North Face's Thermoball jacket has been around for a while in different guises but Thermoball better describes the insulation inside, developed in collaboration with Primaloft, which they claim is a viable alternative to down.
We'll gloss over the tech here, but Thermoball aims to be as warm as down, as compressible (so packable) but still insulating when wet. In our experience it's genuinely great insulation that achieves on all fronts, getting very close to the performance of down.
Animal derived down may not be your favoured choice of insulation though, and synthetic insulation is usually made from environmentally damaging plastic, so you're stuck between a rock and a hard place - ethically at least. Which is why Primaloft have developed an Eco version and made it from 100% recycled plastic. And the Thermoball Eco jacket goes even further, with all the face and liner fabrics being 100% recycled, that's massive. If you're even a little bit environmentally aware you should be demanding this level of environmental sustainability from your outdoor brands.
Sustainability lecture over, is the Thermoball Eco any good to wear on cold days? Well, yes and no. If I close my eyes when putting the Thermoball Eco on and then cover it with a shell jacket it's excellent. With my eyes open I can't bear to wear it. The face fabric is so 80's shell suit shiny you'll need sunglasses to deflect the glare from it. Thankfully, there are many matte colours available in the range- we would recommend choosing one of them.
Fit is excellent, with a cut that offers great protection and coverage as well as being close enough for the insulation to work, without resorting to straight jacket like tightness. This relatively thin layer of insulation builds up warmth gradually to a satisfying level, and then remains at that level without feeling stuffy. Elasticated cuffs and a drawcord hem help seal that lovely warmth in, and the cosy hood continues the same levels of insulation over the head.
On the move the Thermoball Eco breathes well making it suitable for hiking, skiing and perhaps even cycling. Having said that, there are no stretch panels, so breathability and freedom of movement isn't as good as in a more sporty mid layer.
The Thermoball Eco can be packed into its own pocket making a small but not ground breakingly small package, and overall weight is a middling 450g.
Overall a sustainably commendable mid layer jacket from The North Face. For this alone we would choose to buy the Thermoball over other, less environmentally friendly options. Thankfully it also packs a decent performance punch, but at £180 you are perhaps paying a premium for the pleasure of wearing a famous brand name.