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The North Face Thunder Jacket

Down Jacket Review

What is it?

The North Face Thunder Jacket is packed with 800 fill goose down, weighs in at 400 grams, and features a 20 denier nylon shell exterior. It has two hand warmer pockets and an internal chest pocket. One of the hand pockets doubles as a stuff sack and the entire jacket can be packed down into a ciabbatta bun sized package.

Initially, I was a little bit apprehensive about buying a down jacket with concerns about moisture: down loses much of it’s insulation value when it gets wet and takes longer to dry out then synthetic insulations such as Primaloft. However, I decided to give it a try as, after I did some research, nothing beats the warmth to weight ratio of a high fill power goose down.

Backpacking Down Coat Review

What’s good?

It’s warm

After a cold Canadian winter’s use I can now rightfully say I am a down convert. I’ve used the Thunder Jacket as a skiing layer and it’s kept me toasty warm on my winter backpacking trips. The jacket packs up so small and light that you barely even notice it in your pack, however you definitely do notice and appreciate it when you have it on.

Down backpacking coat
Cold mornings require warm coats

Putting on a down jacket is like wrapping yourself up in a cozy sleeping bag; it’s one of the things I look forward to when stopping for breaks as it keeps all that warmth snugged up around me. The Thunder has nice tight cuffs and a bottom drawstring that stop the cold drafts from stealing away body heat.

Down Jacket Review
When I stop for a bite to eat, I throw on my down jacket to keep all that heat in

It’s light

This jacket is light! Seriously, I have gloves that weigh almost this much. For comparison, I also have an Outdoor Research Neoplume Jacket with Primaloft insulation and a number of fleeces, including an Arc’teryx Gamma MX, all of which weigh more and offer less warmth than down.

Looks hot (and is)

North Face and other manufacturers make down jackets that are slightly lighter than the Thunder. However, I sacrificed a little extra weight for something that I could also wear as a casual winter jacket; the medium fits my 5’11” 175 lbs perfectly and the jacket has an athletic trim fit. Part of what I deem as multi-use in products I buy is being able to wear them as much off the trail as on. While function is the driving factor over form when you’re in the backcountry I like to be able to wear my high-end clothes in the city too if possible.

North Face Diez vs Thunder Jacket
The North Face Diez, too shiny for me… and more expensive.

The North Face Diez Jacket, the Thunder’s lighter brother, is filled with 900 fill down and has a 10 denier outer shell, which should make it a little lighter and warmer. Aesthetically though, I much prefer the Thunder when compared to the Diez. The Thunder has more of a matte finish and has an embroidered logo rather than the Diez’s pasted on decal. The surface of the Diez is so shiny that you look like Kanye or an astronaut if you try to wear it casually.

 

What’s not so good?

It’s fragile

Unlike shell layers, like Gore-Tex and softshells, the nylon outer of the Thunder Jacket is very McNett Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Ultra Strong Repair Tape, Clearthin in order to keep weight down. You have to be careful with the material and I would not wear it as an outer layer while bushwhacking or rock climbing where it could easily snag. My dog jumped up and just brushed the lower back panels with his nails and feathers flew out like a cartoon chicken had just exploded. Luckily I saved most of the down from escaping and patched it up with McNett Tenacious Tape, which has held quite well.

It’s important to keep down clean and wash it periodically as body oils and dirt can clog up the feathers and prevent them from trapping air to provide insulation. I’ve written some instructions on how I keep my down jackets and sleeping bags clean.

Down Jacket Review Hiking
The dog likes the water, the Thunder does not.

 

It doesn’t like water

Down jackets are like cats, they aren’t happy when they get wet. Down loses a lot of its insulation properties when it gets wet (which is strange because it comes from birds that spend a lot of time in the water).

If you know you are going to consistently be hiking in wet, soggy weather then maybe choose a synthetic insulation like Primaloft or fleece. In rainy weather or wet snow I just wear my down Thunder Jacket under my OR Furio Shell and have never had a problem with it getting wet, yet.

 

Summit-up

Down jacket ski layer
You can click the pic to read how I layer for skiing

The North Face Thunder Jacket gets my recommendation for a great piece of gear. It looks good and works good as long as you use it as intended: properly layered under a waterproof shell in wet conditions.

I throw a scarf on and wear it casually around town, I ski in it, I sleep in it on winter hikes, and I carry it in my daypack as an emergency layer. I expect I’ll be using the Thunder Jacket for years to come.

I know lots of other manufacturer’s have similar lightweight down jacket offerings and I’d be interested to know your thoughts on other options out there in the comments section below.

 

Manufacturer’s Website

MSRP $249.00 USD

Buy it from Backcountry.com

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