Last year, when The North Face released the Ventrix jacket, it hyped up the launch by partnering with Maggie Rogers, a rising musician who gained popularity after impressing Pharrell Williams with a song that, according to Vogue, took her 15 minutes to produce. Rogers appeared in a video alongside Jimmy Chin, Alex Honnold and Emily Harrington — all wearing the new jacket — while her track “Split Stones” played in the background. The knotting of Rogers’ cultural relevance with the Ventrix was an edgy move for The North Face and one that proves the brand is aiming to engage with more than mountain climbers and backpackers.
But the Ventrix jacket is technical outdoor apparel, not something cooked up purely to be trendy. It fits into a subcategory of synthetic insulating jackets called “active insulation,” a designation that denotes puffy jackets designed to be extremely breathable so that they can be worn during high-output activities like ski touring and hiking. The idea is to eliminate the annoyance of stripping and putting back on layers. Ventrix does this incredibly well, thanks to an innovative design that includes small perforations in the polyester fill that open and close with motion to contain and release heat.
The North Face may have wanted us all to think that the new jacket was cool, but it knew all along that it also worked too (Ventrix won spots on Gear Patrol’s “Best Synthetic Jackets” list for 2017 and 2018). But take away Rogers’ song, and the flashy video and what we’re left with is a puffy jacket that looks a lot like other puffy jackets. This year The North Face expanded Ventrix technology into what amounts to a full collection of upper layers (and a pair of insulated knickers). There are anoraks, vests, running jackets and updated versions of last year’s models as well as one notable standout: a crewneck pullover.
The Ventrix Crew draws itself away from the rest because it doesn’t look like something you’d climb a mountain in. It imparts more of a streetwear vibe; its collar is angular and almost space-age-y, and it’s available only in muted colors (Vaporous Grey, TNF Black, Beech Green) that pose a stark contrast to the old-school-outdoors reds and yellows that the brand chose for the other Ventrix models. It’s more in line with the lifestyle-outdoor crossover styles that are popular in Japan and other Asian markets. In a word, it’s cool.
But again, it also works, and that’s why I can’t stop wearing mine. Depending on the day, I might wear it to the office with a pair of jeans and Red Wing boots or to my local ski hill underneath a shell jacket. Earlier this fall I wore it as an outer layer during a 16-mile hike up and down Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks. Between trips, I live in a city and commute to and from work by bike all year long; the Ventrix Crew gives me the warmth without the sweat, and I don’t have to dress like a hiker to get it.
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