The new 2011 TNF Cipher Hybrid Jacket – a mixture of materials makes for a good all round mountain jacket.
Value for money ****
The North Face, the iconic brand that climbers love to ‘dis’. It is worth noting though that although you may see members of the general public strolling around the park in TNF down jackets and students wearing TNF day packs, a quick browse through the catalogue will quickly reveal the wealth of technical clothing that is purely dedicated to climbers, hikers and runners. One of the reasons I’ve always liked TNF is the sizing, it just seems to be one of those companies whose clothing fits me just right, the leg length is right, the arm length also good, so I’ve been a fan for a while and have owned many items.
This review is for The North Face Cipher Hybrid Jacket, the new 2011 hybrid softshell jacket made from a mixture of Gore Windstopper and TNF’s own Apex Aerobic softshell fabric, which is very light and stretchy. The Cipher jacket has been around for a year or two now and the hybrid is an extension of the range; made more for 3 season climbing and mountain activities, than as a burly winter garment. So let’s get down to details.
The fabrics were good combination for a hybrid, the Windstopper fabric was nice to the touch, very windproof and shed light showers very well. It took a while for water to get through in more sustained rain, but the leakage was through the Apex Aerobic becoming saturated, the only leakage through the Windstopper was through the pocket zips. The jacket is part of the Summit Series and felt up to the job of regular outdoor climbing use. There was the usual TNF embroidered logos on the chest and shoulder blade, with Summit and Windstopper logos embroidered on the arm and waist. It looked and felt a quality item.
The cut was athletic but didn’t hug too much, especially at the armpits which often pose a problem for me (all those years of yarding up and down Bachar ladders). I received a medium and with my normal size being a 38-40” chest it fitted nicely. It was great for wearing under a harness and wasn’t too long so didn’t get caught up with carabiners and other hardwear; it did have a hem cinch which made it even better so I can’t foresee any annoying holes developing at the waist section. There was minimal rise when my arms were fully extended for reachy holds and there was little ballooning in the chest area – I have seen a real improvement in this area from most quality manufacturers and it’s nice to see the major players addressing these problem areas in the cut.
The Gore Windstopper extended over the shoulders, the rest of the arms being Apex Aerobic. At first I couldn’t fathom out why they had put the Apex Aerobic material at the arms as these are not really a high sweat area, but it did prove an advantage when I needed to pull the sleeves up, it would have been better to have a slightly wider cuff as climber’s forearms are larger than the ergonomic average (or at least they should be!). The Apex Aerobic material is a woven softshell so wasn’t as windproof as the Windstopper and there were days when my arms were cold, especially on very windy days when I stopped for a break and the sweat cooled down. The cuff closure was hook and lace, at first glace I thought the hook was Hypalon but on closer examination it was a plastic moulded piece with TNF logos. This I thought was a potential flaw in the sleeve design and could affect the performance when filled with snow or dirt – I should add however, that it performed well in the activities I was using it for. The Apex Aerobic fabric extended under the armpits (thus eliminating the pit zips) and down the sides of the jacket, the fabric performed very well in high aerobic activities such as hiking uphill. It also dried out very quickly, remained supple, left no sweat residue and didn’t smell after several days use.
The pockets were voluminous,they easily swallowed up a laminated OS map, plus whatever else I wanted to throw in them. They were easily accessible when wearing a harness or pack waist belt and had good functioning zips that were easy to use with gloves on. There was no Napolean pocket which I thought was a serious flaw, as there was no inside pocket either. These pockets are very useful for stashing energy bars, topos, hats and even your Blackberry for taking that all important business call mid crux. The main zip worked well, smooth and snag free, weather protection was enhance with an inner storm flap.
The hood was made from Apex Aerobic and was the usual elasticated TNF hood. It fitted nicely under a climbing helmet and because of the stretchy fabric fitted over the helmet too, very handy for those windy belays. It had a one handed volume adjuster, but no peak. A combination of hood and baseball cap kept most showers but my head did eventually get wet through saturation. The collar and chin guard were micro fleece and the whole set up felt snug when zipped up.
So, a great technical jacket from The North Face, suitable for all my mountain adventures: from rock climbing through to mountain days out. It has quickly become a staple item of clothing for all my climbing days out. I felt that the addition of a Napolean pocket and extending the Windstopper fabric down the forearms would have made it perfect. And the company that puts it’s strapline never stop exploring on the fly of my pants is genius!