Backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Boise Mountains in heavily falling snow, I pulled my Desolation ThermoBall Jacket on over my waterproof-breathable shell for extra warmth while digging a snow pit to assess avalanche conditions. Finishing that, with the Desolation ThermoBall’s shell damp from snow, I stuffed it inside my pack while we made a couple of downhill runs and climbs. Later, I pulled it on over my shell again for the ski down to our car, as snow continued dumping and temps were dropping fast. Although damp, the jacket kept me warm. It did the same on other ski tours in temps in the teens Fahrenheit, repelling light, falling snow and giving me the warmth I needed by simply wearing it over my shell—no getting blasted by cold wind to add a layer. That illustrates the versatility of The North Face Desolation ThermoBall Jacket, an insulation piece that won’t just sit in your pack.
This breathable, hybrid insulated jacket is made for being active in the cold, with PrimaLoft Silver synthetic insulation throughout the core and on the top surface of the sleeves, and a light, stretch fleece under the arms and in the side panels for breathability. The small, round ThermoBall synthetic fiber clusters mimic the loft of down feathers, trapping body heat in tiny air pockets to deliver good warmth for its low weight; TNF says it compares with 600-fill down.
But as I’ve found on days of backcountry skiing in heavy snowfall, the insulation retains its ability to keep you warm even when wet. And it breathes well enough to help dry damp base layers (depending on your exertion level), and release the heat and moisture I produced while telemark skiing off-trail bumps at a resort. Plus, a DWR (durable, water-repellent) treatment on the shell helps shed the variety of precipitation seen in freezing temps—keeping the insulation dry for a while, although heavy, wet precipitation eventually soaks through the shell. Still, the combination of the shell’s moisture repellency and the insulation’s performance when wet means that in normal use—short of, say, falling into open water—you’re not likely to soak this jacket so thoroughly that it’s rendered useless.
The fit is loose enough to allow pulling it on over a shell and a couple of base layers, but it’s a bit bulky in front. Lacking a hood, it layers more smoothly under a hooded shell. Stretch fabric in the shoulders and sides permits completely free range of motion—this jacket doesn’t ride up when you reach overhead. While the insulated collar stands tall, it fits loosely around the neck, letting drafts in, so I usually had to wear a base layer that covered my neck; I wish the collar either fit more closely or had a drawcord for adjusting the fit, like the hem does. Thumbholes in the cuffs make it a breeze to pull the sleeves inside gloves, which really helps keep hands warm on a frigid day.
Two zippered hand pockets and one on the chest stow gloves, hat, maps, electronics and such, and two inside stuff-it pockets are large enough for climbing skins. Tough nylon shell fabric in the shoulders and at the hem provides extra durability for regularly carrying a pack. The jacket stuffs easily into one of the hand pockets, packing down to slightly smaller than a football (a nice size for a backcountry pillow).
The North Face Desolation ThermoBall Jacket is a piece of insulation that may actually spend more time on your body than in your pack when you’re on the move in winter, and can double as lightweight, campsite insulation in summer.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to purchase a men’s The North Face Desolation ThermoBall Jacket at moosejaw.com or a women’s Desolation ThermoBall Jacket at backcountry.com.
“10 Smarter Ways to Think About Your Layering System”
“Review: 6 Super Versatile Layering Pieces”
“Review: The Best Base Layers and Shorts For Hiking, Trail Running, and Training”
“12 Pro Tips For Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter”
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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