Even when the windchill on an 8,000-foot pass in Arizona's San Francisco Peaks dropped to snot-freezing single digits, our tester stayed warm in the Valkyrie. Credit the water-resistant Polartec Windbloc fabric, which has a polyurethane membrane that cuts wind dead and a microfleece backing that boosts insulation. Whether we were climbing in the Tetons or hut-to-hut skiing in Colorado, the jacket proved exceptionally warm in frigid conditions.
But frigid is the key term. The Valkyrie is too warm to wear while skinning up a mountain on a sunny day in the 30s. Breathability is best for moderately aerobic activities (like downhill skiing and dayhiking) in cool temps (about 20°F to 40°F) or intense workouts in intense cold (below 10°F). Testers also liked the two large, vertical handwarmer pockets, which are big enough to hold puffy ski gloves or a one-liter water bottle each. Tall testers appreciated the long, slim cut of the torso and cinchable sleeves, which cover the butt and wrists without feeling baggy. A brimmed, adjustable hood snugs down securely, but it's not big enough for a helmet. Downside: This much warmth is heavy. $229; 1 lb. 6 oz. (w's medium); men'sS-XXL, women's XS-XL; thenorthface.com