The North Face Summit Series uses a bevy of technologies that emphasize breathability and warmth during heart-pumping efforts. Used together, they could change your winter layering strategy.
Cold weather aerobic pursuits test the limits of gear designed to keep you warm and dry. The North Face Summit Series has new apparel with new approaches to overcoming those limits for a more comfortable year in the wild.
We’ll present an overview of the traditional layering philosophy and how recent innovations have shaken up the norm. We’ll also look at some key apparel pieces from The North Face that showcase the brand’s new tech and see how they can work as a layering system for cold-weather use.
How to Layer for Winter
The general philosophy for winter layering is to create an apparel kit or system, where every piece works in tandem, such that the wearer stays comfortable across a wide range of temperatures, and dry as the weather changes.
Proper layering will allow you to have what you need for the most inclement weather, and pare down appropriately as you need — say, as your core temp rises with high-output activity. For example, skinning up, you’ll be making much of your own warmth, so you can stick with a baselayer and keep other layers packed. But once you’ve reached the summit and cooled off a bit, you’ll want to add a wind-protective shell — and maybe an insulating midlayer — for the chilly decent.
Choosing your cold-weather layers will take time to learn if you’re new to them.
The weather forecast is an important first step, but only one factor. Conditions on a mountain ascent can take you from shady wooded areas to long bouts of exposure to sun and wind. You need to dress for all of those conditions, and then some.
Beyond the weather, you should have an idea of how an activity will tax your body. Do you typically run hot or cold? Do you sweat a lot? Will this be a casual trail hike through the woods or a hands-on-knees lung-buster at altitude?
Understanding the basics of layering is a key component in staying comfortable — and safe — during winter adventures. In short, there are three layers that try to keep you dry and warm through different functions. We’ll go over some layering examples below, but here are the keys to understand:
Also called next-to-skin layers, these close-fitting garments retain some body heat while wicking away sweat. Active users should prioritize wicking and let the midlayers do most of the insulating.
Staying dry is of primary importance when choosing layers. If sweat starts pooling, your body will start cooling, which works against the insulating layers. Your baselayer will provide a nominal measure of insulation, but the right layer can do wonders for moisture management, which is the bedrock of entire layering system.
Insulation layers can emphasize breathability (active insulation) or warmth (static insulation). This category has the widest range of options.
Lighter insulation, like a grid fleece, traps warmth while allowing body heat (and moisture) to escape through the channels of the grid. Down or synthetic insulation stuffed into baffles will trap body heat for greater warmth.
The development of active insulation midlayers has shaken up this category in recent years. Jackets built with exposed insulation can make it lighter and breathable for use in high-output activities. And they include a light breathable shell fabric to protect against light rain or snow. Such jackets allow the user to enjoy a greater range of temperature before they need to dump heat or add another layer.
For hikes and moderate skiing in dry conditions, you may choose to wear a breathable, active midlayer with moderate insulation, and stash a wind or rain shell in a pocket. For slower efforts at altitudes that will lead to exposure and downtime, consider a similar setup for the way up and a heavy down puffy with wind and weather repellency for maximum warmth.
Shell layers protect from the elements (and keep insulating layers dry). A softshell wind layer in the summer won’t protect against rain, but will allow perspiration to escape. A waterproof hardshell comes with varied breathability performance for use in rain, snow, and windy conditions.
If you’ve combined more modern layers with older ones, you may have found yourself limited by the outdated apparel. Wearing a new, more technical base layer that wicks moisture away from your body into a not-so-breathable puffy will likely leave the jacket soaked in no time — and have you cooling off soon thereafter.
Instead, an outer layer imbued with the latest in materials science will perform across a greater range of temperatures. And it can help you adapt to the changing climate without the necessity of changing layers.
As long as it’s wicking and warming, you get a little more wiggle room on when it’s time to stop and dump heat or layer up.
The North Face Summit Series: Built for Layering
The North Face Summit Series is made with big mountain efforts in mind and packed in its new performance innovations to add warmth and drop weight. Those benefits are perhaps most felt while mountaineering or climbing, but backcountry skiers or anyone else getting after it in the winter can enjoy the tech, too.
It’s what athletes Jim Morrison and Hilaree Nelson wore on their first descent of the Lhotse couloir. Summit Series apparel went with Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, Alex Honnold, and the rest of the Queen Maud Land expedition team to Antarctica as well.
And our editors came away impressed with the Summit Series Advanced Mountain Kit.
Designed as a layering system, the Summit Series manages heat, moisture, and modularity during high-output activities.
A good cold-weather kit should keep you dry from the weather on the outside, but also dry on the inside by allowing perspiration to escape. There are a few different kit combinations to achieve this, depending on the intended activity, and may look like the following suggestions.
These layers prioritize moving moisture from the body. High-output adventurers may choose a DotKnit base layer under a midlayer, or use a heavier Futurefleece layer as a base layer in colder conditions. For lower-output activities in the cold, DotKnit and Futurefleece can be paired for a mix of moisture-wicking warmth.
