In past years, the ThermoBall Jacket won the Best Buy Award for its unusually high warmth-to-weight ratio, ability to resist water, and low price. But with new competition, the ThermoBall lost its place to a much more versatile and breathable jacket - the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket - Women's. That said, the ThermoBall remains a warm jacket that we highly recommend as a mid-layer under a shell or as a stand-alone piece in the spring, fall, or winter.This jacket's unusual warmth comes from its somewhat revolutionary synthetic insulation technology, the insulating spheres (fibers of the jacket) mimic the properties of down to give it higher loft and more warmth. As a result, it was more comfortable and warmer than other quilted competitors like the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket - Women's and Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic Jacket - Women's.
The North Face ThermoBall Jacket - Women's Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: High loft, warm, great colors, awesome water resistance
Cons: No chest pockets, not very wind resistant
Manufacturer: The North Face
Our Analysis and Test Results
The ThermoBall earns top marks for high warmth-to-weight ratio that's perfect for layering in the winter, or wearing on its own in the spring, summer, or fall.
Compared to its quilted competitors, this is a much warmer jacket. Its shell isn't anything special - just a 100% nylon 15D ripstop shell - similar to the Thermostatic, but it does have a great internal hemline drawcord through the zipper pocket that will seal in the jacket's warmth from the bottom with one pull. However, what makes the real difference is the ThermoBall insulation that is sandwiched between its shell and liner. The insulation used is different from the famous PrimaLoft in that its fibers are spheres instead of long filaments. These clusters of round synthetic fibers mimic down clusters to retain heat within small air pockets and keep your warmer.
Pieces like the Rab Xenon X Hoodie - Women's (our Editors' Choice) and the Patagonia Nano Puff are constructed with the competing PrimaLoft Gold insulation, which is known for providing lightweight warmth using longer filament-shaped fibers. When we did a comparison of the Patagonia Nano Puff and the ThermoBall (both quilted jackets with similar wind resistance) on a cold fall night, we discovered that the ThermoBall was a warmer garment. The North Face claims its warmth is equivalent to 600 fill goose fill down but we are reluctant to confirm such a number, especially since most lightweight down jackets are still made with at least 800 fill down. In our observation, we will say that it was one of the warmest lightweight, quilted jackets we tested.
Comfort & Coziness
Not scoring so high in this category, this jacket has few features that make it as cozy as the Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic or Rab Xenon X. What did win the ThermoBall points in this category was its loft and comfy fit. You can fit it over or under a shell with ease due to its lightweight and minimalist design. It also features a hefty zipper and awesome interior cuffs that keep wind from blowing inside. The hand pockets are quite large and accommodate gloved hands easily. However, unlike most other jackets tested, this one does not have a zipper garage or an internal zippered chest pocket. It also lacks any insulation in the hand pockets and doesn't have any cozy chin guard features. Also - without interior or exterior chest pockets, it wasn't very harness or backpack compatible.
Compression & Weight
As a quilted jacket, this model is designed to be easily compressed and lightweight. Of the quilted jackets tested, it stood out as the heaviest, weighing in at 10.35 ounces for a medium size. This is in comparison to the Nano Puff (9.80 ounces for a small) and the Thermostatic (9.65 ounces for a medium). However, this difference is less than an ounce and we hardly noticed it while hiking and climbing.
Finally, we really love that this jacket compresses into its hand pocket, and even had the ever-so-loved accessory loop to clip onto your harness or backpack. Even though it compresses to the size of a small grapefruit, it's not quite as compact as the Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic.
We were actually blown away by this jacket's ability to repel water. When we wore it in the shower for 5 minutes, we noticed that its DWR treated fabric beaded for a couple minutes, then wetted out (like all jackets except the Rab Xenon X). However, we were truly surprised with how little the jacket absorbed. Even though the fabric was wetted, it seemed like the insulation did not capture any of the water, and basically just punched every water molecule back out to the exterior shell. When we went to wring it out, we found there was very little water accumulation, unlike the Thermostatic (which had a ton!). What's more is this was the fastest piece to dry. So if you do end up in a rainstorm without a shell - don't despair. The technology will keep you warm and it will not absorb much water.
Even though this jacket performed very well in our water resistance tests, it performed similarly to all the other quilted jackets in wind resistance. As a result of the many stitches present in the fabric, the wind can just get through more easily. We found that these quilted pieces offered more wind resistance than the breathable jackets, but not as much as those with continuous outer shells like the Arc'teryx Atom AR Hoody - Women's.
Like most of our quilted competitors, breathability was good, but not as great as our featured breathable jackets like the Arc'teryx Atom LT - Women's or our Top Pick for Breathability - the Patagonia Nano Air.
Style & Fit
The style of this piece was on par with the Thermostatic. It has a nice long cut and roomy fit to accommodate layers underneath. It hosts a flattering hourglass cut with a light loft diamond pattern throughout its body and arms. Plus, you can order it with or without a hood. For our test piece, we loved the use of complementary colors. Turquoise as the main body, with magenta on the zipper and interior. The color selection they have is also quite amazing. Although not the most stylish jacket, we still thought it looked a little nicer than the boxy Arc'teryx Atom AR.
Given that this jacket stands out with its high warmth-to-weight ratio, it does well in activities that require just that. You can layer under a shell for ski days at the resort or just slip it on as a stand-alone piece for a cool spring or fall morning. Its nice to wear around town, when picking the kids up from school, or just taking the dog for a walk. It's easy to stuff into a backpack for a long hike, or works well as a belay jacket at the crag. We wouldn't recommend bringing it on long multi pitch routes (lack of pockets), or on highly aerobic missions.
This was last year's winner of our Best Buy Award! We still think this is a great jacket, but it was out-performed this year by the Outdoor Research Cathode, which also costs $200. If you are looking for a quilted jacket, we think that the ThermoBall definitely offers the most bang for your buck - $199 is an awesome deal for a jacket that offers warmth, low weight, and compressibility, all with great water resistance. On top of that, the fabric seems quite durable and the zipper is big and bomber. The North Face also backs all its items with a lifetime guarantee, covering manufacturer defects (including zippers). Another great perk for a super high value and low cost jacket. If you're still looking for something even cheaper, check out the more stylish Columbia Kaleidaslope II Jacket - Women's. If you want something a little more breathable, check out this year's Best Buy winner, the Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket.
The North Face ThermoBall Jacket is a fantastic jacket sporting amazing warmth, lightweight design, and a no-frills design for a price tag of just $199. It is a great layering piece for winter and a wonderful stand-alone jacket for the spring, summer, and fall. It was also received last year's Best Buy Award.
— Amber King