UKH

The North Face Summit L3 Ventrix Hoodie 2.0 Review

While The North Face describe the Ventrix Hoodie 2 (for short) as a midlayer, you could equally call it a thin jacket. It's a hard one to pigeonhole. Although in essence this is a light synthetic-insulated jacket, in use I've found it plays a similar role to a softshell system like Vapour-Rise. Warm for its weight, more weather-resistant than a fleece, and more breathable for active use than your average synthetic jacket - the Ventrix Hoodie 2 has a lot going for it.

It's good as 'active insulation' in winter conditions, 216 kb
It's good as 'active insulation' in winter conditions
© Martin McKenna

Fit

Both men's and women's versions are available. While the fit is described as slim, I'd call it generous for the size. I am a pretty benchmark size L in most brands, but the Ventrix Hoodie 2 is on the roomy side on me, and fits more like an over-layer than a midlayer, with plenty of room for a baselayer and midweight fleece underneath it. I think the nature of this top is such that it will work best as a midlayer over just a baselayer, and as such perhaps it'd have been better if the fit was genuinely slim? I'd have preferred a closer cut but also a little more length in the hem. Conversely the sleeves are a little long on me. However for me I suspect Medium would be too short (I'm 6 foot, and not skinny) so if there's a chance you'll also fall between the sizing then I'd suggest trying it on before you buy.

Between the large cut and the stretchy fabric, I've found freedom of movement to be good. While there's a little hem lift when I raise my arms, it's generally not been enough to become an issue, and the jacket has tended to stay put under a harness when I've climbed in it.

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Decent cut and stretch fabric for climbing and scrambling
© Martin McKenna

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There's plenty of pocket space for hat, gloves etc
© Martin McKenna

Fabric and fill

With 60g sq m of insulation throughout, the Ventrix Hoodie 2 is towards the lighter, thinner end of the synthetic-filled jackets spectrum - as you might expect for a top that's officially billed as a midlayer. It's a stretchy polyester fill, something called Ventrix, which has a techy-sounding claim to fame:

"Ventrix™ insulation features small perforations that close when you're stationary and open when you move, delivering a balance of warmth and breathability" say TNF.

It's pretty breathable for comfort on the move..., 147 kb
It's pretty breathable for comfort on the move...
© Dan Bailey

The perforated bits in the fill are placed under the arms and in the middle of the back, both areas where you'd expect to get more movement and stretch in the garment when you're climbing - though perhaps less so when merely walking. Does this 'dynamic venting' work? I'm afraid that's hard to quantify in a review. It's possible that some of the benefit is a bit lost on me because of the overall bagginess of the fit; likewise, if you're carrying a pack then however breathable that bit of your jacket, you're always likely to get a sweaty back.

Overall though, I do think the breathability is good - and not just in the places where TNF have put the perforations. I've worn it in a range of temperatures, on dry days and damp ones, and so far in my experience it has felt less clammy and more comfortable on the move than most synthetic insulated jackets would have. If I've occasionally felt a bit hot and dank on the uphills, it's been less than I might have expected.

A dank, chilly day in the Lake District - good weather for the Ventrix Hoodie, 165 kb
A dank, chilly day in the Lake District - good weather for the Ventrix Hoodie
© Dan Bailey

However in terms of breathability when you're on the go, this jacket is still at its best in colder conditions. On a day of around 10C I wasn't convinced the Ventrix was doing a good job; but the next time I went out, down to about -2 plus wind chill, I found it comfy and dry all day. It's too warm for active use year-round, so look on it as primarily a winter or alpine jacket. To help mitigate any steaminess all four pockets are cut through the insulation, doubling as effective vents when you need to cool down. It has to be said though that this multi-layered, synthetic-filled type of top is inevitably going to feel less breathable than a similar weight fleece (or modern equivalent like Polartec Alpha). On the other hand it'll stand up to a bit more weather before you need to don a shell and commence boiling in the bag.

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Ripstop fabric and stretchy fabric

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Extra-breathable back panel

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Stretch-knit cuffs

Two different fabrics are used on the outside - a nylon/elastane blend (92g/m²) on the shoulders, chest and upper arms, and a thinner ripstop nylon (46g/m²) elsewhere. The thicker stuff has loads of stretch, which I've found aids freedom of movement where you most need it (for instance, when you bend an elbow).

Both fabrics are noticeably air-permeable. You can feel a cold breeze through them, which obviously has pros and cons. While that air permeability helps keep the Ventrix Hoodie 2 drier and more comfortable on the move than you might expect from a synthetic-filled top, the corollary to that is that in cold windy conditions I've found myself reaching for a shell sooner that I would have if I'd been wearing a synthetic jacket with a more weather-proof outer. A decent DWR finish does help makes the jacket quite shower resistant. After an hour of trudging into incessant driving rain I still felt more or less dry on the inside (perhaps body heat helped push the water out), though the outside of the jacket was saturated. Once I took it off it did seem to take a long time to dry out though.

