This review is directed at the 2011 Plasma Thermal Jacket. I'll get the negatives out of the way first...
The zippers and zipper cord are terrible. It's what I would expect to see on extremely low-quality jackets costing a fraction of what this jacket costs. The lanyards / cords attached to the zippers are all very thin. Given the fact that this jacket has so many zippers and zipper cords, I'm shocked and very annoyed that TNF didn't use better quality, thicker, classier zippers and zipper cords. The official pictures TNF released is not what the zippers and zipper cords actually look like on the 2011 Plasma Thermal. I wish the zipper cords actually looked like they do in the photos (thick, black, with a red grip). Only the main zipper cord that runs up and down the middle of the jacket has a grip on it. Too bad it's still the same thin zipper cord like all the other cords.
Speaking of zippers, it seems that TNF finally fixed the zipper issue I've read so much about with previous Plasma Thermal models. I haven't had any problems zipping up or down.
The logos are no longer stitched onto the jacket like previous versions of this jacket. ALL logos are now laminated onto the jacket. I'm guessing TNF did this to save a bit of money on production cost and to make their 2011 Summit Series lineup fully waterproof by getting rid of all sewn-on logos. Stitched logos can get wet and seep through the jacket if it's not sealed-off inside. In my opinion, I think this is a bad change. Decals will never last as long as stitched logos, even if the reflective and waterproof qualities are better. I wonder how many washes this jacket can go through before the logos start pealing off. Although I must say, it looks like they did a good job sealing the new logos onto the jacket.
The hood is detachable, which is a major plus on this jacket. It's actually one of the major reasons why I purchased this jacket in the first place. However, the top flap that goes over the back of the neck area has no zipper or Velcro to attach it to the jacket. The neck area of the jacket is sealed, but the (top) flap isn't. It would have been nice to have Velcro underneath the (top) flap, so that the flap can't ride up and ruin the seal on the back of the neck when wearing this jacket hood-less.
My last minor complaint with the Plasma Thermal is that the bungee cord which seals off the bottom area of the jacket, is no longer inside the bottom of the jacket. It's now inside the 2 hand pockets. You have to press on hidden "latches" on the sides of the bottom button, then pull on the bungee cords inside the hand pockets to tighten the bottom of the jacket. The bungee cords are long and get in the way of the anything you have in your hand pockets, including your hands. It also protrudes out of the pocket if you want to tighten the waist a lot. This may not be a big deal for some people, but to me, it's annoying having the cord inside the hand pockets. TNF probably made this change so that people don't have to mess around and let heat escape from under their jacket when trying to adjust the seal.
Now that I got all of my gripes out of the way, let me talk about the pros of this jacket...
First of all, the jacket looks very sharp and sleek (I bought the all black version). I am 5"11' (180 cm), roughly 190 lbs., and have a medium, slightly slim build. The Large Plasma Thermal fits me well. This jacket is extremely lightweight and thin. So much so, one might think it won't be able to keep you warm enough in frigid weather. Thankfully, The North Face didn't cut corners on materials of the actual jacket... only the zippers and cords. The seams are well-sewn and fully seals the jacket against water, wind, and cold air. Everything feels very smooth and comfortable. You can easily store this jacket anywhere and stuff it into a backpack or relatively small box if need be.
PrimaLoft One has great insulation properties. It's very breathable and lightweight. I wasn't sure it would keep me warm at first, but then I tested it by going outside in slightly below freezing temperatures including high wind gust, with just a t-shirt on inside and felt fine. Not that I recommend going outside without a mid-layer in below freezing temperatures for prolonged periods, but it goes to show how much insulation this jacket has.
The pit vents work well. They run very long under both arms. Each arm has 2 zippers (and crappy cords) that goes both ways, up and down, so you can vent from different locations under each arm if you wanted to. A very nice feature.
The HyVent Alpha outer shell is definitely waterproof. I tested it in a harsh rainstorm one time and it held up great. The water beads up and runs off easily. Because the jacket is so thin, lightweight, and breathable, it can double as a rain jacket, on top of being a great winter / mountain climbing jacket. I do have to mention, the outer shell tends to get dirty and scuffed easily (at least with the black jacket). But a quick wipe with something wet usually takes care of that problem.
All in all, I'm very happy with the Plasma Thermal. It's a great jacket that keeps you warm, dry, and not bogged down. I'm just disappointed The North Face decided to use cheap zippers and extremely cheap zipper cords, along with sealed-on logos instead of stitched-on logos (some people might consider this an upgrade). TNF should at least sell higher quality replacement zipper cords so we can switch out the thin, cheapo cords.
Make sure to check out all of the photos I've uploaded.