Dressing right for aerobic activity in cold weather is a continual challenge. With its new Animagi Jacket, The North Face offers a hybrid option that insulates where needed but also breathes.
Horizontal panels and a high neck give the Animagi the look of a vest worn over a base-layer top. But those dark sleeves are connected to the puffy panels, providing full coverage on the arms (but only a hint of warmth).
Indeed, the sleeves and the side of the torso are a thin stretchy material that wind cuts through. But your core is protected with the PrimaLoft-stuffed front and back panels.
The system worked well in my tests, including runs and hour-long hikes in below-freezing temps. As my body worked up a sweat, the side panels of thin fabric on the torso provided breathability.
My core stayed comfortable and warm. And when I began to overheat, I pulled open the main zipper to ventilate in front.
There are thumb holes in the cuffs, letting you pull the sleeves up over the back of your hands for added warmth.
One gripe: The neck opening is somewhat large. On colder days, I had to wear a thin neck gaiter to fill in a gap where my body heat escaped from under my chin.
There are two hand pockets with zips. They are large enough to stow energy gels and an extra hat. But for training sessions--where I layer head and hand gear on and off during long runs--I missed bigger inside pockets for stowing a fleece hat and gloves.
The Animagi is not waterproof. But the company (thenorthface.com) includes a water-repellent coating on the face fabric to combat sleet and wet snow.
The jacket's fabric is quiet while moving. The jacket, which comes in men's and women's cuts, weighs less than a pound, making it nearly unnoticeable while on the move.
The Animagi is a specialized product. It is not made for standing around in the cold. However, it can serve as a layer under a shell jacket on extra cold days.
Overall, the Animagi Jacket is a solid performer. It fits well and is comfortable during activity. It breathed where needed and protected my core from wind in front.
At $149, the Animagi is a bargain. Most Nordic skiers and winter-loving runners will be happy with this smart new hybrid top.
--Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.