The black and yellow colour scheme of the top we were sent for review is very Marmite. I think I look like a giant bumblebee, or indeed a jar of the aforementioned gloop, and I might struggle to wear this particular jacket after the review is finished. The upside is that it is highly visible in low light. You may be relieved to learn that other colours are available.

High-vis colour scheme for nights out  , 116 kb
High-vis colour scheme for nights out
© Dan Bailey

Features

The chunky YKK Vislon front zip is robust, and has a glove-friendly zip pull and a chin guard; however there's a pretty insubstantial draught-excluding backing strip, and I've found this can fold out of the way, which risks letting a bit of breeze in.

If you like to carry lots of bits and bobs about your person then the Ventrix Hoodie 2 will not disappoint. Four zipped pockets are provided, all of a generous size. The lower hand pockets remain at least partially usable when the top is worn under a harness or rucksack hipbelt, though when climbing I'd be more likely to use just the chest pockets. Unfortunately this jacket is not designed to be stuffed into one of its own pockets for easier carrying on a harness - and to my mind that's a missed opportunity. Neither is a stuff-sack provided.

The stretch-knit cuffs are wide enough to fit over a bulky glove or to roll your sleeves up over your forearms - which I often like to do when I'm getting hot under the collar. If anything they're a bit too loose, and can flap in the wind. It would have been possible to have a closer fit, and still enough stretch to accommodate gloves.

Its single hem drawcord is OK, though the cord forms a loop rather than two separate tails, and since it hangs down outside rather than being directed up inside the jacket, there's a possibility of snagging or accidentally clipping it when racking gear.

With helmet, 105 kb

and without, 99 kb

Hood

For climbing the hood is really good, fitting with ease over a helmet without lifting the hem or limiting head movement significantly. However it's not so successful on a helmet-free head. The single rear adjuster allows you to pull the fit in close at the back of the head, but without the added volume of a helmet there's tons of baggy material around the sides of your face. Chin coverage is only partial, and if you're lacking the structure of a helmet underneath then the soft stretchy rim doesn't provide a close seal around the face. There's no stiffened brim, so the hood flaps loose in the wind.

Weight

At 460g (size L) on my kitchen scales, I think this is a pretty light jacket for the warmth it offers, and roughly on a par with other similarly light synthetic jackets that are also made to be worn on the go (Rab's Xenon X, for instance, or ME's Transition). When packed away the Ventrix Hoodie can be squashed into a bundle a bit smaller than a football (you need to provide your own stuff sack). You'd get a smaller pack size and more warmth from a decent lightweight down jacket, but the difference is that the Ventrix Hoodie 2 is designed to be worn all day, so you're less likely to carry it in the first place.

Price

For what you're getting, the £270 price tag seems high. Midweight softshells and lightweight synthetic insulated jackets that play a similar role can both be had for a lot less. Is the Ventrix Hoodie worth the cost? I like it, but I don't think I'd spend that much.

Summary

Its 'dynamic venting' may not be a game changer, but the Ventrix Hoodie 2 certainly does a good job as active insulation for wearing on the go in winter conditions. I really like its balance of warmth and breathability at a reasonably light weight. Its weather-resistant, air-permeable and stretchy fabric works well in this midlayer-to-outer-layer niche, too. However the cut is a bit baggy and boxy, and while the hood marries well with a helmet it's far less successful when you're not wearing one. In short there's a lot that's good, but a few niggles too - not least the price.

The North Face say:

A cutting-edge midlayer specifically designed for extreme alpine mountaineers. Motion-activated Ventrix™ insulation provides balanced warmth and breathability during demanding ascents. Lightweight, abrasion-resistant fabrics deliver crucial mobility and athlete-approved durability. Part of the Summit Series™, the world's finest alpine equipment.

  • Sizes: S-XL (men) XS-XL (women)
  • Fabric upper body & top of sleeves : 40D X 30D + 20D 92g/m² 94% Nylon, 6% Elastane with DWR finish
  • Fabric lower body, hood & underside of sleeves : 20D X 20D 46g/m² 100% Nylon Ripstop with DWR finish
  • Body Lining : 20D X 30D + 20D 60 G/M² 92% Nylon, 8% Elastane
  • Centre Back And Chest Pocket Bag Lining: 20D X 20D 51 G/M² 85% Nylon, 15% Elastane Woven Mesh
  • Insulation : 60 G Ventrix™—100% Polyester Stretch Synthetic Insulation
  • Engineered venting at the centre back lining panel and chest pockets
  • Lightweight fabrics with high air permeability to enhance breathability
  • Abrasion-resistant in key areas for heightened durability
  • Pre-tensioned, helmet-compatible hood with elastic binding and rear adjustment
  • Seamless shoulders for comfort when carrying a pack Underarm gusset boosts mobility
  • Exposed, VISLON® centre front zip
  • Two concealed zip chest pockets
  • Exposed zip hand pockets
  • Stretch-knit cuffs with durable water-repellent finish
  • Single-pull hem for quick waist adjustment

Ventrix hoodie 2.0 prod shot, 34 kb

For more info see thenorthface.co.uk

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