Gear Review: North Face ThermoBall Eco Hoodie (Recycled)
The North Face ups its eco-friendly game with the ThermoBall Eco, a puffy jacket that’s made from 100% post-consumer plastic. It’s a trend that’s gaining traction in the outdoor clothing industry as more retailers expand their environmentally friendly footprint, from recycling materials in clothing to selling worn clothing. The ThermoBall, The North Face says, “comes with the little extra-warm-feeling you get from doing your part for the planet.”
The North Face ThermoBall Eco Hoodie At-A-Glance
Weight: 15.9 ounces (men’s, claimed); 13.8 ounces (women’s, claimed)
MSRP: $220 to $240
Outer matte fabric: 30 denier made from 100% recycled polyester with durable water repellent (DWR) finish
Matte lining: 30 denier made from recycled polyester with DWR finish
Wind resistant: Yes
Water resistant: Yes
Insulation: ThermoBall Eco 100% post-consumer recycled polyester, developed in partnership with PrimaLoft. The North Face says the ThermoBall insulation is equivalent to 600 fill down.
Hood: Yes, but no drawstring
Length: Hip length
Pockets: Two zip outer hand pockets; one zip internal chest pocket
Stows: In hand pocket
Hem: Cinch cord
What’s the Deal with Recycled Clothing?
Outdoor gear manufacturers have long been among the leaders in corporate America for promoting the environment. Patagonia donates 1% of its sales to support environmental organizations worldwide; Columbia helps finance environmentally focused nonprofit groups.
And companies have been turning inward, adopting standards such as the Responsible Down Standard and Responsible Wool Standard that ensure humane treatment of birds and animals used for those products. The Bluesign standard addresses energy efficiency, water use, worker health and safety, and air and water emissions throughout the supply chain.
So it seems natural that companies would take the next step by ensuring that their products help reduce the waste stream.
The outer layer, lining, and insulation in the The North Face ThermoBall Eco are made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. The original ThermoBall began using recycled plastic in late 2018, joining an entire line of recycled North Face garments.
Mountain Hardwear joined the game with the Ghost Shadow, using 70% recycled PrimaLoft insulation, and post-consumer waste for the outer layer and zippers. Total package: 88% recycled materials. The company says that’s five fewer PET bottles destined for a landfill.
In addition, Mountain Hardwear says manufacturing the Ghost Shadow uses 52% less water and reduces manufacturing emissions by 39% compared with the same style coat made with standard materials.
And the company’s trail-proven Ghost Whisperer/2 now has a 100% recycled outer shell.
Patagonia has been making recycled polyester from plastic soda bottles since 1993, turning trash into fleece.
Today the company recycles bottles, manufacturing waste, and worn-out garments into polyester fibers to produce clothing that includes Capilene base layers, shell jackets, board shorts, and fleece.
Recycling goes beyond plastics at Patagonia. The company reuses down from cushions, bedding, and other used items that can’t be resold, and recycles wool for clothing.
Everlane, whose ReNew line of outerwear is made entirely from discarded plastic bottles, intends to eliminate all virgin plastic from its supply chain by 2021. The company says that includes all of its products, warehouses, offices, and stores.
Although Everlane’s products wouldn’t be considered trail-worthy, the company’s commitment shows what can be accomplished by a manufacturer dedicated to environmental sustainability. It is a big step that moves recycled clothing beyond outdoor manufacturers to mainstream everyday clothing.
But plastics have a finite recycling life, meaning that a recycled coat has an eventual end life.
Enter the possibility of infinite recycling.
Scientists at the University of Colorado are working on a polymer with many of the same characteristics of traditional plastics—light weight, heat resistance, strength, and durability—that can be converted back to its original state for what could become infinite recycling.
And researchers from the Molecular Foundry at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, are working on a plastic that will remain just as strong each time it is recycled.
But for now, the options for consumers who are environmentally conscious range from products made using recycled materials to used gear and clothing.
And as someone who fits that bill, I wanted to try The North Face ThermoBall Eco to see how it stacks up.
Best Use for ThermoBall Eco
The ThermoBall Eco would be a good choice for an Appalachian Trail hiker who can expect to face wet and cold weather on the trail. The coat can handle moisture—a near-constant on the AT—while still providing warmth. The 30 denier matte shell should be plenty durable for a long hike, and for miles afterward. Wear it on cold trail days or at camp with layers underneath.
Circumstance of Use
I wore the ThermoBall Eco from January to March, when New England weather throws us cold rain and snow. I wore it in rain to test the coat’s water repellency. I also gave it a solid test on windy days. Through all those conditions, the ThermoBall impressed me as a versatile coat that can handle an array of weather. It won’t stop wind entirely, but when I layered up with base layers underneath I stayed warm down to a windchill of 6. It packs big (almost 1.5 times the size of a Nalgene) and weighs 15.9 ounces, putting it just outside the range of ultralight. Still, it’s not going to overload your back or pack. PrimaLoft falls short of down’s lightweight insulation properties, but for me PrimaLoft is much more versatile. I don’t need to worry about it getting wet because PrimaLoft still insulates when wet. And it’s easier than down to wash. And though PrimaLoft won’t last as long as down, I’m pretty sure the ThermoBall will be on my back and in my pack for many years.
