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The North Face Mercurial Jacket : Best of Snow

I was pretty excited to test the award-winning Mercurial jacket from The North Face, which has received rave reviews from around the globe. It's a reversible cold-weather layer that can handle just about any kind of weather, but it excels in environments when conditions change dramatically throughout the day.  

I've been using this jacket in the Colorado high country for the last month -- skiing, snow shoeing, winter hiking, and ice climbing. I love it. What's most impressive is how quickly I heat up when I put it on. I feel like I'm suddenly inside of a microwave. When the going gets hot and the mid-day sun gets intense, I can turn the jacket inside out and cool down.

The Mercurial has two very different sides. Its black side is plain ripstop nylon, while its silver side is made of a reflective fabric that's divided into numerous small square baffles. In between each square is some dead space, where, if the jacket is silver-side-in, the air can accumulate and insulate. (That's because the baffles wrap around my body and the space between them closes up).

I really notice this effect when I sit down and lean back while wearing the jacket, because the baffles compress and expel all the warm air into the inside of the jacket. But if I wear the jacket so the silver side is out, the space between the baffles will open up, and the jacket doesn't insulate as well. Also, the silver reflects way more heat from the sun, so the cooling effect is two-fold.  

In use, the technology really shines. Take a recent ice climbing trip, for example. While I was belaying, I had the black side out. The black soaked up the sun's rays, while the inner baffles insulated me really well. But hacking away at the ice heats me up pretty quickly, so I just turned the jacket inside out and kept at a constant temperature the whole day.

Other things I like: the compressibility of the jacket (it has its own stow pocket) thanks to the synthetic PrimaLoft insulation. It folds up pretty small, so I can just take it off if I want to and not worry about losing too much pack space. I also appreciated the DWR water repellant finish -- it sheds snow and ice and keeps me dry. At an average weight of less than 30 grams, the jacket has a huge warmth to weight ratio.

Bottom Line :  Incredible outer layer that's featherweight, compressible, and gives instant warmth.--N.W. (March '09) 

Price : $349 purchase now at

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When hiking or camping, always carry the "10 Essentials":

Extra clothing, extra food and water, lighter or water-proof matches and fire starter, map in waterproof envelope, compass, pocket knife, sunscreen and sunglasses, flashlight or headlamp, first aid kit, emergency shelter.

Source: Seattle Mountain Rescue and Seattle Mountaineers.