Review: The North Face Bolt Polartec Jacket

A light, breathable, stretchy and versatile midlayer that is suitable for a variety of activities

Feature type Review

Read time 4 mins

Published Sep 19, 2023

Author Mark Bullock

Mark Bullock Mark is a passionate climber, whose dream days are spent soloing easy routes in the big hills, dashing down at last light for pizza. He’s a writer, qualified Mountain Leader & Climbing Instructor, and has even won a few photography awards.

OUR VERDICT

A light, breathable, stretchy midlayer that is suitable for a wide variety of activities.

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Features 125 GM² Polyester/Elastane knit, breathable, lightweight, elasticated hems, Polartec® insulation

Pros

  • Polartec® fabric is stretchy giving tremendous freedom of movement
  • Micro-grid backer and high loft fibres allow for surprising warmth for such a thin, light fabric, but breathability prevents overheating
  • Spacious zipped hand pockets
  • Thumb loops and long sleeves add comfort and wide range of motion

Cons

  • It’s really hard to think of one! Erm… I don’t really like the aesthetic of black patches on the shoulders

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR

If you’re in the market for a micro-fleece, and let’s be honest, everyone needs this piece in their outdoor gear arsenal; then the Bolt Polartec® jacket would be a really great choice. You essentially want a layer that’ll keep you warm, but not too warm. Something you hardly notice you have on. Something that you’ll wear for most of the time and use across a wide array of activities. The micro-fleece is a bit of an un-glamorous overlooked jacket. Everyone has one (maybe several), every brand makes one (maybe dozens!), however it does fulfil quite an important role in your layering system and as such, it’s important to get it right.

You essentially want a layer that’ll keep you warm, but not too warm

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

My only negative comment about this jacket is the styling, I don’t particularly like the black shoulders/upper arms and would prefer if to be all one colour. But after trying this on, the jacket is light, warm, and super comfy. It feels nicely made, and engineered, the sleeves and thumb holes are good, it fits well, and the stretchiness doesn’t inhibit movement at all.

THE TEST

I used the jacket for a day trad climbing, on the classic Hard Rock route ‘Moonraker’. Situated on The Old Redoubt at Berry Head, the route can be a shady, intimidating place that is above the sea, and next to The Great Cave. It’s atmospheric and committing. 

Conditions were good, circa 16 celcius, 10-15mph winds, some cloud cover, and a calm sea. There was a breeze but not enough to make me take a wind shirt with me. I’d have been too chilly in a t-shirt though. We were on the cliff, including a multi-pitch abseil approach, for 5 hours.

WHO IS THIS ITEM FOR?

I think this jacket is for a wide variety of outdoor practitioners. The North Face say it’s for hiking, and it would perform well for that. I used it climbing and again it was a perfect layer. No reason why you couldn’t use it for lots of outdoor activities and still be totally happy with its performance.

WHAT STANDS OUT?

Freedom of movement

I think the best elements of this jacket are its stretch fabric. It really is nice to wear, soft, light, and supple so that you can move freely and never feel encumbered.

Warmth to weight ratio

Part of that freedom of movement comes from the thinness and lightness of the fabric, which is still surprisingly warm. That warmth comes from the micro-grid style inside of the fabric, with high loft fibres that trap warmth.

Fit and functionality

I also really liked the longer cut sleeves, and the thumb holes (I used these when standing around on belays, but not when climbing).

you can move freely and never feel encumbered

VALUE FOR MONEY

£100 RRP feels a lot to me for a micro-fleece, so maybe look to get one in a sale. However, maybe I’m just getting old as this is kind of the going rate for a ‘technical’ fleece these days, and to be fair to The North Face, this is a good example of the type. It is admittedly very good at what it is designed for.

BASE BOTTOM LINE

The jacket was slightly unappealing to me in its aesthetics on first look. This is just a personal preference of course, I didn’t really like the styling of the black panels across the shoulders and upper arms. But once wearing it, I was won over. It feels really light and thin and stretchy, but is warm and cosy. When climbing in it I didn’t overheat or get sweaty (the stress of avoiding territorial fulmars that projectile vomit at you was enough to get me a bit clammy!), and on belays when standing still and waiting, the longer sleeves and full length zip, and thumb holes, were enough to just ‘batten down the hatches’ slightly to keep me warm. 

I never noticed the jacket while climbing, totally unencumbered freedom of movement no matter how gymnastic the climbing moves felt (not that gymnastic truth be told). 

This is the sort of jacket you’ll wear all year long, in all but the extremes of summer and winter. Actually even in the extremes of winter, coupled with a hardshell and warm base layer and keeping moving, it would still be a great part of a layering system. If I haven’t already said it before (I have), this is a brilliant fabric, allied to a functional design that really achieves what it set out to.

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