Gear Review: The North Face Plasma Thermal

The North Face Plasma Thermal jacket:

Sorry, no pictures of this one. I don’t feel it’s worth my time but could provide them if necessary.

At 810g, it’s an insulation piece for spring/autumn/winter conditions really, but uses TNF’s high-end waterproof membrane, Hyvent Alpha. It also uses 100g of Primaloft One insulation, known for it’s warmth to weight and it’s ability to insulate better than others when wet, though what ‘better’ and ‘wet’ equate to is arguable I would think, (see my short, but damning indictment of the performance of this jacket in the wet at this link).

This thing is pretty warm & windproof, though it’s 2-layer Hyvent Alpha membrane is more water-resistant than water-proof. I’ve used it very comfortably whilst stationary, in around -20 Celcius with added windchill, over just a Helly Hansen base layer top and the Mountain Equipment Eclipse underneath. Pit zips allow penetrative venting, which in this case, unfortunately also allows water in when zipped up and under the influence of persistent/heavy precipitation. The fleece lined pockets feel nice but are quite shallow, and a laminated peak in the hood which, due to its three-way adjustability, also cinches down well to give pretty good visibility, if not movement with the head. This version of the Plasma Thermal has a heavier weight face fabric when compared to TNF’s similarly specced ‘Makalu’ jacket, the latter of which which has slightly more insulation but a lesser weight outer fabric.

There are however, more niggles with this otherwise decent jacket. Firstly, the elastic drawcords are pretty flimsy, the one at the waist has started to fray, as has the material that it passes through. Perhaps this is down to abrasion against the mechanism that allows it to be tightened from within the hand-warmer pockets. Secondly, the hook & loop cuff fasteners are pretty substandard also. The ‘hook’ end is made from a moulded plastic that wears down the ‘loop’ fabric far too quickly.

Seeing these faults, I can hear and empathise with people who say that much of what TNF produces these days is fashionable, consumer guff that isn’t fit for proper use however, if properly thought out and some of the problems were addressed, some of their high end stuff could be half decent. On top of this, I just noticed that TNF have now lowered the specs for this jacket in their new range, it now uses Primaloft Eco, and their standard 2-layer Hyvent shell material. Crazy!

So as an insulative outer-layer in alpine-like climates, (not too wet for prolonged periods), then this jacket would be almost perfect, however I feel that the performance of the Hyvent Alpha in only ‘reasonably bad’ autumn weather here in the UK, makes it unsuitable for the typical climate here.

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