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Backpacker Magazine – Fall Gear Guide 2013

Editors' Choice Snow Award 2013: The North Face Thermoball Hoodie

A synthetic puffy that rivals the weight and warmth of down.

by: Kristin Hostetter

The North Face Thermoball Hoodie (Andrew Bydlon)
The North Face Thermoball Hoodie (Andrew Bydlon)

Synthetic Puffy

You’ve heard it here before: Down is light, fluffy, and toasty, while synthetic insulation is stiffer, bulkier, and not as warm for the weight. We’d like to make a correction: TNF’s new puffy not only looks like a down jacket—with sewn-through baffles holding small clusters of insulation in place—but it feels and performs like down, too.

The secret sauce is the new ThermoBall insulation from PrimaLoft, which mimics the shape of down clusters. Ultrafine fibers are teased into lofty, cotton ball-like forms and contained in small chambers or baffles to keep them from shifting. “This stuff is a game-changer,” says our gear editor, who wore the Hoodie for more than 70 days last winter. “ThermoBall rivals the instant warmth and packability of down, yet when wet, it insulates way better and dries faster than even new water-resistant down.” Our crew wore the Hoodie as part of a deep-cold layering system and as a camp coat on spring trips.

ThermoBall insulation also breathes well (it’s not as breathable as the Strata, but it’s much warmer). “This is the first full-on puffy I’ve been able to wear on the go without feeling clammy and cold,” says one editor who wore the non-hooded version over just a baselayer for long, sweaty ski tours in Montana and Colorado in temps from 20°F to 40°F.

The jacket compresses into its own grapefruit-size pocket—similar to a down jacket in packability. Details are smart and simple: elastic piping around the cuffs; a clean (toggle-free), head-hugging hood; four pockets (two inside); and adjustable hem to seal out drafts. Testers raved about the relaxed, yet tailored, fit and the slightly elongated, hip-covering torso cut.
$220 ($199 for non-hooded); 10.4 oz.; m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL; 

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