DotKnit: These base layers place an emphasis on moving sweat away from the body and drying faster. The DotKnit construction uses a mix of hydrophobic and hydrophilic yarns to pull moisture away from the body and push it out through engineered “dot” ports in the textile
The North Face says this unique base layer tech outperforms those using solely traditional synthetics or wool. Those materials can trap and pull moisture into the garment rather than dispersing it for faster drying. When a base layer holds moisture, it can create a cooling effect next to the skin.
The North Face offers midlayers to meet different user preferences and more dynamic levels of exertion. The right midlayer (or lack thereof) lets users determine the range of warmth they want.
FutureFleece: A warmth-to-weight innovation for next-to-skin performance. TNF’s take on a standard grid fleece using Octa yarns, which have hollow sections to hold warmth. The lighter garment also uses a full-loop construction for a softer feel against the skin.
The North Face recommends it as a heavyweight base layer or a light midlayer for use with a lighter jacket.
Ventrix: This tech debuted in 2017 and continues in several cold-weather jackets for its ability to work with a wide range of temperatures and move with the user in motion. The outer shell fabric and liner aim for breathability to prevent becoming a barrier to moisture released by the unique “vented” stretch insulation. When a Ventrix jacket is flexed from walking or skiing, the vertical and horizontal openings in the stretch insulation open wider and vent moisture faster.
Cloud Down: More warmth, less bulk. The North Face uses a new “discontinuous baffle” construction with 800-fill ProDown that results in a greater down fill weight from less material. The brand says the new garments will weigh 20% less, while also adding roughly 20% in down weight.
Futurelight: The brand’s most advanced breathable-waterproof technology puts an emphasis on venting and breathability while on the move. An active midlayer beneath it should be the main insulator.
50/50 Down: This down insulation is constructed in a new way to emphasize breathability during aerobic use. Each down-filled baffle is sewn individually to a breathable face fabric and spaced out to allow room between them.
When worn, those should be compressed closer together yet allow for airflow in between when the jacket is flexed. This construction also prevents the down from shifting or leaking out and avoids the use of down-proof materials that then block the down’s breathability.
The outer jackets are less nuanced but differ in the range of insulation and expected output. The Summit Down Hoodie prioritizes warmth over weight during slower, colder activities. The L3 50-50 Down Hoodie or L3 Ventrix jackets are both fits for high-output use, but allow the user to choose between down or synthetic insulation for their activities.
Below you’ll find a few mission-specific examples of how Summit Series layers can be worn as a system.
Summit for Mountaineering
Base: The DotKnit base leverages double-knit yarns and holes in its face fabric to create space in the fabric for moisture to move away from the body. The construction has raglan sleeves, underarm gussets for mobility, as well as minimized seams with overlocked stitching for reinforcement.
Mid: The Summit L2 Futurefleece Full-Zip Hoodie is a slim-fit full-zip hoodie using the brand’s Futurefleece fabric for a lighter and warmer midlayer. The fleece interior uses full-loop construction with yarns that can retain heat. The idea is to get the most warmth from the least material.
The shoulders are seamless to avoid stacking seams through layers and chafing under a backpack. Lastly, a concealed-zip chest pocket holds an internal pouch.
Outer: The L5 Futurelight Bib and Summit L5 Futurelight Jacket are waterproof and windproof shells that emphasize breathability. The fabric is soft so your ascents aren’t tainted by a series of swishing sounds.
To top it all off, Summit L6 Cloud Down Parka is stuffed with 800-fill ProDown in the offset Cloud Down baffle construction for warmth without all the bulk. This is the outermost layer and one you likely won’t think of shedding until you’re well into a descent.
Summit for Alpine Climbing
Base: With sedentary time likely, climbers may prefer to use the heavier Summit L2 Futurefleece Full-Zip Hoodie next to the skin to keep their core warm.
Mid: Depending on conditions, alpine climbers with a heavier base layer may choose the waterproof-breathable Summit L5 Futurelight Jacket as a light protective shell during climbs.
Outer: Again, the L5 Futurelight Bib is a waterproof/windproof shell that emphasizes breathability. The fabric is soft so your ascents aren’t tainted by a series of swishing sounds.
Off the ice wall, athletes will throw on the Summit L6 Cloud Down Parka to stay warm.
Summit for Yourself
Even if you’re not heading to the windiest or snowiest heights this winter, these layers can allow greater flexibility in how you fend off the cold. Even modest efforts will crank out sweat that needs to escape — ideally without you losing body heat.
Start with one layer. See if it does more to keep you dry and warm, and then you can dial back the rest of your layering system. From there, you might want to pick up more Summit Series layers for the full effect.
Spending a little bit more on a jacket that can perform through a wider range of activities is still more affordable than a jacket for every occasion. (And it takes up less closet space.)