Breathable Insulated Jacket
The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie
$280, 15 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s and women’s XS-XL
From cool summer evenings and mornings in camp on a six-day backpacking trip in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness to days of backcountry skiing in a full range of winter weather, The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie demonstrated a versatility seen in only the best synthetic insulated jackets—light, warm, and breathable enough to function as the only puffy jacket you need year-round.
Most insulated jackets occupy a narrow range in the spectrum of backcountry uses. Some—typically high-quality down jackets—are exceptionally warm for their weight, ideal for chilly campsites. Others—usually with synthetic insulation—aren’t ounce-for-ounce as warm as 800-fill (or better) down but often tackle a wider range of weather conditions better, and a few of those offer the advantages of breathability.
Very few occupy both of those worlds like The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie.
It was more than warm enough over a T-shirt and midweight long-sleeve top in temps in the 40s Fahrenheit at camps as high as 11,000 feet in the Uintas. Wearing it under a waterproof-breathable jacket while ski touring along a ridge with up-and-down terrain and then finishing with a long downhill in the Boise Mountains, I stayed warm while fully exposed to cold wind and blowing snow the entire time and didn’t overheat—and my base layer, which had been damp, dried out as I cruised downhill, when my exertion level dropped but I felt no need to add a layer.
I’ve been impressed with how much it stayed on my body—a testament to its versatility, whether alone or under a soft shell or a hard shell—through days of backcountry skiing in weather that shifted from overcast with a cold wind to a thunderstorm and snow squalls to warm sunshine. I also stayed perfectly warm wearing it sandwiched between a midweight long-sleeve top and a winter soft-shell jacket while resort skiing in very cold conditions—and it dumped heat and moisture when I skied aggressively downhill.
In terms of warmth-per-ounce, TNF’s 60g Ventrix polyester stretch synthetic insulation probably compares with 700-fill down—but also has reasonably good breathability: I heat up when active, so I had to remove it while skinning uphill in warm sunshine on a day in the backcountry with temps that stayed buried in the teens; but as soon as my exertion level dropped and I pulled it back on, it allowed my damp base layer to dry out. TNF says the “dynamic” insulation has perforated micro vents that open to release body heat with a wearer’s movement and close with decreased activity. Like other synthetic insulation, it also continues to trap body heat even when wet.
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The athletic fit allows for a couple of warm base layers underneath and excellent freedom of movement and comfort with underarm gussets and no shoulder seams under pack straps. The close-fitting, stretchy, adjustable hood fits under a helmet, extends slightly out over sunglasses or goggles, and the front zips up over your chin; my only complaint is that the hood does not cover the sides of my face as well as some other insulated hoods. The jacket has four zippered chest and hand pockets with the usual space for extra gloves, phone, map, etc.
The Ventrix Hoodie doesn’t stuff inside a pocket but packs down to roughly the dimensions of a football. The 40-denier by 30-denier nylon fabric used in the upper torso and top side of the sleeves can handle some abuse and has a durable, water-resistant treatment (DWR) that easily shed lightly falling snow, while a lighter, 20-denier fabric used in the lower torso, hood, and underside of sleeves breathes a little better.
A midweight, breathable, synthetic insulated jacket that will release moisture when you’re active in the cold while delivering enough warmth for sitting around camp in temps in the 30s Fahrenheit, The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie has four-season versatility.
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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 my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.