This time last year, The North Face was busy introducing their new Thermoball jacket collection. Jackets are expensive, of course — so one of the hardest things for a clothing manufacturer to do is introduce a jacket no one has ever heard of and convince the world that it’s worth a $200 gamble, that its new technology is a real improvement.
Well, turns out, the technology is better, and North Face’s unique “chopped-up Primaloft” approach was rather well-received. This season, it’s back with several refinements, including an improved fit and updated baffling. This year, better got even better.
We’re seeing a real shift from fleece jackets to insulated jackets, both goose down and a variety of next-generation synthetics, so it’s no real surprise that The North Face has this one properly dialed. Of course, we get the same question all the time: what IS Thermoball?
We could answer that, of course… but we didn’t. Instead, we asked Laura Zimmerman, Women’s Outdoor Product Manager for The North Face. She’s been involved in the development of this insulation from the start, which makes her a Thermoball PhD; here’s what she had to say about this game-changing take on synthetic insulation.
Rock/Creek: Alright, let’s get this out of the way first: what the heck is a Thermoball? It sounds like the title of a David Bowie album.
Laura Zimmerman: Thermoball is a synthetic insulation by Primaloft, a proprietary technology to The North Face (for the foreseeable future) that mimics the properties of down; basically it consists of clusters of “balls” of synthetic insulation. This is revolutionary in the synthetic insulation space, because previously all synthetic insulation was used in sheets, a much less efficient approach. What is so neat about this technology is that, unlike down, it keeps its heat retaining properties when wet as well!
R/C: That’s a pretty creative approach to the available technologies. What was the design and testing process like? We’re imagining multiple false starts, and quite possibly a laboratory with PrimaLoft tumbleweeds blowing around everywhere.
LZ: It was a collaborative process with Primaloft that DID have multiple false starts. There are a few limitations that we had to iterate on to create the best jacket we could. Namely, we are limited in our baffle size due to the properties of the Thermoball, which is what helps create the iconic look. Every season we are also striving to further innovate on the design within our limitations.
R/C: What are the benefits of a Thermoball jacket versus one that uses down insulation or traditional synthetic insulation?
LZ: The fact that Thermoball retains warmth when wet is a HUGE plus over down, and this type of synthetic insulation packs down much smaller than traditional synthetic insulation. We see the Thermoball Jacket as the perfect year-round insulation piece.
R/C: Fall/Winter 2014 is the second season for the Thermoball line; how has The North Face expanded the offering for this year?
LZ: It’s not so much about expanding (although we did add a Hybrid piece with a hardface fleece), more about perfecting. You should keep expecting new evolutions of the Thermoball Jacket each season. Because it has such a high warmth-to-weight ratio, it’s the perfect piece to throw in a pack. It packs down to the size of a honeydew (AKA travel neck support) so our athletes pack it for an extra layer that is water resistant and super warm!
Of course, there’s also a hoody, a shelled-version, a parka… you get the idea. There’s definitely a Thermoball jacket to suit your personal preference. Plus, once you own one, you’ll learn how much fun it is to say “Thermoball” out loud in conversation!