With the mantra, Never Stop Exploring, The North Face (TNF) is known for creating clothing for a variety of climates and conditions. Although TNF was named after the coldest side of a mountain, it actually got its start back in 1966, far from the cold, in the North Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco. Since its inception, TNF has been known for sponsoring expeditions to far-flung corners of the world including trips to Nepal, India, Pakistan, Chad and Australia. More recently TNF started Planet Explore and the Explore Fund, which is a project dedicated to giving bursaries to non-profit community organizations with the goal of getting youth into the outdoors.
New to TNF Alpine collection, the Women’s Alpine Project Soft Shell was created to compliment the Alpine Project Shell. It was designed for alpine climbing as seen by its fit and fabric, but can be used as a stand alone layer in milder weather or as a mid-layer for a variety of sports year round.
Fit: Alpine fit
Pockets: Invisible zipped Napoleon chest pocket and two harness compatible hand pockets
Hood: Attached adjustable hood with stiff brim
Fabric: Made of 49% polyester, 43% nylon and 8% elastane Gore Windstopper X-Fast with 4 way stretch. Wind permeability rating of 0 CFM on body.
The Alpine Project soft shell has an alpine fit, meaning that it is relatively tight fitting through the body, the waist and the arms. Due to this fit, I found that the jacket easily fits underneath another warmer layer like a down jacket or a waterproof jacket. Due to its overall design, it also worked well as a stand-alone layer (with a long sleeve or t-shirt underneath). In addition, the bottom of the jacket was easily tucked underneath a harness without any extra bulk.
As I do not usually wear tight fitting jackets, I found the Alpine Project took some getting used to with regards to the fit. After experiencing how well the jacket worked as a mid layer and how convenient it was to wear under a harness, I definitely began to see the benefits of having a tighter jacket. I could not, however, get used to the tighter sleeves. Specifically, although the sleek sleeves are great for fitting the Alpine Project under another jacket I found that the sleeves were too tight to push up my arms when I got too warm; this often left me feeling confined. If, like me, you are used to looser jackets, this could be good to keep in mind. On the other hand, the sleeves were a good length for me; coming mid-way down my hands. This length meant I could pull the sleeve over my hands when they needed warming up or fold it back one when I needed my hands exposed.
The fabric on the Alpine Project really covers all of the bases: wind, precipitation and body temperature. The jacket is made of a Gore Windstopper® membrane with a DWR coating, meaning that it is windproof, highly water resistant and very breathable. The idea behind the jacket is that you can extend the time you wear it before you put on another jacket. For example, when it started to rain in the alpine I appreciated that there was no risk that my base layer under the Alpine Project would be wet before I put on my rain jacket. Also, I enjoyed that I could remain in only the soft shell until I was confident the rain was going to stick around. Unfortunately, I did find that the jacket started to smell after using it for only a few days of activity.
I was happy to see that even as a lightweight soft shell, the Alpine Project has a hood. In keeping with the designers’ goal (to extend the time for which you can wear this jacket without changing layers) I found that the hood went a long way in keeping me warm when the wind picked up or the sun went behind a cloud. The hood is one way adjustable to help keep it on even in the wind; there is a cord at the back of the hood to pull it tight against your head. Unfortunately, I found that the hood is too small to fit comfortably over helmets, but due to the stiff brim it does not fit well under helmets either. The stiff brim does, however, work well to keep water off your face when it is raining.
In total there are three pockets on the Alpine Pocket: two hand pockets and one chest pocket. The pockets are waist belt and harness compatible which is great when you want to access something without having to loosen your harness. I liked having the chest pocket in addition to the hand warmer pockets as it meant that I could put my chapstick or other items in the chest pocket without worrying about them falling out when I stuck my hands in the lower pockets. The coloured zipper pulls on the pockets and main zipper are a nice touch and bring some pizzaz to an otherwise single coloured piece.
Overall, the Alpine Project is well designed for alpine climbing. Made from Gore Windstopper fabric, the jacket will keep you dry and warm in light precipitation or wind, even as a stand-alone piece. The tight fit also means that the soft shell fits well under warmer layers as well as under a harness. The three harness compatible pockets allow you to stash your stuff and warm your hands without loosening your harness or waist belt.
The hood on the Alpine Project can work to keep you warm, however, it does not fit well over or under helmets. The sleeves on the jacket are sleek and without a cuff which allows them to fit well under another jacket, but not to be rolled up if you become too warm. Unfortunately, I did find that the jacket become smelly after only a few uses.
Price: $250 US
Weight: 410 grams (12.1oz)
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL
Colours: Juicy Red, TNF Black, Moody Blue
Length from centre back: 24.5”
Protects against wind and precipitation, works as a mid layer or as an outside layer, jacket fits well under harness, harness and waist belt compatible pockets, chest as well as hand pockets, awesome coloured zipper pulls
Tight sleeves can not be pushed very far up the arm, hood not helmet compatible, hood pulls in at side of brim, jacket only available in three colours.
Fit / Mobility 1.5/2
Warmth / Breathable 1.5/2
Quality / Price 1.5/2
This is only our opinion. Do you disagree? Did we miss something? Are we totally out to lunch? Join the discussion in the forums here, and let us know what you think. People like/dislike gear for different reasons so chime in and we'll get a well-rounded evaluation.
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