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The North Face Thunder Jacket Review

Not the lightest down jacket to be found, but it's an excellent balance of warmth and durability, and versatile the year around as an outer layer or midlayer.

Overall Rating: Above Average

My rating of Above Average is from an ultralight backpacker's perspective. The Thunder Jacket's Pertex Quantum shell and overall quality are excellent, but its beefier construction, heavier zippers, and drawcord hem add weight that an ultralight backpacker can do without. However, many lightweight backpackers place a higher value on durability, and the Thunder Jacket scores high in its balance of light weight and durability. From that perspective, the Thunder Jacket deserves a Recommended rating.

About This Rating

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by Will Rietveld |

Description

An ultralight insulated jacket with high loft down, very light shell fabric, minimal features, and weight under 14 ounces is an essential part of an ultralight or lightweight backpacking kit for summertime backpacking in the mountains or shoulder season camping most anywhere. Down insulation provides the most warmth for its weight, so it's the insulation preferred by backpackers and mountaineers in all but very wet conditions.

The hoodless North Face Thunder Jacket is part of their Summit Series intended for alpine use. According to The North Face, Summit Series products "are built to endure extremes of weather and terrain while delivering the highest level of performance from base camp to summit." In that context, the Thunder Jacket is designed as a midlayer; for alpine use the shell is not durable enough as an outer layer.

The North Face Thunder Jacket Review - 1
The hoodless North Face Thunder Jacket is insulated with 800 fill power down, has a Pertex Quantum shell and lining, and weighs an average of 14.2 ounces.

Semantics aside, the Thunder Jacket is currently TNF's lightest down jacket, and is well suited for three-season lightweight backpacking where temperatures are expected to plunge down to freezing. From the perspective of a lightweight backpacker, this jacket can definitely be used as an outer layer. Its 20-denier 0.9 ounce/square yard Pertex Quantum shell is, in fact, one of our favorite fabrics, noted for its tight weave, durability, and light weight.

The Thunder Jacket has sewn-through construction. Overall quality is excellent. Compared to other lightweight down jackets I have tested, the sizing of the Thunder Jacket is roomy, with lots of room inside (including the sleeves) to layer over another jacket. The length of the back is 28 inches (size Large), which is 1 to 2 inches longer than many other jackets in this class, and covers the bum very well, as shown in the photos.

The Thunder Jacket goes a little beyond the spartan feature set of lighter down jackets. The hand pockets are zippered and it has an adjustable drawcord in the hem. The YKK Vislon zippers are a step heavier than the #3 zippers used on other jackets. And the elastic binding on the cuffs is a bit heavier, and the inside seams are bound. Overall, the Thunder Jacket is more ruggedly built compared to other ultralight down jackets like the Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket or the Montbell Alpine Light Down Jacket. The former North Face Flash Jacket (Flight Series), insulated with 900 fill down, is a closer comparison to the other jackets mentioned, but unfortunately it has been discontinued.

Although the Thunder Jacket weighs 14.4 ounces (size Large tested), and is a bit more durably built as described above, it is also a bit warmer than other ultralight down jackets. Although the amount of down in the jacket is not specified (only a few manufacturers provide that information, bless them), the Thunder Jacket with 2 inches of double layer loft is at the warmer end of this class of ultralight three-season down insulated jackets.

Performance

I am very impressed with the Thunder Jacket's Pertex Quantum shell fabric. It's very light weight, soft as silk, and very strong. The DWR treatment is superb. On several occasions I walked in rain or snow to test the jacket's water repellency and found it to be very wind and water resistant, but eventually wetting through at the seams. I verified that the fabric is also quite durable; it survived several unintentional brushes with tree branches while camping or bushwhacking.

The North Face Thunder Jacket Review - 2
Unlike other ultralight down jackets, the Thunder Jacket has zippered pockets. The left pocket doubles as a stuff sack. There is a drawcord pull inside each pocket allowing you to tighten the hem drawcord with your hands inside the pockets.

The Thunder Jacket is a good choice for summer backpacking in the mountains and shoulder season backpacking, where nighttime temperatures can get down to freezing. A down-insulated garment gives the most warmth for its weight, and the Thunder Jacket provides plenty of warmth for chilly mornings, as well as extending the warmth of a 30 F sleeping bag in below freezing temperatures. The Thunder Jacket saved my bacon several times on spring trips when nighttime temperatures dropped down into the 20s F.

While many hikers use a lightweight down jacket for only three-season use, I find it to be much more versatile than that. I am a devout believer in the layering system, so rather than carry a heavy down parka for winter backcountry skiing or camping I prefer to take two lightweight insulating jackets so I can wear them separately or together. An ultralight down jacket worn as a midlayer under a shell is sufficient for backcountry skiing on a cold day, or to don during breaks to prevent a chill. On winter camping trips I have stayed toasty warm at -16 F wearing a heavy wool baselayer, a lightweight synthetic insulated jacket, and an ultralight down jacket over that. As needed, I wear a shell jacket over one or more of the underlayers.

The North Face Thunder Jacket Review - 3
Although the Jacket's Pertex Quantum shell is very strong and durable, it is not completely downproof. I observed occasional feathers coming through the fabric itself as well as through needle holes in the seams.

