Saturday, December 14, 2013

The North Face Winter Running Gear Review


December 10, 2013 run on the median along Commonwealth Ave. in ankle deep snow.

Introduction

The North Face was kind enough to send these Vagabond Runners some great running gear. We already reviewed the TNF Hyper-Track Guide trail shoe, which we loved. With temperatures dipping into the teens in Boston, we can finally provide a meaningful review of some of this gear. 

We think you might like this stuff.

Listen, this is a really lengthy review, so if you want to skip around, that's ok, just follow these links for the post:


The North Face Animagi Jacket

TNF Animagi pic from thenorthface.com


Before we describe our experiences with this jacket, this his what TNF has to say:

An endurance-runner favorite for thermal protection in cold conditions, this insulated performance jacket is updated for Fall 2013 with a new body-mapped construction. This ultralight hybrid design features ample PrimaLoft® Eco insulation at the core and stretch knit sleeves. Stretch knit panels are also placed across the collarbone and down the sides and center back for improved breathability and mobility. Thumb holes at the base of each sleeve provide greater coverage during forward-motion.

Jordan's Experience:

The Animagi is everything you need and nothing extra. As a prologue to this review it is important to mention that the Animagi is a running jacket before it is anything else. It can be worn as a casual jacket, but I don't recommend it and I'll explain why a little later in the post. For now however, let it suffice to say that this is a tool for running and as such it exceeded my expectations. I can say with some confidence that it will be staple in my winter running wardrobe this season.

Performance Wear

The tool that The North Face tried to create with this jacket is a light weight shell that will keep your core warm and minimize the impact of wind during a run. The Animagi takes a minimalist approach toward this goal and if you're reading this blog, chances are you have made a place for minimalism in your running experience. The nylon shell is present only in strategic places and is lined for warmth. It wraps around the body from the front zipper and creates a vest-like torso. While the arms are made of a separate polyester/elastin blend. The nylon stops shy of wrapping around the entire back of the jacket leaving a stripe down the back that is not "protected." Rather, the stripe down the back is the same polyester/elastin material that the arms are made of. At first I thought that would be a problem for temperature management, but my worries were soon assuaged. In fact after running in this jacket in a variety temperatures I think additional nylon would inhibit the performance of the jacket. If you've ever made a paper lantern or seen a hot air balloon you know there is a hole on top that lets out excess heat so that the structure can function as intended. The gap on the back, for me, functions very similarly so that I never overheat while running. I ran a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, which was the perfect testing environment for this jacket. The wind was blowing, the temps felt like 18˚F and I never once felt like I needed an additional layer all throughout the race or cool down miles. I was recently on a training run that started when the sun was up and temps in the low 40's and continued past sunset and a temperature drop to the mid 20's I was able to regulate my temperature by simply zipping or unzipping the jacket in increments. 

Vagabond Runner, Jordan, racing to a 5k PR in the Animgai

Casual Wear

The reason why this jacket is not my favorite for casual wear is the same reason why, continuing the above analogy, a hot air balloon doesn't function without a prodigious amount of heat. My body temperature needs to be good and elevated before the jacket can create a little atmosphere of warmth around me. Just walking around on cold day in Boston, this jacket doesn't do much for me. At the start of a run coming from indoors my temperature is already a little higher and by the time I warm up temperature is no big deal. 

The look of this jacket for causal wear is a little off. I feel a bit like Marty McFly in his "life preserver." The jacket isn't bulky but it does have its own shape, and while I don't think twice about during a run, it does feels a little awkward to me when I am simply out and about. Overall, I love how versatile this jacket is for a wide range of cool/cold weather situations and would recommend it to the runner who is always looking for the right tool for the job.

Joshua's Experience:

When I first took the Animagi out of the box, I was a bit skeptical. The PrimaLoft Eco in the front looked solid, but the stretch knit sleeves for the arms and along the middle of the back made me worry a bit. Generally speaking, I tend to avoid this concept because I am worried that I will get cold while I run, and it usually does not make for a great casual jacket. I have come to learn with running, though, that it is better to get gear that is specific for running instead of trying to to get something that is for both running and casual wear. It's a bit more expensive up front, but man… you will not be sorry. Let me explain.

TNF Animagi pic from TNF, note stretch knit fabric

Performance

Now that it is cold in Boston, I have worn this jacket a few times in cold, wet, snowy, and windy conditions. This jacket performed flawlessly. Jordan really described the jacket, so I'll just let you know how I feel about how it performs in adverse conditions. 

Rain and Snow

In a light rain or when the snow is coming down really hard, the jacket will get wet, but it does not seem to get through the PrimaLoft Eco core. After a run, it dries off by itself within two or so hours if it's really wet, and it's always dry by the time I put it on for my next run. The stretch knit arm sleeves seem to wick away the wetness pretty well, and my arms never got cold. 

