Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket
Lightweight and highly breathable waterproof protection.
amed after one of the most famous ice climbs on The Ben, the Point Five NG wears its intended purpose on its sleeve. This shell jacket and matching pants (when did we stop calling them trousers?) are clearly built for the demanding conditions of Scottish winter climbing.
Staff at Glenmore Lodge have been supplied with this kit for several seasons, and their input has gone into the design. The NG bit stands for Next Generation. The Point Five has been around for a while, and the latest version, Winter 14, includes some small but significant improvements as suggested by folks at the Lodge – a hood that better protects forehead and chin, and extra volume in the trousers. I started reviewing the previous models back in April 2014, then swapped to the updated jacket and trousers at the start of this winter season. Such are the perks of the job.
This fairly long-term test has given me the chance to wear the shell in a good range of conditions: spring thaw and warm drizzle; biting winter storms; even a few pinch-yourself days of calm dry cold. Whether hillwalking or winter climbing the jacket has always proved up to the job, and though it’s not perfect and I do have a couple of criticisms, my overall feelings on it are positive. I have to reserve judgement on the trousers however, for the simple reason that I’ve been unable to wear them. And not through want of trying. I’ll explain below.
My favourite thing about the Point Five NG jacket is the stuff it’s made of, Gore-Tex Pro. The latest version of this fabric hit the coat hangers for the winter 2013/14 season. It has been developed with climbers and mountaineers in mind, and Gore say it's their toughest fabric yet. This generation of Gore-Tex Pro is also very breathable – up to 28% more so than the previous generation of the fabric, according to lab tests. I’m told this has been achieved by leaving out the PU sheet typically used in multi-layer ePTFE membranes. While I don’t have a lab at my disposal, in use on the hill I have found it superbly breathable, keeping the clamminess factor at bay whether I’ve been hillwalking in the rain or working up a sweat on the sharp end (if not cutting edge) of a winter climb. A jacket’s overall design can have some bearing on how breathable it feels, and the Point Five’s pit zips clearly help in this regard.
On top of the Gore-Tex Pro membrane The North Face could have used a mix of heavier weight and lighter weight panels for areas of greater and lesser wear; instead they have opted for a 70D nylon face fabric throughout. As a tradeoff between durability and weight this seems a sensible compromise. For a full spec winter jacket the Point Five’s 463g (size L, my measure) is pretty easy on the pack, but despite its lightness I’ve yet to make a mark on the fabric.
For maximum freedom of movement and easy layering The Point Five jacket has a generous cut. In cold conditions I can wear several layers under the shell, including a synthetic duvet if necessary, without feeling restricted. The fit is not super-sculpted, but neither does it seem excessively baggy. If I were the sort of climber who could pull off funky moves then this jacket would be no barrier. There’s plenty of arm length, and a wide cuff that happily accommodates a bulky glove; a simple velcro tab gives a closer fit around the wrist when you want it. In foul wet conditions I’ve been thankful that the hem length is fairly generous, particularly over the bum where it comes down a little lower. The jacket fits neatly under a harness, but I've found it has a tendency to ride up when lifting my arms. It’s not a lack of length that’s to blame, but I suspect something in the cut of the shoulders and underarms. While it’s not a deal breaker, it is regrettable that I seem to be tucking it back in under my harness on every other belay.
Despite the input of Glenmore Lodge staff I fear this slightly lets the Point Five down. The roomy hood fits easily over a climbing helmet, and if you keep it zipped down to under-chin level then all is well. However when you’re lidded and fully zipped up then the hood won’t turn smoothly with your head, and looking up or side to side feels a little restricted. Remove your helmet and it all cinches snugly down onto the top of the head, yet around the sides of your neck there then appears a bulge of excess material to flap about annoyingly and look odd in photos. Something similar probably happens with all helmet-sized hoods, but it's particularly noticeable on the Point Five's. The broad laminated brim helps keep the hood structured in the wind, and acts as a visor against rain and spindrift. It works well on top of a helmet, but when you remove that then it has a tendency to flop forward over your eyes. This can be mitigated by adjusting the volume at the rear, but you do have to pull it in very tight. And still there’s that bonnet-like brim looming across the top of your field of vision. I think it’s just too big. On the plus side the new improved cut offers plenty of wind protection to your lower face, and a nice brushed chin guard inside. However, for me, the hood overall could be better.
