sets it apart? The Radium uses cutting-edge Polartec Thermal Pro High Loft fleece throughout the torso and on the outside of the sleeves, giving the jacket exceptional warmth and breathability for its low weight and bulk. Meanwhile, Polartec Power Stretch in the sides, the underside of the sleeves, and the collar helps move moisture off the areas of your body that are generating the most heat, lending the jacket superior versatility: I wore it over just a midweight base layer when skiing uphill in temps ranging through the 20s, as well as under a shell while making a long descent on a cross-country ski trail as temperatures sank at dusk.
The jacket was comfortable in all situations, thanks to an athletic fit that allows me to wear a couple of base layers underneath without getting too bulky, and a soft collar that’s tall enough to keep my neck warm without being obtrusive when zipped up. Two hand-warmer pockets are positioned to be accessible while wearing a pack or a climbing harness. All in all, the Radium Hi-Loft Jacket is an excellent middle or outer layer for classic cross-country ski touring, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, or cold-weather dayhiking and backpacking. And if you’re on a budget, it can double as an insulation piece for three-season dayhiking and backpacking.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.