Cold and Windy

The Animagi jacket is perfect in cold and windy conditions. I'll be honest, it takes a LOT to get me cold. So far, I've primarily worn the Animagi jacket for conditions slightly below 20 degrees. In these conditions, I'll usually just use the TNF GTD Long-Sleeve crew [review below] with the Animagi, and I'm more than fine. My chest and core remains warm, but I really think the stretch  knit sleeves and strip down the back really do a fantastic job thermoregulating. I NEVER got cold WHILE running!!! 

This makes me think: with a thick long-sleeve base layer, you can probably run in the Animagi in sub-zero temperature if the wind is not hurricane-like. 

Mild Weather

I'll wear the Animagi up to about 35, maybe 40, degrees if the weather is calm. This is a warm jacket, and I get really warm when I run.

Casual Wear

I've worn it to get groceries, but that's about it. This has a very athletic fit, and it's a running jacket, so it won't keep you warm while just walking slowly around town if the temperature dip bellows 20 or so. That's fine, though, since it's a running jacket.

Final Thoughts

I like the thumb holes a lot. I never thought I would like these, but it makes a huge different in keeping my hands warm. I've also noticed that if I use the thumb holes and put my gloves on after, my hands stay nice and toasty! There are few things I dislike more than cold hands while running! Also, the zipper and trim is pretty darn reflective. It helps me to glow out there, which is nice since the drivers in Boston do not always seem to pay attention…. Also, you will get cold in this jacket if you begin to walk or stop after running and sweating for a while due to the stretch knit sleeves. The key is to remain moving.


GTD Long-Sleeve Crew & Better Than Naked Short-Sleeve

GTD Long-Sleeve pic from thenorthface.com


This is what The North Face has to say about the GTD Long-Sleeve Crew:

For optimal comfort while trail running in variable spring conditions, turn to our lightweight long-sleeve running shirt. The updated design for 2013 features FlashDry™ technology to accelerate drying time and regulate body temperature. Body-mapped ventilation panels cool under the arms and around the torso. Long sleeves are finished with raglan seams to encourage freedom of movement.

This is what The North Face has to say about the Better Than Naked Short-Sleeve:

A light as a feather performance running shirt that's constructed without seams to discourage chafing. Wear this breathable short-sleeve shirt for optimum comfort on race day or on long-distance training runs. FlashDry™ technology accelerates drying time and regulates body temperature despite prolonged exposure to the elements. Two-tone burnout ventilation cools the areas where men sweat the most: under the arms, along the sides of the torso, and down the back
Better Thank Naked Shirt from thenorthface.com

Jordan's Experience:

The shirts provided were technical and fit nicely even on a larger frame such as mine. They feel very nice against the skin, prevent chaffing adequately and they certainly wicked moisture away from my body; although on warmer days or days on the treadmill they absorbed quite a lot of moisture. After an hour on the treadmill I would need to wring out the short sleeve shirt, though I'm not sure if that says more about me or the shirt. I love the long sleeve shirt for cooler weather. The only adjustment I would make would be to add a little more elastic material in the wrists. I like a long sleeve technical shirt to hug my wrists a little more. Both shirts look sharp.

GTD lond-sleeve back view, pic from thenorthface.com

Joshua's Experience:

I've decided to review both the GTD Long Sleeve Crew and Better Than Naked Short-Sleeve shirt together since they are very similar. The key feature that I love with both of these shirts is that they fit athletically over the body, but not too tightly, and they kind of just *disappear*, as it were. The FlashDry technology from TNF is no joke- these shirts do a good job drying throughout a hard run and immediately after.

Winter Running

I will use both the GTD Long Sleeve Crew and the Better Than Naked Short-Sleeve under the Animagi jacket (reviewed above). It feels like another layer of skin, but it provides enough warmth to keep me warm when it gets below 20 degrees without overheating. 

I've also run in just the GTD Long Sleeve crew at temps around 40s to 60s, too. It's very versatile!

From Snow Storm Nemo, Feb 9, 2013... I almost always run in shorts!

Summer Running

The Better Than Naked Short-Sleeve is perfect for warm-weather running and treadmill running, too. I really dislike when a shirt becomes so wet with sweat that it feels heavy! Not with the Better Than Naked Short-Sleeve!!! It feels attached to my body, and I love that. Also, I hang it up to dry post-run, and it's usually dry within an hour or so.

FAVORITE ASPECT

So, I will admit it, my nipples chaff pretty badly when I run. So much so, in fact, that I always use blister bandaids before runs. With the GTD Long Sleeve Crew and Better Than Naked Short Sleeve, I do NOT need to worry about chaffing. I haven't chaffed once in either of them, both running in warm conditions and cold conditions. LOVE IT!


