The North Face Stretch Thermoball jacket review…

The North Face Stretch Thermoball jacket

I like my outdoor gear… I will pay a premium if the product is worth it, and further, I’ll scout out the best deal I can on the product if I can save myself some money.
This brings me to a direction in outdoor warmth… one that I prefer, but others may not (due to geography, or just preference). I hate down. Let’s get that out there… I hate buying a jacket, sleeping bag, or pillow… whatever, just knowing that it will try to self-destruct at any opportunity. Yes, it is supremely warm for it’s weight, but it also becomes worthless when it is wet (and…. I live in a wet environment). So, I tried my best to find some synthetic filled jackets that will achieve near down performance while not breaking apart at a moments notice.

While looking for down alternatives, I found out a few good options; the Primaloft line, and Polartec Alpha (click here for the review of an Alpha piece). Both are a little heavier than down, but not overly so, both do not lose their insulating capabilities when wet… but there things differ a bit. Primaloft is warmer… full stop on that. But… a lot like Goretex and most of those barriers, it does not breathe worth a damn. This is great in windy cold situations, but if you’re working up a sweat from some aerobic activities, you are going to start to get damp inside. This is where Polartec Alpha comes in… more breathable, but not as warm.

For this jacket’s purpose, I wanted something warm… wind resistant… for walking around the city, and/or trails. I sought out a good Primaloft option, and found that The North Face’s Thermoball series was using their own (probably not) formulation on Primaloft (Primaloft comes in a few varieties, Gold, Silver, Eco, Black, and Thermoball). I was planning on layering the jacket with a waterproof shell if need be, so I wanted the jacket to fit snug, and maybe a little bit of stretch. The Stretch Thermoball hit all those categories. The stretch is subtle, but it fits more snuggly than the regular Thermoball (this fits more like a shirt… it just kind of hangs down to the waist). The jacket has two slash hand pockets that are raised up a bit from normal (good for pack harnesses). Unfortunately the design does not have a hood, and there are no interior pockets… those two hand pockets are all you are getting. It has cinch straps at the waist for a tighter fit to keep wind out. One of my favorite design features are the cuffs. Most of these types of jackets have elasticized cuffs at the end… great for keeping wind out and warmth sealed in. This one has the elasticized part recessed a little into the cuff. I makes putting on gloves a breeze! Sometimes with the other feature, you’re fighting to get a tighter fit glove over or under that cuff… this design allows for the glove and cuff not to interfere with each other.

Warmth, hand feel, fit… all are quite good… this is a great walking around jacket, whether that is in the mountains or around the streets in winter. I have had it to 0 Celsius, and not felt any kind of chill. I also had it on in windy conditions without feeling much other than the wind going down the back of the neck (damn you lack of hood!). Rain resistance I can’t comment on yet, but it should be ok against some light showers, more than that, and I’d want to have a shell on over top. One occasion had me in the jacket going up a hill, in moderate sunny weather… that really got me hot and a little sweaty… not the jacket’s forte.

After a lot of research, going for this jacket was a good bet. I’d highly recommend it for a decent down alternative jacket to keep you warm against cold and wind.

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