The 'great grey hug' was our testers' working nickname for this top because of the color of our test piece and the cozy embrace the fleece lining provides. With this long underwear you get great comfort and durability along with enough warmth for ascents of actual north faces. These qualities, however, come with a cost that is more than just monetary: increased weight, bulk, and lower breathability. While our reviewers love the feel of this shirt at home, its drawbacks in several areas, including slow drying speed, decrease its potential technical uses. If your comfort is paramount, the $80 price tag may be justified. More practical minded outdoor enthusiasts might consider something else, like the equally warm, but more versatile, Patagonia Capilene 4 Expedition Weight 1/4 Zip Hoody.
The North Face Expedition Long Sleeve Zip Neck Review
Cons: Expensive, rides up, won't stay tucked in, delicate zipper, heavy
Manufacturer: The North Face
Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face Expedition Long Sleeve Zip Neck is a complicated name for a simple shirt. When we break it down, you have 'The North Face', a company named after the coldest, most difficult aspect of northern hemisphere peaks and synonymous with quality, 'Expediton', implying the thickest insulation, 'Long Sleeve', not a t-shirt, and 'Zip Neck', hundreds of tiny plastic teeth will let you adjust your warmth. So to summarize, you have a 'nice, warm, full-length shirt, with a zipper'. (Wait, that's still eight words…)
As the name suggests, this is an 'expedition' weight base layer and is one of the warmest tested. The 85% polyester/15% elastane blend fabric is uniquely cozy—the interior is lined with soft fleece while the smooth outside displays attractive, knit polyester. These dichotomous materials combine to make a shirt that feels even warmer than the thickness would suggest. A high collar with a zipper provides additional insulation when needed. This fabric is the warmest reviewed, but it placed second overall in this category behind the Patagonia Capilene 4 Expedition Weight 1/4 Zip Hoody because that top includes a hood and thumb loops to keep more of your body covered
Unfortunately, the soft, warm, fabric of this long underwear did not breathe well compared to the other base layers. This is probably due more to the thickness of the fabric rather than a flaw in design—The North Face and the Cap 4 were the only expedition weight layers tested; the rest were midweight. Both of these heavier tops have chest zippers for ventilation, but the length of the Cap 4 zipper is twice as long, extending below the heart, and far more effective at letting heat escape. This shirt's zipper appears to be more cosmetic than functional.
In our air dry test this long underwear finished second to last, taking almost twice as long as the top performer, the Patagonia Merino 2 Lightweight Henley. Like breathability, this deficiency is probably a result of a thick, expedition weight shirt being compared with lighter, midweight, tops. Additionally, the tight fit should improve drying time under real world conditions, when the fabric is stretched, allowing more water vapor to pass through the fibers.
The North Face advertises this base layer as next-to-skin fit, and it certainly excels in that capacity. However, it can also function over the top of another thin shirt. In fact, for cold conditions, this long underwear works well as an insulating layer over any of the mid weight options tested. Beware though, the soft fleece lining likes to cling to anything underneath.
The drawbacks of thick fabric in breathability and drying speed are countered by the advantages in durability. This top was the most durable long underwear tested due to abrasion resistant materials and tough stitching that has yet to fail. Our only complaint was the zipper, which looks and feels more delicate than the zipper on the Cap 4.
Comfort and Fit
The cozy fleece interior of this piece is its most unique characteristic. Our testers thought it the softest and most comfortable of any fabric tested. The stretch fit is also well executed; allowing freedom of movement without constriction or discomfort. However, like the Under Armour Base 2.0, this tight fit does present problems. The shirt rides up with arms raised, and when your arms are lowered, the stretch doesn't allow it to fall back down; leaving your belly exposed.
This thick base layer is ideal for cold weather and low to medium intensity activities like downhill skiing or snowshoeing. Around town, its simplistic design is more stylish than the long zippers or ninja hoods on more technical tops.
The $80 street price is a little steep for a simple zip-neck shirt, but it does provide a similar value to some of the other high priced tops tested. Its thick polyester fabric is more robust than merino wool and is likely to also outlast the higher performing, but 50% more expensive, Cap 4.
The North Face has produced a cozy and stylish piece of long underwear with this top. The warm expedition weight without ventilation design features, narrows its uses to low to moderate intensity activities, extremely cold days, or frontcountry occasions. However, for these purposes it is does stand out and should be considered by shoppers for which a technical base layer might be too much shirt.
— Jack Cramer