The North Face ThermoBall Eco
Weight: 14.1 oz. (men's medium)
Insulation: PrimaLoft ThermoBall Eco
What we like: Down-like looks and warmth in a sleek (and now more sustainable) synthetic package.
What we don't: Heavier than the competition.
See the Men's ThermoBall Eco See the Women's ThermoBall Eco
Now in its third generation, The North Face ThermoBall remains an extremely popular insulated jacket. With its puffy synthetic fill and smooth shell, the latest “Eco” version does a pretty good impression of a lightweight down piece, and recent updates including a new quilting pattern and eco-friendly design give it even broader appeal. However, the jacket is notably heavier than much of its competition, making it less attractive for backcountry use. Below are our experiences with the ThermoBall Eco. To see how it stacks up, see our articles on the best synthetic jackets and midlayers.
Table of Contents
- Weather Protection
- Weight and Packability
- Fit and Sizing
- What We Like/What We Don't
- Comparison Table
- The Competition
Named after its insulation design, The North Face ThermoBall Eco uses clusters of recycled synthetic fibers to give the jacket its signature lightweight feel and puffy look. The ball-like polyester fill was developed with PrimaLoft to emulate goose and duck down by trapping heat efficiently and with minimal weight. The North Face claims it insulates as well as 600-fill-power down, and in our experience we’d have to say that’s about right. The jacket falls short of the cozy feel and warmth that you get from premium down alternatives like the 800-fill Patagonia Down Sweater—as well as more recent synthetic efforts like Patagonia’s Micro Puff—but the ThermoBall Eco nevertheless is a quality insulator.
Warmth-wise, we put the ThermoBall Eco on par with popular lightweight synthetics like the Patagonia Nano Puff, and found it to be slightly warmer than the Arc’teryx Atom LT. This means that it isn’t built for high-alpine adventures, but works great as an outer layer during the shoulder seasons where temperatures are often in the mid to lower 40s Fahrenheit. As a midlayer for downhill skiing, we’ve been comfortable in previous versions into the single digits, and we expect the Eco to perform similarly.
Given the ThermoBall Eco’s utility as a mid and outer layer, we look for moderate weather protection, which it delivers. The shell has a DWR coating that will keep light drizzle and snowfall at bay, but during heavy rain the jacket will start to let water in through the face fabric. The good news is that as with other synthetic jackets, the ThermoBall Eco will continue insulating when wet, unlike down fill that clumps up and is very slow to dry. Wind protection is similarly good with the face fabric repelling gusts, but you’ll want to throw on a rain jacket or hardshell if it truly turns nasty. Overall, the weather protection is a nice match for its intended use: lots of daily wear and the occasional foray into the mountains.
On our scale, the ThermoBall Eco in a men’s medium weighs 14.1 ounces (it's listed at 15.2), which is around 1 ounce lighter than its predecessor. Although it’s dropped a little bit of weight over the outgoing model, the ThermoBall Eco still outweighs most of its competition. For comparison, Patagonia’s Nano Puff comes in at 11.9 ounces, while Arc’teryx’s Atom LT checks in a little more at 12.2 ounces. You can save even more weight with Patagonia’s Micro Puff (8.3 oz.), but that jacket isn’t very durable and will set you back an additional $50. The ThermoBall Eco also can’t compete with most down options—even the Outdoor Research Transcendent, which uses mid-range 650-fill down and costs the same as the ThermoBall Eco, provides more warmth at 13.7 ounces.
As with its weight, the ThermoBall Eco is packable for a synthetic but won’t be confused for a premium down piece. The jacket compresses easily into its large left hand pocket, which includes a two-sided zipper for storage. The tall pocket gives the ThermoBall Eco a long rectangular shape when packed, and we found it fairly easy to compress the jacket even further when stuffing it into a daypack or suitcase. If packed size is important to you, we recommend spending up for a down jacket or ultralight synthetic like the Patagonia Micro Puff, but we think most travelers and backpackers won’t have much to complain about with the ThermoBall Eco.
