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Spring is in the air, and though some of us are still lamenting the sudden passing of winter the new season certainly has its compensations: warm dry rock, long days on the hills, and nights out that can be enjoyed rather than just endured. There's a chance to de-winterise the wardrobe too, and get some weight off your back. My bulky belay jacket has been mothballed, but of course this being Britain I'll still need some sort of insulation. Here's what I'm after: something simple, light and packable; warm enough for a chilly spring belay but not too hot and sticky for sometimes wearing on the go. It should retain some warmth even when wet; be cut well for good freedom of movement; be able to stand alone against a bit of dampness or a stiff breeze (if not full-on rain and gales), but still be thin and close fitting enough to layer on top of, come next winter. A lightweight synthetic insulated jacket ticks all these boxes. One such is The North Face's DNP Hoodie, which is designed to be either an outer or a mid layer, depending on conditions. Though billed as a piece for summer alpine and rock climbing, I've found it equally at home hillwalking. The name is an acronym for Damn Near Perfect, say TNF. So is it?
This is one of the growing number of hybrid garments on the market, with panels of different materials used in specific areas to help maximise warmth-for-weight, breathability and freedom of movement. The concept is done well on the DNP Hoodie.
For more info see The North Face
Most of the jacket, inside and out, is ripstop nylon, which feels nice and light (15D 33g/m2) but easily tough enough for general use on the hill (udging up granite chimneys might be an exception). Its shiny smoothness makes it easy to layer the Hoodie, either on top of underclothes when used as your main jacket, or beneath something warmer if you're adding it to a more substantial winter outfit.
The insulation within the nylon is 60g Primaloft One, an industry staple with great warmth for its weight and relatively decent performance even when wet. This seems a sensible amount of insulation for spring/summer use in the hills, enough for a chilly snap but not so much that you'll forever be overheating, or cursing the weight of the jacket when it's packed away.
The 'hybrid' bit is the addition of stretchy panels at the armpit, the sides of your ribs, and down the full length of the underarm. This extremely light TNF 'Apex Aerobic' (87% nylon, 13% elastane double weave) is completely uninsulated, so in effect it's a bit like having giant pit zips. Thanks to this the Hoodie breathes well even worn on the move, and I've found it comfortably un-clammy when hillwalking in pleasant (if not actually warm) spring weather. The addition of uninsulated areas also contributes to weight saving, and a general feeling of lack of bulk - ideal for a spring/summer jacket. At first I worried that this thin barrier might feel draughty on a windy day, but up on the hill it seems to keep the breeze out more effectively than I'd expected. Its modest stretch gives good freedom of movement when climbing too, or swinging an axe or pole, but I do find the forearms ever so slightly restrictive when my elbows are fully bent. A bit more attention to the cut here would have been nice, perhaps extending the stretch panel onto the elbow. It's a minor criticism, but one worth making given this jacket's price tag.
Down at the cuff I struggle to find fault. It's nice and simple, with no wrist tab to add bulk and fiddle. Assuming the arm length suits you then there's really no need for any adjustment here, while if the sleeves are a little long then they're easily turned up. At the inner wrist is a small panel of double thickness woven stuff, which is both stretchier and tougher than the underarm fabric. I assume this isn't for creating a wrist-tight seal (it doesn't) but to make it easy to pull the sleeves up over a climber's bulging forearms (works for mine anyway).
The whole outer has a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish, on which water beads happily. It's good for a light shower or a bit of snowmelt, though when the taps really turn on you obviously need to add a waterproof shell.
Given the lightness of the materials the build quality on the DNP Hoodie seems high - as you'd hope at this price. But I'm not sure why there's so much stitching on this jacket. All those narrow horizontal baffles on the body are there to help anchor the insulation, I presume, but since this is synthetic rather than down then fewer might have done the same job while saving a few grams. Perhaps it's more a style thing?
I like the hood, which is roomy enough to don over a helmet (albeit a stretch for the bulkier polystyrene sort) but not way too big for a helmet-less head. There is no means to adjust hood volume, or to tighten the opening around the face to stop it flapping in the wind, but what you lack here is made up for in simplicity and lightness. In really stormy weather you'd probably add a shell with a more substantial and adjustable hood in any case.
The two zippered handwarmer pockets are a useful size, big enough to hold one insulated ski glove apiece or a standard OS map. Sadly they're positioned too low for ready access under a harness or rucksack hip belt. Yet most of the time I see myself wearing this jacket it will be in conjunction with a harness, a rucksack, or indeed both. To be damn near perfect the pockets would need to be moved up closer to chest height. The jacket stuffs neatly into one of the pockets, crumpling down to less than the size of a 1L Nalgene bottle and with a little tab to hang it from. With its modest pack size and weight the DNP Hoodie can dangle almost un-noticed on the back of your harness, just in case.
What else? There's an elastic hem cord with hidden toggles. And a nice light YKK zip with a draught-excluding non-snagging baffle inside.
That's about it - and that's about all I'd want from a lightweight jacket. From evening cragging to mountain routes, I expect to be taking this light, simple jacket everywhere I go this summer. It might not quite be damn near perfect, but it's not far off.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com: