Nature is seen as one of the best innovators. Nature’s patterns and strategies for evolution often serve as the inspiration behind innovations in product development by companies and research institutes. By introducing the ThermoBall™ Jacket, The North Face®, in partnership with PrimaLoft®, has mimicked a feature of Nature, in this case Goose Down, in a significant breakthrough for synthetic insulation.
Given a sample to test, the first impression of the ThermoBall Jacket is how remarkably warm it is given how light weight it feels. At an average of only 360 g (12.7 oz), and the ability to pack to the size of a melon, I kept mentally doubting it’s capabilities every time I put it on. Yet, I’ve regularly had the jacket out in cold, wet conditions with nothing more than cotton underneath (good for testing as cotton is one of the worst baselayers in bad weather given how much moisture and sweat it absorbs). Even at elevations above 1,000 metres, hiking at temperatures around the freezing point, I was warm and comfortable. The construction of the jacket also offers additional benefits, with smaller baffles to keep the insulation in place, and the 15 Denier Ripstop Nylon outer fabric keeps light rain at bay by simply beading off the jacket.
All of this has been made possible by The North Face collboration with PrimaLoft,a company that got its start after a US Army Research Lab in the early 1980s asked for a synthetic alternative to goose down for military sleeping bags and clothing. Most synthetic insulation through the years, however, has remained a flat blend of polyester fibres, or polyester mixed with some form of either natural or synthetic wool. The key to the ThermoBall is structuring the insulation in the same form Nature gave to Down clusters. Instead of flat, PrimaLoft fluffed up their synthetic insulation to mimic Down’s looser structure, creating the equivalent of 600 Fill Goose Down (in the “very good” range when measuring loft). The end result is 10% warmer than previous forms of PrimaLoft, stays warm when wet and is less costly than natural forms of Down.
Why is this simple change such a breakthrough? Well, Down comes from the soft, fluffy plumage under the outer feathers of birds, particularly prevalent in waterfowl like Ducks and Geese. Down is one of nature’s best insulators. Down clusters together to form loft, or pockets of air that can trap body heat to keep you warm. The better the quality Down, the more air that gets trapped for every unit of weight. Down is also highly compressible, so can be packed down small.
Down, however, has a range of problems that apparel companies have been trying to solve for years. The most problematic is that Down loses its loft when wet. The feathers clump together and lose the air trapped inside. You can get dangerously cold very fast if that happens. So brands have been attempting to find ways to waterproof Down or at least protect it in waterproof layers.
Down can also be quite costly. Down is the by-product of birds raised for food consumption, the vast majority of which come from China. With Duck and Goose meat demand in decline, and the cost of feed increasing, farmers are losing the incentive to produce Down. Yet, global demand for Down, both for Outdoor and SnowSports brands, as well as fashion houses, has been increasing. The ThermoBall Jacket is a way to meet that increasing demand, with all the benefits of Down, but without the need for Down itself.
The ThermoBall Full Zip Jacket is available in a broad range of colours in Australia at The North Face stores and online at http://www.thenorthface.com.au for an RRP of A$300. It can be worn as an outer layer, mid-layer or even casually. There are also versions with a hoodie, as well as Vests. In New Zealand, the ThermoBall is available through the same Australian channels for an RRP of NZ$360 or at local retail stores such as Bivouac. An NZ country specific website for The North Face is in development.
Featured Product Photos: The North Face Media Images