The North Face Men’s Radium Hi-Loft Jacket for mountaineering has the highest warmth to weight ratio of any Hi-Loft fleece from The North Face.
Hi-Loft fleeces are a staple in any mountaineering clothing catalogue and many of us will have owned a few in our climbing careers (I even go back as far as the original Helly Hansen fleece, in fact I have mate who still has a full outfit – the original onesie!). The advantages are: they are very warm, they look good in casual wear, they are hardwearing and durable. They also last a long time and are very breathable. So there are lots of reasons to have one as part of your general climbing apparel collection.
Hi-loft fleeces have dipped in and out of favour over recent years, especially with the advent of synthetic insulation jackets which also can look good casually and fit nicely under a shell. But they are more breathable than wearing a jacket with a Pertex type shell and it’s for that reason, they have superior versatility. They also require much less cleaning care so are great on expeditions when you may need to clean some clothing (on occasion of course), as The North Face Radium jacket can just be washed in a stream, left to dry on a branch and hey presto – all the insulating properties have been restored as quick as you like!
The North Face Radium jacket is marketed as having the highest loft fleece material in their entire range and boasts the highest warmth to weight ratio. It is part of The North Face Summit Series so is designed as a technical mountaineering garment. It’s made using Polartec Thermal Pro fleece with Polartec Power Stretch panels at the sides, the collar and the sleeve hems. The Polortec Thermal pro was very warm and the loft was indeed fantastically high! These types of fleeces can appear very ‘furry’ and be awkward to wear under a hardshell with an athletic (or climbing) fit. This wasn’t the case with the The North Face Radium jacket, it fitted well under my The North Face Anti-Matter jacket and this provided an excellent winter combination. I did however feel a little inhibited for technical climbing, however for mountaineering it was great.
I could wear the Radium fleece for walking in to the base of a routes, by the time I had got all my kit sorted the fleece material had dried out and I was ready to pop a shell on. Breathability was aided by the great looking baffle design. This gave the fleece the same baffling configuration as jackets such as the Crimptastic and the Catalyst and allowed the jacket to have a much more superior breathability than either of those. In calm conditions the jacket was plenty warm enough but as soon as the breeze got up you needed a shell to maintain that warmth.
Without a shell the jacket was good for climbing in, it felt durable on those more thrutchy types of routes where you would rip your Pertex-shelled insulation jacket to pieces. The cut was good and I had no major rise issues with the sleeves.
The sleeve cuffs, inside sleeves, side panels, collar and the back of the neck were all made from Polartec Power Stretch, this further aided breathability and provided some stretch for climbing. The collar and sleeve cuff were double thickness which was a nice touch. The collar was well sized and felt cozy when closed. There were no hem cinches around the bottom of the jacket, which was refreshing and added to the clean look. The YKK zips all worked well although they could have had more glove friendly zip tags on them. All the seams were flatlocked.
There two side, hand warmer pockets. These were pack friendly as stated and I could access them with a pack waist belt on. They were inhibited by a harness though and I could only access half of the pocket with a harness on. The pockets were nice and large however and I could easily get an OS map into one. Most notably there was no chest pocket, I felt this was a disappointment as I often use a chest pocket when climbing – keeping a topo in or keeping small amounts of food when on a multi pitch route. The jacket would have been much improved by the addition of this simple pocket, either inside or out.
All in all The North Face Radium jacket is a good mountaineering fleece. The Polartec Thermal Pro fleece material is indeed incredibly warm and packs down well enough to take up little space in a climbing pack. The jacket is breathable and stylish. I have been using it casually all season and its versatility is great. It is robust, washes easily and the technical cut is great for all mountain activities.
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