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The North Face Balfron Review

A lightly insulated shell jacket with a freeride look and great value.
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Price:  $199 List | $198.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Excellent value, good weather resistance
Cons:  Polarizing style, some unrefined features
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Jeff Dobronyi ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 3, 2019
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52
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 13
  • Warmth - 20% 5
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 5
  • Comfort and Fit - 20% 5
  • Ventilation - 15% 6
  • Style - 15% 5
  • Features - 10% 5

Our Verdict

The North Face Balfron delivers weather resistance and light insulation at a great value. We found the Balfron to perform at an average level throughout our testing. A lightly insulated shell jacket, the Balfron delivers everything we need in a ski jacket, from weather protection to a comfortable fit to useful ski features. Most buyers will make a decision about this jacket based on its style. Otherwise, there is nothing special about the Balfron, but rather, it does everything well enough, and comes at a great price.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award   Editors' Choice Award 
Price $198.95 at Backcountry
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$949.00 at REI
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$625.00 at REI
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Excellent value, good weather resistanceExcellent performance in every category, durableImpeccable quality, clean lines, very warm, excellent weather protectionVery warm, great weather resistance, high quality constructionCompletely weather resistant, good ventilation, freeride style
Cons Polarizing style, some unrefined featuresMore snug fit than other optionsSuper expensive, too warm for some applicationsBoxy fit, unremarkable style, expensiveExpensive, too heavy and warm for most backcountry use
Bottom Line A lightly insulated shell jacket with a freeride look and great value.This excellent all-around ski jacket wins our Editors’ Choice Award.Arc'teryx’s top of the line ski jacket keeps you warm, dry, and comfortable, for a small fortune.High quality warmth and weather resistance, at a price.A durable, weatherproof jacket that wins out Editors’ Choice Award for shells.
Rating Categories The North Face Balfron Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft Arc'teryx Macai Patagonia Primo Puff Arc'teryx Sabre AR Jacket
Warmth (20%)
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
4
Weather Resistance (20%)
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
10
Comfort And Fit (20%)
10
0
5
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
Ventilation (15%)
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
8
Style (15%)
10
0
5
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
8
Features (10%)
10
0
5
10
0
10
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
5
Specs The North Face... Helly Hansen Alpha... Arc'teryx Macai Patagonia Primo Puff Arc'teryx Sabre AR...
Main Fabric 100% nylon 2-layer stretch polyester N40p-X GORE-TEX 2-layer, 4-oz 75-denier 100% recycled polyester N80p-X GORE-TEX
Insulation Hanging mesh liner LifaLoft synthetic Coreloft 100, Coreloft Compact, and 750 fill goose down PlumaFill synthetic Light flannel backer
Pockets 2 chest, 2 hand, 1 internal goggle 2 handwarmer, 2 chest, 1 internal chest, 1 internal mesh, 1 sleeve 2 handwarmer, 1 sleeve, 1 chest, 1 internal mesh, 1 internal chest 2 hand, 1 chest, 2 interior 2 hand, 1 sleeve, 1 internal
Weight (pounds) 1.88 lbs 2.56 lbs 2.64 lbs 2.54 lbs 1.66 lbs
Waterproofing DryVent Helly Tech Professional 3L Gore-Tex Pro Shell Gore-Tex Gore-Tex
Hood Option? Adjustable Adjustable and removable Adjustabe and Removable Adjustable Adjustable
Pit-Zips? Mesh-backed Mesh-backed Mesh-backed Open Open
Cuff construction Velcro Interior stretchy wrist gaiters and external velcro cuffs Velcro Velcro Velcro
Ski Features pass pocket, powder skirt Powder skirt, fixed goggle wipe, high visibility brim, pass pocket Removable powder skirt, attached/removable goggle wipe, pass pocket Pass pocket, powder skirt attaches to Patagonia pants Fixed powder skirt buttons to matching pants, pass pocket
RECCO? No Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Balfron is a unique jacket because it is neither a shell-only jacket nor is it heavily insulated. Its freeride style and long cut further separate this jacket from the competition.

Performance Comparison


The Balfron  chest deep.
The Balfron, chest deep.

Warmth


Without any puffy insulation, the Balfron does not seem like a warm jacket at first. However, it features a thin hanging fleece liner in the torso, which adds some insulating properties. Still, in winter temperatures, we needed to layer up underneath this jacket to wear it while skiing, and we would generally classify this jacket as a shell. The velcro cuffs create a tight seal over gloves or mittens, and the hood collar easily zips up over the skier's nose so that you can nuzzle in during cold lift rides. The hood does not feature the same fleece liner as the body of the jacket, so the hood component is just a shell.

A hanging fleece liner in the Balfron provides more warmth than a bare-bones shell jacket.
A hanging fleece liner in the Balfron provides more warmth than a bare-bones shell jacket.

