The North Face Radium Hi-Loft jacket is part of TNF's Summit Series, which is a line of technical outerwear designed specifically for alpine environments. It's similar to the Patagonia R2 - Women's, with high-loft fleece in the body and lighter stretch panels down the sides for less bulk and abrasion resistance. This jacket combines the softness and coziness of other raschel fleece jackets with the breathability of a technical fleece by using unique 1.5 inch baffles that are similar to those found on down jackets. The baffles create maximum breathability while retaining warmth, making this product an overall hit with our testers. It won't hold up to a light rain or windstorm like the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's, and it's not quite as breathable as the lightweight Top Pick for Breathability Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's. But it did stand out as the layer we would want to wear hiking around on a cold day or under our ski jackets in winter, or for lazy days curled up on the couch, and for this we picked it as our Editors' Choice award winner.
The North Face Radium Hi-Loft - Women's ReviewPrice: $170 List Pros: Warm, breathable technical fleece that’s also cozy.
Cons: Little wind or rain protection.
Bottom line: A great fleece for layering systems that won't make you too sweaty.
Main Fabric: Polartec Thermal Pro (96% polyester, 4% elastane)
Unique Features: Stretch fleece panels on the side reduce volume
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face Radium Hi-Loft jacket is made of 200 g/m² Polartec Thermal Pro high-loft fleece in the body (96% polyester, 4% elastane) and Polartec Power Stretch Pro fleece on the sides of the torso and arms. This jacket has two zippered hand pockets and is available in three colors: Highrise Grey, Garnet Purple, and TNF Black.
In still conditions this jacket is very warm, particularly as a layer under a shell. As soon as there is wind some of that warmth is stripped away due to the porous material and baffled seams. This jacket has a great warmth-to-weight ratio though.
This jacket would probably feel even warmer if it had a hood; however, The North Face doesn't produce a hooded version. That said, although a hood increases the warmth of a fleece significantly, it also creates a hindrance when layering under a ski jacket and wearing a helmet. In those cases it's preferable to have a fleece without a hood.
All of our testers loved the feel of this jacket. The lofted fleece is cozy and soft, and even more silky than some of the other raschel fleeces that we tested.
The baffling feels nice against the skin, and the interior of the stretch panels on the sides and arms is also soft and comfortable. The neck gaiter comes up to just under the chin and provides enough coverage without being restrictive or choking, and there is a soft fleece wind flap behind the zipper so that you don't feel the cold metal against your face. This was one of our favorite options for throwing on when lounging around the house.
This jacket is a great midlayer option. It's roomy enough to go over a heavy baselayer or even the Patagonia R1 Hoody without leaving you feeling too constricted in the shoulders.
We also wore this fleece under our insulated ski jacket without feeling too stuffed and restricted. Other models, like the Arc'teryx Fortrez, are cut too tight in the shoulders to be worn over more than a thin t-shirt, but the Radium has just the right amount of room for those of us with broad shoulders. While TNF touts the pockets on this jacket as being "pack and harness" compatible, (similar to Patagonia's claims for the R2 jacket), that's not really the case. While we could somewhat access the pockets with our pack's hipbelt on, when it came to wearing a harness the pockets were difficult to get into. There is no additional chest or arm pocket to stash something in for that situation. That said, the long length of the jacket did fit well under a harness and didn't ride up on our testers, unlike the Fortrez.
Ease of Movement
The stretch fleece panels on the sides and inner arms really improve the wearer's ability to move in this jacket compared to bulkier fleeces like TNF Denali.
These panels also noticeably reduce its overall bulk. The armpit gussets were a big hit as well, and we could climb, snowboard and do just about anything in this fleece with ease.
This jacket is highly breathable, although not quite as breathable as the R1 Hoody.
If you are looking for a fleece for high cardio output activities, then the R1 is a better choice, mostly because it is a lightweight fleece jacket compared to the midweight Radium. However, the Radium is ideal for stop-and-go activities like skiing and snowboarding where you want a layer that is going to vent the vapor that you are producing while going down the hill, and then turn around and keep you warm while riding back up the chairlift. This jacket is also highly compressible and is a great layer to throw in your pack for a hike in case you hit a storm and want a warm fleece to wear under your rain jacket.
Wind Protection and Water Resistance
These were the only two categories in which The North Face Radium Hi-Loft jacket did not score well. The baffles that so effectively let moist air escape from your body also let the wind right in. This is particularly noticeable along the arms when wearing the Radium with only a T-shirt underneath.
Similarly with rain, while a light mist will bead up on the high-loft fleece, heavier drops will proceed directly through the baffle stitching onto your skin. Clearly, this is not the fleece to wear in a wind or rainstorm.
The Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody is a much better choice if you are looking for a technical fleece that can hold up to those conditions. Alternately, you can pair this fleece with a wind layer like our Best Buy winner, The North Face Cyclone Hoodie - Women's, and be more protected from the elements.
Style and Fit
The baffled design of The North Face Radium Hi-Loft gives it a unique look for a fleece — from a distance it looks more like a down or synthetic jacket.
This piece doesn't look quite as techy as the R2, as the side panels are the same color fabric as the body, but it does still look like a technical fleece. What we really appreciated about the fit of this jacket was the arm length - they are longer than any other TNF jacket that we have tested. In fact, they fit our main tester perfectly, and she has a +2 inch ape index (the length of her arms outstretched from tip to tip are two inches longer than her height). While this is good for her, it means that people with a negative or even neutral ape index will probably find the sleeves a bit too long. There are no thumb loops on this jacket, and that is a bit of a shame since the sleeves are long enough to accommodate them.
The North Face Radium Hi-loft jacket is designed for technical pursuits in the mountains. This layer is best used as midweight layer under a shell or even insulated ski jacket on really cold days, whether you are riding on the lifts or accessing some backcountry terrain. This fleece is also great for hiking or climbing on really cold days, particularly on multi-pitch climbs in cold conditions where you don't want to be switching clothes too often. This breathable jacket will whisk away the heat you create while climbing and keep you warm while standing still at the belays, provided there's not too much wind, of course.
This jacket ranks up high as one of the more expensive fleeces that we tested. In fact, all of the performance fleeces on the market these days seem to be pretty spendy. Part of that is most likely due to the complicated designs and materials that these fleeces now have. In the case of The North Face Radium Hi-Loft, we'd be willing to pay the price based on the quality of the construction and the multiple uses that we can get out of this fleece. If you are looking for a ski jacket layer and around-town fleece without the "performance fleece" bells and whistles, then our Best Buy winner, the Marmot Flashpoint - Women's, is a better option.
There is no one fleece that is going to completely fulfill an outdoor lady's wardrobe, particularly if she takes part in multiple activities in different weather conditions. And truthfully, most of us have a bevy of fleeces lining our closets! The North Face Radium Hi-Loft jacket doesn't do everything right, but really, no one fleece does. What it did do was stand out to us compared to some of the other technical fleeces that we tested thanks to its warmth, coziness and unique design. That's why we've given it our Editors' Choice award.
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Most recent review: January 8, 2016
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