New this spring 2015. the TNF ThermoBall Micro Hybrid takes the brand's synthetic ThermoBall insulation and combines it with lightweight stretch soft shell side and sleeve panels. The idea is to combine the insulation qualities of the tiny synthetic balls - equivalent to 600 fill power down in lab tests - with greater breathability from the fabric panels.
One way of looking at it would be as a sort of insulated gilet, but with significantly more weather protection for the arms and head.
- £155 / 360g
- ThermoBall insulated core and collar sections
- Stretch soft shell fabric sleeves, shoulders, sides of trunk
- Non-adjustable stretch hood
- Two hand-wamer pockets / internal zipped chest/stuff pocket
- Elasticated cuffs / non-adjustable hem
We like ThermoBall, it's decently warm for its weight and the quilted pattern - necessary to stop the balls from rolling around and migrating - seems to add a little extra warmth when layered under a shell too. That said, we find the two layers of windproof fabric and the warmth makes it a little bit too warm for active use particularly if you run on the hot side yourself.
The Micro Hybrid is TNF's answer to that. It uses ThermoBall in the core areas, but elsewhere it's a lightweight stretch softshell with decent wind resistance combined with what seems like pretty good breathability. The insulated areas are effectively windproof as well.
As above, we found ourselves thinking of the jacket as a sort of insulated gilet on steroids. You get the core warmth, but also some wind-resistance for your arms and head from the snug-fitting hood, which sits neatly under a helmet.
That's the theory anyway. But hybrids are weird things. Some days they seem to be more than the sum of their parts, on others though they just feel like they have the worst of both worlds. So far. we're not quite sure.
That's not helped by the fit of the jacket. We expected it to be reasonably close and technical, but it's actually quite loose on the torso, which isn't ideal. Of course that's all relative too your body shape and going for a smaller size might even make sense if you're after a closer fit. The irony here is that the latest 100% ThermoBall jackets are actually a pretty decent, athletic cut.
Other stuff? The pockets are useful and insulated but sit a little low for pack use and there's an internal zipped chest pocket that doubles as a decently compact stuff sac.
Putting our reservations on fit to one side, the jury's still out on the ThermoBall Hybrid. So far it hasn't really worked for us, but we run hot and mostly on the move are quite happy with a pure soft shell, no synthetic insulation needed. That said, if you do run cooler, and sometimes walk in a puffa-type jacket, but find it sometimes a tad warm, this might just be the answer.
We'd definitely check the fit before buying though.
Full details at www.thenorthface.co.uk.