The chunky front zip feels robust, and it’s backed with a full-length internal flap to act as a rain gutter. The zip pull is easily used with gloves, but there is only one zipper, so you can’t unzip from the hem for belaying or whatever. I’ve never felt the need to do this in any case.
Underarm ventilation is provided by lighter gauge water-resistant pit zips. These have two zippers apiece, and a good wide opening for maximum air flow. I am only a recent convert to pit zips, but I’ve found myself using these a lot to cut down on overheating while climbing or stomping uphill. The zips were a little stiff at first but seem to be limbering up in use now.
You get only two pockets for your money, but for me that’s plenty. These are positioned quite low on the body to come below any rucksack straps, but they’re still high enough to stay clear of a harness or rucksack hip belt. As with the underarms the zips are waterproof, and while they are not cavernous the pockets are big enough to hold an OS map or a pair of gloves.
Hood and hem toggles
It took me a while to locate the adjusters for the hem and hood elastic, all of which are squirrelled away inside pockets and seams to give the outside of the jacket a nice uncluttered finish. These concealed toggles are so small that I struggle to operate them with gloves (see comments below in pant section too); but when you’re being bullied about by the weather the last thing you want is to faff around bare handed. To tighten the hood elastic requires a really strong tug, but at least the wind isn’t likely to loosen the hood on your face in a headwind.
Sold separately from the jacket (also £280), but obviously making an ideal match for them, the Point Five NG Pants (trousers) are top-spec shell legwear in the same 70D weight of Gore-Tex Pro fabric. Features include a high waist, integral low-profile webbing belt, detachable stretchy braces, full length side zips, Schoeller anti-crampon kick patches, integral snow gaiter with lace hook (an addition suggested by Glenmore Lodge staff), and three small zipped pockets. I had intended this review to cover both items, but frankly I've struggled for a pair of trousers that fits me well enough to be used out on the hill. I am now on my second pair of the 'next generation' pants, the fourth pair overall, but though I've gone up a waist size from my normal not-so-svelte 34 I still find that the cut restricts my leg lift too much for climbing. The crotch seam hangs restrictively low, gangsta style, however high I pull the waist. At the same time, though there's plenty of volume elsewhere on the leg the fit seems too tight across the crotch and buttocks. Admittedly my hillwalker's legs are rather chunkier than the skinny pins of a stereotypical sport climber. Perhaps it's me then, and not the pants. I wish I could say more, but sadly my only useful input on the trousers is that you should try before you buy.
We spoke to the guys at The North Face about the design of the pants and they told us that: "we are aware of the issues on the rise of the pant and the cinchcord accessibility whilst wearing gloves and hope to see these improvements implemented into F16." And it seems they are really taking the UKC and general UK feedback seriously as after some further discussion they got back to us and added: "[we've been] in discussions with both Jon Jones at the Lodge and the US product development team on all of the comments made and it looks like there will changes made over the next few seasons." - which is great to hear.
Functional, lightish and fairly hard-wearing, the Point Five NG jacket is a good solid no frills shell for foul weather winter climbing and hillwalking. This jacket offers plenty of weather protection when you need it; but when you don't then it is packable and lightweight to carry. Its £280 price tag is pretty reasonable for a full blooded Gore-Tex Pro mountain shell, but the hood and general cut do have some room for improvement. The matching Point Five NG Pant is a fully featured mountain overtrouser - great if it fits you.
"This fully featured GORE-TEX® Pro Shell jacket is for peak-bagging alpinists who push the limits of possibility in the most demanding conditions"
Point Five NG Jacket
For more info see www.thenorthface.co.uk
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