At its release, the ThermoBall was touted as a viable option for high-output adventures, but it’s since been overtaken by a number of more recent releases in the growing active insulation market. Newer options like The North Face’s own Ventrix jacket are made with stretchy and breathable liners, insulation, and shells that do an impressive job of regulating your temperature during aerobic activities. The ThermoBall Eco, on the other hand, is more like a down jacket—its aim is to efficiently trap heat and block light rain and wind. As a result, the smooth interior doesn’t wick away sweat and can become slippery and clammy rather quickly. Depending on your intended use, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but don’t expect the ThermoBall Eco to excel in activities like climbing or backcountry skiing.
One of the many changes to The North Face's ThermoBall Eco is its bump up in durability–in hand, the jacket feels more robust than the past-generation, non-Eco version. Instead of the lightweight 15-denier fabric found on the old model, The North Face now uses a 20-denier shell and lining on the ThermoBall Eco (note: opting for a "matte" or “print” finish jacket will get you stronger 30D and 50D shells respectively, but the classic colors only come with 20D). Overall, the recycled ripstop polyester fabric has a nice feel and is a great match for the ThermoBall Eco’s intended purpose of light adventuring and everyday wear. The rest of the jacket is well-made with two generously sized hand pockets and a small internal zippered pocket along the chest. And we love the quality of the main zipper, which has large teeth and has operated flawlessly.
We’ve typically found jackets from The North Face to consistently run a little large and boxy. However, the latest ThermoBall Eco bucks that trend in most ways and feels true to size in our men’s medium (our tester is about 5’9” and 160 lbs.). The arms stop just beyond the wrists, the shoulders allow freedom of movement but aren’t overly large, and the back length is just about spot-on. Sizing down to a small, which isn’t uncommon for us with some brands, would have likely resulted in a jacket that was far too tight. The previous generation was slightly trimmer than the original, and the Eco takes it one small step further, which in our opinion is a notable win.
Having said that, the fit is still best described as relaxed and we were easily able to wear a thick baselayer underneath. This gives it broad appeal for those wanting an around-town jacket or for uses like resort skiing. But for the backcountry—as well as our own preferences in having a more athletic cut—the fit left us missing our favorite synthetics like the Arc’teryx Atom LT, Patagonia Nano-Air, and The North Face’s own Ventrix. On the plus side, there are two waist cinches that adjust the hem evenly, and we’d expect the ThermoBall Eco to fit most body types reasonably well.
Other Versions of The North Face ThermoBall
We tested the standard men’s ThermoBall Eco Jacket, and the lineup includes a number of other options, including a hoody and vest. The men’s ThermoBall Eco Hoodie costs slightly more at $220 and is a bit heavier at 15.9 ounces, but otherwise retains many of the same features of the jacket we tested including PrimaLoft synthetic insulation, a 20-denier shell, and puffy jacket-like looks. The North Face also makes the jacket, hoody, and vest in women’s versions for the same price (weight and colorways vary slightly). And finally, it’s worth noting that the ThermoBall Eco family has grown extensively to include winter parkas, insulated ski jackets, boots, and more—all of which share the proprietary ThermoBall Eco insulation.
Sustainability: Recycled Fabric and Insulation
True to its new “Eco” name, the latest ThermoBall packs a number of new sustainable features. For one, the outer shell and inner lining of the jacket we tested feature 100-percent-recycled nylon (and the “matte” and “print” finished jackets also utilize fully recycled materials). In addition, The North Face swapped out the standard PrimaLoft polyester fill for a 100-percent-recycled variation. Importantly, the changes have been nicely integrated into the overall design and haven’t had any noticeable impact on performance.
- A comfortable outer or midlayer with the right amount of warmth for the shoulder seasons.
- Has the puffy look of a down jacket and does a pretty good impression of down’s lightweight warmth.
- It’s made in a ton of different colors and styles, as well as a hoody and vest.
What We Don’t
- The ThermoBall Eco is heavier than most of its competitors, which limits its backcountry appeal.
- While we appreciate the slimmer cut of the new jacket, it still lacks the athletic fit and all-around comfort we love from competitors like the Patagonia Nano-Air or Arc’teryx Atom LT.
- Breathability falls well short of active synthetics like The North Face’s own Ventrix.
|The North Face ThermoBall Eco||$199||15.2 oz.||PrimaLoft ThermoBall Eco||20-denier||Yes|
|Patagonia Nano Puff||$199||11.9 oz.||PrimaLoft Gold Eco (60g)||20-denier||Yes|
|Patagonia Micro Puff||$249||8.3 oz.||PlumaFill (65g)||10-denier||Yes|
|Arc’teryx Atom LT||$239||12.2 oz.||Coreloft Compact (60g)||20-denier||No|
|The North Face Ventrix||$199||12.7 oz.||Ventrix (60g)||20-denier||No|
|Outdoor Research Transcendent||$199||13.7 oz.||650-fill down||20-denier||Yes|
There were a number of well-established synthetic jackets when the ThermoBall hit the market, but its innovative insulation, good styling, and impressive marketing campaign have made it a classic. Its closest competitor in warmth, price, and popularity around town is the Patagonia Nano Puff. Both jackets have enough insulation to be comfortable down into the 40s, and their smooth shells and linings are nice to wear as both mid and outer layers. We do prefer the Patagonia’s regular fit to the relaxed cut of the ThermoBall Eco, but that can be a subjective choice. Another personal preference is looks—despite its name, the Nano Puff is lower-profile than the ThermoBall Eco, which is more reminiscent of a down jacket. And finally, the Nano Puff is a couple ounces lighter at 11.9. Overall, we prefer the Patagonia design, but it’s worth noting that the hoody version of the ThermoBall Eco will save you $29 (the non-hooded versions are the same price).
Another popular Patagonia jacket to consider is the Micro Puff. Similar to the ThermoBall Eco, the Micro Puff is a down-mimicking synthetic but with a much bigger performance slant. As a more backcountry-ready piece, it’s significantly lighter at 8.3 ounces, packs down much smaller, and is even more delicate with a 10-denier shell. Warmth wise, we found both jackets to perform similarly, although the ThermoBall Eco gets the slight edge. A final decision should come down to intended use: The ThermoBall Eco is the better casual piece with more around-town appeal for $50 cheaper; for backcountry use, the Micro Puff is the clear winner.
One of our favorite synthetics at the time of the ThermoBall Eco’s launch—and still today—is Arc’teryx’s venerable Atom LT. This jacket is the cozier option with softer materials, stretch side panels, and an even more athletic fit than the ThermoBall Eco. The North Face jacket is also heavier at 15.2 ounces versus the Arc’teryx’s 12.2-ounce weight, although this comes with a slight bump in warmth. Both work well as everyday jackets, but we think the Atom LT’s comfort, fit, and build quality are worth the extra $40.
Another competitive alternative is The North Face’s own Ventrix Jacket. Similar to the ubiquitous Patagonia Nano-Air, this piece puts breathability and temperature regulation above all-out warmth and weight. We have to say we’ve been really impressed with the Ventrix and would choose it over the ThermoBall in most cases: it’s super comfortable with stretchy and soft materials, is lighter at 12.7 ounces, and the breathable design is the real deal. Added up, the Ventrix is our favorite insulated jacket currently made by The North Face.
Last but not least, given the ThermoBall Eco’s intentions, it’s worth comparing it to a true down piece. As we mentioned above, Outdoor Research’s Transcendent Jacket matches the ThermoBall in price at $199 and is similarly durable with a 20-denier shell but weighs less at 13.7 ounces, packs down smaller, and provides more warmth with 650-fill down insulation. The ThermoBall does get the clear edge in weather protection (again, synthetic fill continues to insulate when wet), but the OR wins out in most other categories. In the end, we think it’s worth opting for the lighter-weight and more packable Transcendent, but there’s a case to be made for the ThermoBall’s wet-weather appeal.
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