Comparisons

The real question is - how much warmth do you need? My personal preference is an ultralight, spartan down jacket in the 9-10 ounce range, like the Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket (hooded, 9.5 ounces size Large) or the PHD Designs Ultra Down Pullover (hoodless, 9.1 ounces size Large).

Many lightweight backpackers may prefer the extra durability and warmth of the North Face Thunder Jacket, in which case it is a good choice. The closest comparison to the Thunder Jacket, and perhaps a better choice, is the Western Mountaineering Flight Jacket (850+ down, 11.5 ounces size Large, $250). It costs a bit more, but it's loftier and weighs nearly 3 ounces less. However, it's less durable.

Overall, I found the North Face Thunder Jacket to be very warm, durable, wind/water resistant, and versatile. It's not the lightest down jacket to be found, but it's an excellent balance of warmth and durability, and will be useful the year around as an outer layer or midlayer.

Specifications and Features

  Manufacturer:

The North Face (http://www.thenorthface.com/)

  Year/Model:

2009 Thunder Jacket

  Style:

Full zip hoodless jacket

  Fabrics:

Outer shell and lining are 20 denier 0.9 oz/yd2 (30 g/m2) Pertex Quantum with DWR finish

  Insulation:

800 fill power down

  Loft:

Measured two layer loft is 2 in (3 cm)

  Features:

Sewn through construction with 3-inch horizontal quilting, down filled collar, full front zipper with fleece chin guard and storm flap under zipper, two zippered hand pockets, elastic cuffs, drawcord hem with two in-pocket adjustors

  Weight:

Measured Weight Men's Large: 14.4 oz (408 g)
Manufacturer Specified Average Weight: 14.2 oz (402 g)

  MSRP:

$229 US

Citation

"The North Face Thunder Jacket Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/tnf_thunder_jacket_review.html, 2009-09-22 00:05:00-06.

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The North Face Thunder Jacket Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
The North Face Thunder Jacket Review on 09/22/2009 14:19:02 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

The North Face Thunder Jacket Review

Lapsley Hope
(Laps) - M
compared to..... on 09/23/2009 06:26:32 MDT Print View

Any thoughts as to how it would compare with the Patagonia Down Sweater? Here is a link to their sweater:http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/product/mens-down-sweater?p=84673-0-083


Thanks for your review.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
patagonia down sweater on 09/25/2009 07:51:22 MDT Print View

thanks for the review

I'd also like to hear any comments on a comparo w/ the patagonia down sweater

while there is some allure to a slightly lighter jacket, a little more durability and a few additional features is the way I'm leaning

I'd probably wear the jacket a fair bit when not hiking, so a jacket that looks decent doesn't hurt my feelings either :)

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
older model? on 09/25/2009 08:04:25 MDT Print View

also poking around it appears the jacket your wearing is the older model, the newer one (NF site) looks like this

http://cdn2.thenorthface.com/customers/c566/AGCE/AGCE_viewLarger/main_variation_001_view_1_538x538.jpg?20090825014243

the "older" version lists a a 13.4 oz weight, the new one 14.2

their are some decent deals on the older one floating around :)

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: older model? on 09/25/2009 11:25:28 MDT Print View

Mike and Lapsley,

There is 3 oz of 800 fill down used in the Patagonia Down Sweater at 12.4 oz. By extrapolation, the Thunder Jacket is comparable in warmth at 14.2 oz. By far, the best value in this warmth class is the new Mont-bell UL TEC Down Series for $175 and only 11.3 oz! Prolite has this jacket on sale for ~$140.

Material quality of the new Thunder Jacket is seriously questioned in the review on their Web site.

Edited by richard295 on 09/25/2009 11:33:23 MDT.

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Responses to TNF Thunder Jacket Review on 09/30/2009 08:25:58 MDT Print View

Hi All,

Mike, I have not used the Patagonia Down Sweater, but there is a review of it by BPL: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/patagonia_down_sweater_spotlite_review.html

Yes, I did review the older model, and mentioned that in the review. That often happens with product reviews, so we have to weigh the pros and cons. Far too often the product gets heavier rather than lighter.

Richard, the Montbell UL Tec Down Jacket is a very good comparison to TNF Thunder Jacket; thanks for pointing that out.

Happy hiking,
Will

Edited by WilliWabbit on 09/30/2009 08:32:22 MDT.

Connie Dodson
(ConnieDodson) - F

Locale: Montana
worthy of consideration on 12/03/2009 12:13:51 MST Print View

Here is a 9.17 oz. women's 800-fill Eddie Bauer Downlight Sweater worthy of consideration: http://www.eddiebauer.com/EB/Womens-Outerwear/Womens-First-Ascent-Outerwear/index.cat#ppl={type%3A%22hide%22}

and 13.39 oz for men: http://www.eddiebauer.com/EB/Mens-Outerwear/First-Ascent/index.cat#ppl={type%3A%22hide%22}

MontBell 10.0 oz for women US U.L.TEC DOWN JACKET W'S: http://www.montbell.us/products/disp.php?cat_id=70&p_id=2301128

and 11.3 oz for men: http://www.montbell.us/products/disp.php?p_id=2301127

Edited by ConnieDodson on 12/03/2009 12:21:24 MST.