Stretchy, breathable and warm, this versatile jacket can be a cozy-but-light mid layer, or a summer outer layer
Great warmth-to-weight ratio
Breathable and quick drying
Great for layering
Snug, stay-put hood
Two zipped hand pockets
No recycled materials used
Hem is elasticated, but not adjustable
May not be the most durable fleece on the market
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The North Face Bolt Polartec Hooded Jacket: first impressions
As part of their technical hike collection, The North Face has taken a versatile approach to this fleece jacket, and come up with a piece that’s great for layering, making it appropriate for lots of conditions. This snug-fitting jacket is extremely lightweight and stretchy, meaning that on cold days, you can comfortably layer it over a base layer and get a lot of warmth without adding bulk. In warmer weather, it makes for a great outer layer when there’s a cool breeze or you want to keep the sun off. Polartec fleece is brushed on the inside, making it soft against your skin, but smooth on the exterior to avoid unsightly pilling. More importantly, the high-loft fibers do a surprisingly good job of trapping heat for such a thin jacket, but the breathability is great too.
• RRP: £110
• Gender specification: Men’s and women’s sizing available
• Sizes available: Men’s S - XXL; Women’s XS - XL
• Weight: 220g / 7.7oz (women’s small)
• Materials: 91% Polyester, 9% Elastane
• Colors: Asphalt grey, Lime cream, Super sonic blue, Fiery red
• Best use: Hiking, trail running
Once you work up a sweat, the quick drying fabric will have you feeling warm and comfortable again in no time. Long sleeves with thumb holes might be annoying if you’re wearing a GPS watch and hiking gloves, but they provide extra hand protection, while the hood stays put in windy conditions and two zipped pockets are big enough for a phone but might get stretched out with heavy gear over time. Overall, though we love the stretchiness and comfort of this jacket, we’re a little concerned about it losing its structure over time, but we're happy to keep wearing it on hikes and cold trail runs in the meantime.
The North Face Bolt Polartec Hooded Jacket: in the field
The North Face sent me this jacket to test out as part of their Technical Hike collection, and I’ll admit, when I first pulled it out of the box it looked a lot more “gym rat” than “technical hike” to me, but once I got over the sportiness of it (which isn’t my usual vibe) and got it out on a few hikes including the Arrochar Alps, I discovered that it actually does hold up quite well on a hike.
Here’s how it performed:
Sizing and fit
I tested a small and I’d say it’s true to size. The fit is snug without being skin tight, which means I can feasibly wear it over a long-sleeved base layer if I want to. It comes down to about mid-hip, providing good coverage, though it might be a bit long if you’re quite short. The sleeves are also really long, which is great for hand warming but annoying for looking at my watch.
Warmth and breathability
This jacket offers a surprising amount of warmth given how light and thin it is. The weather has gotten a lot milder here in recent weeks, but I’ve been impressed by how much extra warmth it’s provided in a cold wind when I’ve been wearing it over a hiking T-shirt and under a shell.
It’s also surprisingly breathable for how warm it is. I recently wore it on a fairly muggy backpacking trip across the isle of Bute and was able to get sweaty in it without having to take it off. I’d happily wear this either as a mid layer or an outer layer.
Weight and packability
If you’re comparing this to other fleece jackets, it’s off the charts light and you won’t even notice you’re wearing it. It’s really more comparable to a base layer and if it didn’t have the zip, that’s what it would be. This meant that on my backpacking trip, I didn’t think twice about stuffing it into my backpack, so it’s a great way to bring some serious protection on a trip without adding a lot of weight.
Unlike some fleece jackets, this one comes equipped with a hood, pockets and thumb holes. The hood could get annoying if you’re wearing it with a hooded shell over the top, but it also means you can hike with a hood up that doesn’t obscure your vision, since it’s really snug. It also easily fits under a bigger hood.
The thumb holes have meant I’ve never needed gloves with this jacket yet. Because the pockets are so stretchy, I don’t love putting my phone in there as I think they’ll lose their shape eventually, but it’s handy to have them for small, light gear such as gloves or my headband.
Really the only area of concern I have about this jacket is its durability. It’s so thin and stretchy that I’m not sure how long it will hold up against frequent washing (which it needs because synthetic fabrics get so smelly) and wearing. I can see it losing its shape a little sooner than I’d like, and the fabric also isn’t the toughest if you’re wearing it as an outer layer.
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.