Gear Review

North Face High Point

North Face High Point Hat

My motivation in picking up The North Face's Windstopper™ fleece High Point hat was simple: the weather was awful and I was cold.

I'd been intrigued by the idea of a windstopper fleece hat for a while. High winds in January on high mountains tend to expose the limits of thin, open-weave hats very quickly. I figured a windproof hat would be perfect in such conditions—and I was interested to see if windstopper technology would be enough to keep the hat from getting too sweaty while climbing.

The basic design of the High Point is an over-the-ears cap with a draw cord to cinch the hat down, making it impossible for the wind to carry it away. This hat (and identical versions by other manufacturers) seems to be quite popular: it was featured, for example, as the hat of choice on Discovery Channel's the Alaska Experiment: Out of the Wild series.

I tested the hat, of all things, in fierce April weather—yes, April. How does sub-zero temperatures, sixty mile per hour winds, and 12,600' of elevation sound? It was certainly cold enough to give the High Point hat a good workout. As it turned out, I was surprised by the High Point hat in several respects. First of all, my warmest winter hat remains an old wool ski hat I got in Taos over a decade ago. Surprisingly, that old wool hat of mine outperformed the High Point in the one arena that you'd think would be a cinch for the newcomer: wind performance. How is that possible?

It turns out that the windstopper™ part of the High Point only includes the headband and ear flaps. The top of the hat is just plain old 300-weight Polartec fleece—and not Polartec's Windpro™, either. If the wind is really howling, you'll feel it through the top of the hat. The advantage of this, I suppose, is that your head will stay cooler when you're climbing. The disadvantage is obvious.

Another gripe: I never really got used to having windstopper fleece over my ears. The Windstopper laminate not only blocks wind, it also blocks sound, making your ears feel slightly stuffy. Since there is little to no stretch in the High Point's construction, the neck cord is not an option but mandatory in wind. I must say, I didn't particularly like having a draw cord sitting under my chin all the time, though this is no worse than a typical climbing helmet's strap.

The good news on the High Point is that it is reliably if not amazingly warm in most conditions. If you need a warm hat, you can count on the High Point to deliver mostly-adequate performance, as opposed to gambling on a random hat off the shelf. It's also quite light, at 2.7 ounces, for the warmth it delivers.

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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