Better Than Naked Shorts

Better Than Naked Short, pic from thenorthface.com

Here is what TNF has to say about these shorts:

Lightweight shorts designed for race-day performance or long-distance training runs where comfort is essential.FlashDry™ technology accelerates drying time and regulates body temperature despite prolonged exposure to the elements. A liner brief and seamless inner thigh construction reduces chafing. Body-mapped stretch panels provide an increased range of movement as you sail over roots and rocks. Easy access pockets include a secure pocket for small essentials like car keys and a rear pocket that's suitable for stashing energy gels.

Joshua's Experience

You may think all shorts are the same. Well, that is simply not true. I like the Better Than Naked Shorts because they have all of my favorite features and they are now my favorite running shorts to date. These shorts are very light, and they are more in the "short shorts" range, which is my favorite! As TNF says, these are perfect for both racing and longer distances. I really like the pockets, and I've held some gels in these, as well as my keys and some cash-- no feeling of my shorts about to fall down either from the weight. The reflective lining is really nice for night, too.
Perfect length, pic from thenorthface.com

But this is what I really love about these shorts: the liner brief and seamless inner thigh construction has resulted in ZERO chaffing on my upper, inner thighs (and I almost chaff in this area). Also, it is not tight around the waist, which is important to me because I have a sensitive GI that does not do well with tight shorts/pants.

I’ve also worn these shorts in sub-30 temps with some compression briefs underneath, and felt fairly comfortable, too.

Isotherm Windstopper Pants

Isotherm Windstopper Pants, pic from thenorthface.com

Here is what TNF has to say about these running pants:

Although your legs are pumping and driving you forward, your lower half still requires the cold-weather protection provided by weather-resistant running tights. Our Thermo 3D™ mapping delivers optimum temperature regulation in gender-specific thermal zones to keep you comfortable during long-distance winter runs. Windproof and water-resistant Gore Windstopper® panels are placed on the quads, knees, and inner calves for lightweight coverage from strong gusts of wind and moderate rainfall. Wicking FlashDry™ stretch knit panels are body-mapped at the front waistband, outer shins, and down the backs of the legs to manage moisture in the areas where men sweat the most. Rear easy-access pocket secures energy gels or car keys. Ankle zippers make it easy to step into these tights while wearing running shoes.

This is my first winter running in winter tights- I usually don’t like wearing pants whilst running, but wearing pants is helping to keep my shin-splints at bay as the temperature drops. They do not have a super tight, compression like fit, which I like. They are stick to the legs, it feels just a touch more loose than if you were to wear stereotypic running tights.

What I really love about these pants is that they are both windproof and water-resistant. Guys, you know what it feels like when your sensitive area becomes incredibly cold during a run—it is a TERRIBLE feeling. The windproof, water-resistant Gore Windstopper panels are placed in this area, as well as along the quads, knees, and inner calves. Seriously, these are the areas, at least for me, that I dislike when they get really cold.

TNF really takes thermoregulation to a new level. Do you want Gore Windstopper panels everywhere on a pair of running tights? No. To counter this, TNF put Wicking FlashDry stretch knit panels (think Animagi jacket above!) along the waistband, outer shins, and other areas where men tend to sweat a lot.
Fabric pattern from windstopper tights, pic from thenorthface.com

I have run in these pants down to about 15 degrees with just a pair of compression briefs underneath, and it was almost too warm for me!  These running tights will allow you to run in sub-zero temperatures for sure.

In terms of water-resistance, I ran in freezing ice-rain once, and they do a great job wicking away the drizzle and snow, which kept me dried.


Conclusion

Wow, where do we begin? The gear above can be a bit expensive, but we think the price is well-worth the functionality, especially concerning the Animagi jacket and Better Than Naked Shorts. The most important thing to remember concerning winter running is that “layering” is your best friend, as well as having running gear that is specifically designed for running. A lot of people think that the “technology” that goes into gear is just “fluff,” but nothing could be further form the truth. TNF did a great job with thermoregulating technology in all of the gear we reviewed, as well as providing windproof and water-resistant material in spots necessary, which provides a much more comfortable run in even the worst conditions.

Think about it this way, and I really want to emphasize the lesson that I have learned: if you do not train in it, then do not expect to train well in it. I have yet to run a race in ideal conditions. Furthermore, a gym membership is more expensive than buying some solid running gear. If you do not like the treadmill, then get some great TNF winter running gear.

Well done, The North Face, and we thank you for keeping us warm this winter while we shred trails and roads in non-ideal, cold, snowy conditions.

From a cool morning run, 40 degrees, wearing GTD long-sleeve crew and better than naked shorts


3 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, we love TNF at Vagabond Running! It's gotten us through a very cold Boston winter.

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