Hybrid Insulated Jacket
The North Face ThermoBall Active Jacket
$150, 14.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
The December sun was about to drop over the horizon, and the air temperature was dropping even faster—but I was enjoying the skate-skiing around Bear Basin, in the quiet ponderosa pine forest outside McCall, Idaho, too much to head for the car just yet. It didn’t matter. I knew I could wring out the last minutes of daylight and stay warm, despite my base layer being quite sweaty, thanks to the hybrid design and unique insulation in the ThermoBall Active Jacket.
Yet another iteration in the family of outerwear using the ThermoBall synthetic insulation that TNF developed with PrimaLoft, the ThermoBall Active Jacket is built for moderate to highly aerobic activity in temps ranging from just above to well below freezing, because it traps heat in your body’s core while dumping excess heat and moisture through the sleeves, shoulders, and sides. I wore it on winter days for highly aerobic skate-skiing and while backcountry skiing, in temperatures ranging from the low 20s Fahrenheit to around freezing.
This hybrid jacket weds three different types of fabric and insulation. Its torso (front and back) is filled with PrimaLoft ThermoBall synthetic insulation, which consists of small, round fiber clusters that—unlike typical continuous-filament synthetic insulation—trap heat in air pockets to mimic the warmth and compressibility of 600-fill power down feathers; but like synthetics, it also retains warmth when wet. The sleeves, top and back of the shoulders, and side panels consist of a water-repellent, ripstop nylon shell with a DWR (durable, water-repellent treatment) to shed light precipitation. And a layer of stretchy, midweight grid fleece extends across the shoulders, to the elbows inside the sleeves, and under the arms, to offer minimal warmth with high breathability (which requires having a base layer that’s right for the temps).
For me, as someone who heats up quite a bit in my core when moving, just below freezing probably marks the upper end of this jacket’s comfortable temperature range for high-exertion activities. For moderate exertion, it would be fine in a wider range of temps, also depending on sun and wind. I found the insulation itself only mildly breathable: I sweated hard while skate-skiing, but afterward, while my base layer was wet, the jacket’s wicking, FlashDry liner was damp.
If the jacket has a fault, I found that the ThermoBall insulation provides significantly more warmth than the light sleeves—a larger imbalance between core and arms than I’ve found in other hybrid-insulation jackets. Part of the reason is that the ThermoBall insulation extends throughout the core, whereas some similar hybrid jackets place insulation only in the front, or place less insulation in the front and back. Of course, people who get cold easily might consider that a strength rather than a fault of the ThermoBall Active Jacket. Plus, those hybrid jackets that lack insulation in the back require you to produce heat constantly—standing around for more than a couple minutes cools you off rapidly—and become less effective when wet.
The trim fit accommodates only one or two lightweight to midweight base layers underneath. Still, the moderately bulky nature of the insulation and the jacket’s weight—there are much lighter hybrid-insulation jackets—make it less appealing for running than for snow sports or cold-weather hiking. The two zippered hand pockets warmed my hands nicely and the left one has a port for an earbuds cord. Another benefit of ThermoBall insulation: I launder this jacket regularly with no negative effects.
For moderate- to high-exertion activities in temps near and below freezing, especially for people who find they need more insulation in their core, and for high-speed sports like Nordic skiing, The North Face ThermoBall Active Jacket delivers huge core warmth that doesn’t disappear if it gets wet.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s The North Face ThermoBall Active Jacket at ems.com or moosejaw.com, or a women’s The North Face ThermoBall Active Jacket at ems.com, or moosejaw.com.
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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 categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.