When it comes to active insulation layers, The North Face Ventrix Jacket (also available in a hooded version) is one that is quite often mentioned as a top contender. I picked one up at the end of the winter season last year, so I’ve been able to give it a try in a wide range of weather conditions.
The body of the jacket is a 30D X 20D 64 gsm 92% nylon, 8% elastase ripstop blend and the forearms are reinforced with a 50D X 40D 106 gsm fabric. It is all coated with a DWR finish. The jacket is then lined with a lighter weight (57 gsm) version of the body fabric.
A few notes about the fabric here, the two denier numbers indicate the thickness of the threads used to make the fabric differ between sides. The higher denier fabric on the forearms gives some extra durability in a common wear point (I’m guessing for climbing). The biggest difference between the body and forearms is that while you can see the ripstop in both fabrics, it actually gives the forearm fabric a raised texture.
The jacket is insulated with 80 g 100% polyester Ventrix Stretch insulation. This insulation comes in a solid piece (like a piece of fabric), rather than a filament or fill, so it stays in place without any baffles. The magic of the insulation comes from laser cut slits that open and close with movement, allowing more moisture and heat to escape while you are moving (see an article from GearJunkie with some photos and video).
Fit & Style
The jacket is listed as having a slim fit, and that is the experience I had. I ended up having to size up to an XL, because the chest was too tight. This makes the sleeves a touch too long, but it isn’t a dealbreaker. If I were strictly wearing this as a midlayer, a L would have been good, but I wanted to have more flexibility.
When it comes to looks, I think this jacket is a lot better looking than a lot of other active insulation pieces. One thing that always ruins a piece for me is when the face fabric is overly shiny, and that is not the case here. In black, the jacket has a matte look. While it still looks like a technical jacket, it is subdued enough that you won’t stick out wearing it to work or around town.
This jacket met my expectations from all the hype I’ve seen around it since it won Editors’ Choice in Backpacker in 2017.
I found the Ventrix insulation to do a great job holding heat while at rest and dumping heat when moving. Not only do the perforations in the insulation help, but the lining is perforated on the back and the face fabric is perforated under the arms.
This has become my go-to active insulation layer for all but the coldest weather. My down jacket previously served this purpose, but I find myself getting clammy when active while wearing it. I never get that feeling with this jacket (except for sometimes when wearing a backpack).
I would compare the face fabric to a soft shell jacket, and with the DWR, it does a good job of fending off a decent drizzle. It will of course eventually wet out, but that is a benefit of synthetic insulation vs. down — if the insulation gets wet from the weather or sweat, it doesn’t loose its insulating powers.
Comfort wise, the soft lining makes the jacket feel great against your skin. The stretch isn’t extreme, but it keeps the jacket out of your way.
Now for the pockets — there are two pretty standard zippered hand pockets and one very tall zippered chest pocket. Typically I don’t find chest pockets very useful because they hold things too high, but I love this one. It works great for holding things like your phone or wallet and keeps them out of the way.
Overall, The North Face Ventrix Jacket lives up to the hype. The insulation really does adapt and change depending on if you are still or in motion, and the face and lining fabrics don’t hinder breathability. While it’s no Western Rise AirLoft (our review) in the looks department, it isn’t your shiny technical jacket fabric.
At a list price of $220, it’s on the cheaper end of the popular active insulation jackets, and it often can be found on deep discount at the end of the season. At full price it is a great jacket, but if you find it for a lower price, it’s a steal.
If you want one active insulation piece to cover almost all situations, this is a great one to take a look at.