The North Face Thermoball Full Zip functions well as a basic layering piece, and can be used as a standalone jacket. This range makes functionality and adaptability its biggest sell. One drawback that stood out was that the body of the jacket was markedly more voluminous than the other jackets in the test, allowing it to be a little drafty on slender frames without extra layering underneath.
Quality The quality of jacket the user gets for the price is quite good. Throughout the test we had very minimal insulation escape, and the nylon exterior holds up against minor abrasions. The YKK zippers are small-gauge but have held up well after extended field use.
Comfort/Fit The first thing we noticed after putting this jacket on was the cuff, the apex of which is about an inch in from the end of the sleeve, which allows for a bit of an overhang to cover the gap of wrist between sleeve and glove, adding to the functionality. It does have a voluminous torso, which will render it inappropriate for more slender users or leaves room for more layers underneath, which subtracts from functionality. The synthetic inner fabric is cool against the skin but not uncomfortable.
Warmth The Thermoball Full Zip has a strong warmth-to-weight ratio. This ratio is aided by the lack of breathable side panels or other paneling; this increases warmth but also increases the likelihood of overheating and sweating, without much moisture movement. This inflexibility makes the Thermoball most appropriate for static activities or as one of a few layering pieces in extremely cold conditions.
Features This is another no-frills jacket with no real extraneous features to speak of. There are two zippered hand pockets but no chest pocket. The zippers on the hand pockets do have a strip of stiffer fabric that seems to be intended to help prevent snags and other zipper-related calamities. Its lack of side paneling leads to a consistent, plain look.
Packability The North Face Thermoball has a good warmth-to-weight ratio, which helps it in this category. Its packability is aided by its lack of breathable panels or water resistant shoulder panels. It packs down to about the size of a large apple.
Scott Morris guides backpacking expeditions and hiking trips for Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. He is a writer, traveler, and runner. Scott tests backpacking equipment.