Comfort: The size large ThermoBall fit me perfectly (five feet, ten inches, 175 pounds) with room for insulated layers underneath. It’s definitely a top-layer coat and doesn’t fit easily under a rain or wind shell like some ultralight coats will.
Packed: The ThermoBall stuffs into the outside left-hand pocket. Zip the pocket and attach it to your pack with the jacket’s pocket loop. Or stuff it inside your pack so you don’t lose it.
Hood: Plenty of room inside for a hat. There’s no drawstring to snug up the hood, which left a gap between the hood and my head. The hood bounced around on my head while hiking, and a headwind got under the hood, letting in cold air.
Cuffs: The cuffs are elasticized to seal in the warmth, but loose enough for lightweight gloves to slip underneath them.
Hem: Hip length, and the hem tightens with a drawstring. The coat fit my build well enough that I never found it necessary to draw the cord.
Pockets: Two zipper pockets outside, one zipper pocket inside. The inside zip pocket has room for my phone on cold days to prevent the battery from discharging too quickly. Extra glove liners and snacks fit inside the outer pockets.
Zipper: Interior storm flap with zipper garage for cushioning at the chin.
Collar: Stands up high for wind and cold protection on your neck.
Fabric: Thirty denier fabric for the matte outer shell and inner lining (the model I tested) makes the coat heftier, and potentially more durable, than the 10 denier typical of ultralight coats. The higher denier count also contributes to better wind resistance and water repellency. The classic shell and lining are 20 denier, and the print is 50 denier.
Water repellency: The ThermoBall shell and liner have a durable water repellent finish, giving the coat water resistance—to a point. The outer shell held off water during a light rain. And the coat’s just as moisture resistant on the inside. After an intentionally sweaty hike with the coat zipped up, I hung it from my pack for about 15 minutes and continued hiking to cool off. When I put the coat back on it was dry inside.
Warmth: Versatile. North Face says the PrimaLoft insulation is similar to 600 fill down. As a single layer, wear it unzipped to about 50 degrees for light activity; zip it up and you’re good to around 30 for brisk hiking with a lightweight layer underneath. With a lightweight layer and a midweight layer underneath I was comfortable at 20 degrees, with a windchill of 6.
Durability: The 30 denier outer matte fabric and matte lining give the ThermoBall a rugged feel in a coat that should be solid for years. And then there’s North Face’s lifetime guarantee for defects in manufacturing and workmanship. The warranty does not cover accidents, improper care, negligence, or normal wear and tear.
Variety: The ThermoBall comes in men’s, women’s, and children’s models. It’s available without a hood, as a vest, as a jacket with snap chest pockets, and as a super hoodie with more insulation.
What I liked best: The ThermoBall is versatile. I wore it as an outer layer with base layers underneath down to 20 (windchill of 6), or over a lightweight layer in the 30s. It fit comfortably under my day pack on cold days, and I didn’t feel any loss of heat where the pack shoulder straps and back pad compressed the coat.
Corporate responsibility: The North Face adheres to the Bluesign standard, and says it is committed to ensuring that its global suppliers and manufacturing partners meet and share The North Face’s social, environmental, and ethical standards.
Point of origin: Made in Vietnam. The North Face does make some clothing in the US using domestic materials through its Backyard Project.
Recycled materials: This is a big plus for me.
Warm when wet: The ThermoBall stayed warm and dry inside while I hiked in a steady drizzle. It’s not a substitute for a rain coat, but it’s good to know that moisture or a light rain won’t make this coat a cold, soggy mess.
Easy to clean: The North Face says to wash the coat in warm water with a mild powder detergent, using an extra spin cycle to remove excess water. Line dry, or tumble dry on very low or no heat.
Lightweight: Fifteen ounces is a respectable weight for an insulated coat. It’s not ultralight, but it’s not going to break your back.
Packability: Stores in an outside zip pocket; about 1.5 times the size of a Nalgene bottle.
Durability: The 30 denier outer shell feels robust enough to last for years of use.
My take: This is a coat I want to wear on East Coast trails, a coat that will keep me warm on miserably soggy days and nights, and that will withstand the beating of the trail.
Hood: I would have liked a drawstring to keep the hood snug. The hood was loose on my head, flopping around while hiking. And without a drawstring to snug up the hood, a headwind got underneath it.
Not ultralight: If you’re seriously counting ounces, this isn’t the coat for you.
Overall / Value
The ThermoBall is a solid performer for a packable, lightweight insulated coat. It became my go-to coat for winter day hikes. The $220 to $240 MSRP price is within the range of coats in this category, but it’s always good to shop the deals. The 30 denier fabric appears strong enough to hold up for years of trail use. For me, it checks off these big categories: recycled, warm, versatile, wind and water resistant, lightweight.Shop the Thermoball Eco Here
Comparable Jackets with Recycled Materials
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow
Recycled materials: 88%
Weight: 11.7 ounces
MSRP: $250 (Available only through REI)
Patagonia Nano Puff
Recycled materials: 75%
Weight: 11.9 ounces
REI Co-Op 650 Down
Recycled materials: Recycled nylon taffeta shell
Weight: 11 ounces
MSRP: $99.95 (currently on sale)
This product was donated for purpose of review.
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