Weather Resistance


On the whole, the Balfron provides average weather protection and is nothing special. Using TNF's DryVent waterproof and breathable membrane, the jacket fabric repels water and snow, while cutting wind as well. We also found the DWR treatment to work well. After a long soaking in the shower, including scrubbing, the Balfron's fabric continued to bead water and never "wetted out." Our main gripe with this jacket's performance in inclement weather is due to the cargo chest pockets. They close with velcro, which is not waterproof, meaning anything you put in there, including your phone, can get wet. The handwarmer pockets close with zippers, which are not waterproof either, but do provide a more effective barrier than the velcro pockets.

The chest cargo pockets only closes with velcro  making them susceptible to water and snow.
The chest cargo pockets only closes with velcro, making them susceptible to water and snow.

Comfort and Fit


Overall, the Balfron is a comfortable jacket with a specific fit and design that may or may not appeal to you. The hanging fleece liner makes the jacket comfortable on the torso, but this liner does not continue through the arms, which feel plasticky. The outer shell fabric is relatively soft and supple compared to other hard shell fabrics that we have tested. The Balfron also features a fleece panel to protect your chin from the top of the zipper.

The fit and cut of this jacket are not for everyone. The hem is relatively long and loose, which completes the "freeride" look of the jacket, and there is also an option to purchase a longer cut for modern terrain park styling. Despite the long hem, the sleeves are just the right length and don't feel baggy or inhibiting, which is great. In general, our testers found the cut of this jacket to be less appealing than most other traditionally styled ski jackets. However, if you spend a lot of time in the park or on the freeride competition circuit, this jacket fits the bill.

The Balfron features a straight and low cut. There's even an option to get the jacket in an even longer cut.
The Balfron features a straight and low cut. There's even an option to get the jacket in an even longer cut.

Ventilation


Overall, the Balfron has good ventilation. It features armpit vents that are longer than most of the competition, extending from the elbow down to the ribcage, with a large zipper pull tab for easy operation and mesh covering the opening. The vent zippers are a breeze to pull up and down and don't get hung up or require someone else to assist you. The main body of the jacket breathes fairly well, but the fleece liner inhibits some water vapor motion. Still, the Balfron breathes far better than traditionally insulated jackets.

Large vents with mesh backing provide ventilation for the Balfron.
Large vents with mesh backing provide ventilation for the Balfron.

Style


In this subjective category, the Balfron is polarizing. Either you like it or you don't. Some testers loved its "freeride," "park," or "steezy" design, while others wouldn't be seen wearing it. One comment suggested that it would fit right in with a college crowd, and the jacket definitely seems styled for that demographic. Those that like the style of this jacket might also appreciate the option to purchase this jacket in a longer size, but to most skiers, the cut is already quite long. The two-tone color panels convey an edgier style than most players in the ski jacket market.

If you are looking for a freeride  park  or steezy look  the Balfron is for you.
If you are looking for a freeride, park, or steezy look, the Balfron is for you.

Features


The Balfron includes a handful of features that will keep skiers happy. Two front handwarmer pockets are spacious and fleece-lined. The two chest cargo pockets close with velcro, which makes them easy to use, but raise durability concerns (velcro wears out over time) and weather resistance problems. One chest pocket has a headphone port for a cord to travel inside the jacket and up to your ears, but that means your phone would have to live in a velcro pocket, which water and snow could easily penetrate, and isn't as secure as a zippered pocket for your valuable phone. There is one large internal mesh stash pocket, but we'd appreciate a small internal zippered pocket for a phone. The lower sleeve ski pass pocket is low profile.

Fastening the Balfron's powder skirt on an exceptionally deep day.
Fastening the Balfron's powder skirt on an exceptionally deep day.

One major issue with this jacket is the hood rear tightening strap. The Balfron uses a nylon cam strap to tighten the hood, which produces a loop of relatively strong material that could get caught while tree skiing or snagged up on a chairlift. We know that this is an unlikely scenario, but some of our testers did not want to wear this jacket in the trees, and made sure to check that they weren't hooked before unloading from the chairlift.

We'd prefer a different adjustment mechanism for the hood. This strap is clumsy and might get caught on things like tree branches and chairlifts.
We'd prefer a different adjustment mechanism for the hood. This strap is clumsy and might get caught on things like tree branches and chairlifts.

Value


The Balfron is a great value. It provides everything you need in a shell jacket for skiing, from weather resistance to useful ski features to good durability, at a fraction of the price of other high-performance ski shells. We are confident that this jacket will last for multiple seasons, making this product an excellent investment.

Conclusion


The North Face Balfron is a lightly insulated ski shell with a freeride fit and edgy style. Across the board, we found this jacket to deliver average to above-average performance at an excellent value.

Wyoming powder in the Balfron.
Wyoming powder in the Balfron.


Jeff Dobronyi