It’s not often we get to test out snow sport gear. Largely because, for the past three years we haven’t managed to find the time to actually go snowboarding. But when a chance offer to head over to Chamonix cropped up, we thought it was time to dust off the old kit.
Unfortunately, after opening a slightly dusty suitcase, it was pretty clear that the snowboarding jacket within was probably not going to make it through another trip. That and the fact it looked like the kind of thing you’d expect East 17 to wear. Nope. It was time to replenish the stores and pick up something a little bit less crap, with hopefully considerably less fake fur around the hood.
Enter The North Face Free Thinker. An impressively functional and aesthetically pleasing jacket designed for general snowports wear. So pretty much anything from snowboarding and skiing, to climbing, hiking and Siberian husky racing (note: we’re not entirely sure if this last one is a snowsport – we’d damn well like to test it out though).
The first thing we noticed about the Free Thinker is that it’s ridiculously light. So light that it almost seems like a simple waterproof instead of a durable winter jacket. We were actually a bit nervous that it wasn’t going to hold up against the weather, since all our previous jackets had been thick heavily insulated. We needn’t have worried though, as The North Face have managed to pull together a three-layered GORE-TEX weave designed to block out snow, sleet and rain. Works ruddy well in fact, even when you’re speeding down the mountain at 40mph (okay, we did this once, and nearly cried with fear).
The lightness of the jacket means that it’s perfect for layering, which is exactly what you need when you’re snowboarding. With insulated jackets you’re pretty much stuck with what you’ve got. It may be great for when it’s cold, but if you find yourself at the top of the mountain with the sun beating down, you’re going to end up having a pretty sweaty day. When we headed to Chamonix there was one day that was pretty damn hot, the Free Thinker felt fine, the only discomfort caused by the sun being a rather painful sunburnt nose. There’s also the pretty useful underarm pit zips for when it’s really hot.
There’s a host of features discretely hidden in what appears to be a fairy subtle looking jacket. Your standard powder skirt, elasticated thumb loops (we love them), a shed load of pockets including one for your goggles and some pretty neat waterproof ones, a massive hood that you can even stick over your helmet, clip integration as well as a rather nice relaxed fit, which means you can use it for pretty much anything. Looks damn nice as well.
The North Face Free Thinker will set you back £333 at the moment, reduced from £475. You can find out more about it by heading over the website here.
Picture Credits: The North Face, Kim Cook
Note: We received tests product for this review.