The North Face has gone all-in with its new breathable-waterproof technology, FUTURELIGHT. It hits the market with several products today. I joined a team of athletes up in the high country to dive deeper into this emerging jacket technology.
FUTURELIGHT. If you follow the outdoor apparel market, you know the name. The North Face put huge marketing resources into its proprietary waterproof-breathable material last year and made waves at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show, earning myriad awards for innovation.
That’s because the brand makes some big claims about the fabric, namely very high levels of breathability while maintaining waterproofness. Now, FUTURELIGHT is hitting the market. We got our hands on the new “nanospun” Flight FUTURELIGHT Jacket ($280) to see what all the fuss is about.
In short: While our testing is still limited, this may be the best waterproof-breathable running jacket yet. It weighs just 7.3 ounces (women’s small) yet provides a windproof, waterproof, breathable, and air-permeable shell that will shed precipitation.
(Editor’s note: This article previously listed an incorrect weight for the jacket, provided by the brand. We are working to clarify the discrepancy).
Its standout features are breathability and weight, which seem to outshine many competing products. It’s worth noting that TNF has been very tight-lipped about in-house testing. We asked for specific water column and breathability test results, and the brand said it will not disclose them.
But in makeshift tests with water, the membrane does an admirable job of staying dry inside when soaked (even with some pressure) on the outside. We’re optimistic about this one so far, and we’ll update this article once we’ve had a chance to run in it more in rain, snow, and sleet this fall.
FUTURELIGHT: Does It Work?
Back in April, GearJunkie’s own Stephen Regenold tested The North Face’s early FUTURELIGHT products (namely the Summit Series L5 LT jacket) in a snowy, backcountry skiing scenario. Last week, I tested a product on the opposite end of the spectrum: in warm fall weather.
The North Face hosted a group of us up in Rocky Mountain National Park to show its new products. Pulling into the park on the first day, it was 63 degrees and slightly breezy. It was gorgeous weather for a hike but not so great for testing a waterproof jacket.
We headed up past a crowded trailhead towards a lake, where Athans described some notable features of the landscape. (Athans has not only tested FUTURELIGHT products on Mt. Everest but also closer to home on Mt. Rainier.)
After a bit of uphill trail and some light scrambling, we stopped to take in the view of the landscape above Lake Haiyaha. It was a great opportunity to experience wearing the layer in windier weather. It provided plenty of protection and warmth in gusts of wind.
Over a couple of hours, our group hiked 6.2 miles at elevations ranging from 8,700 to 9,900 feet. I definitely sweated, but the jacket’s interior layer stayed dry. Overall, the FUTURELIGHT Flight jacket performed great, although I did shed it when the temp reached 70 degrees.
TNF Flight Jacket: A Real Waterproof-Breathable Layer for Runners
Later in the weekend, I tested the FUTUREIGHT Flight Jacket during a run. The jacket has a standard fit, although it’s slightly slimmer around the waist.
Running at about 80-percent max heart rate, I almost didn’t even notice the 7.3-ounce layer against my skin, and it was definitely more breathable than I expected during heavier exercise. And even though the Flight Jacket is ultralight, it still has an adjustable hood and hem. The adjustable hood is key in making the jacket windproof, and it cinches down nicely without blocking your peripheral view.
While there aren’t any zippered hand pockets, the layer does have an interesting stow pocket located on the lower back panel of the jacket, which leaves room for a couple of energy gels or a light wallet. The jacket is also stowable inside this pocket, which makes it perfect to carry in a small-capacity running vest.
The North Face didn’t release the results from the third-party waterproof testing, but we poured and ran water onto the fabric to test the brand’s claim. The membrane held up well, and my arm inside the jacket stayed dry, despite trying to push water through the three-layer fabric.
In terms of running layers, TNF Flight Jacket competes with the Arc’teryx Norvan SL as an ultralight, waterproof-breathable layer. However, the Flight Jacket feels slightly more breathable and weighs one ounce less. It also seems more durable. The Norvan SL, which uses a permanent beading surface, is fairly fragile and shouldn’t be worn under a pack for extended periods.
Final Notes on FUTURELIGHT Technology
In my admittedly minimal testing, this jacket shined. The air-permability and breathability are excellent for aerobic pursuits.
And while its level of waterproofness is still not clear, it will definitely stand up to rain better than most “water-resistant” ultralight running jackets.
Those tend to rely on a DWR treatment to bead water but soak through pretty quickly in a steady rain. Thanks to the FUTURELIGHT membrane, I don’t think this jacket will soak through even in continuous rain.
Beyond its functionality, FUTURELIGHT has an intriguing sustainability background. “It’s also cool to note that the new items in the Summit, Steep, and Flight Series have 100-percent-recycled materials (with the exception of elastane),” Laura Akita, product manager for The North Face Outerwear, told GearJunkie.
A variety of pro athletes — including UMTB winner Pau Capell and climber Hilaree Nelson — tested the new technology. And the outerwear was tested in all sorts of climates: the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and abroad, including on Nepal’s Lhotse and Mt. Everest.
The North Face will start by unveiling 22 fall 2019 FUTRELIGHT products, and a dozen more in spring 2020.
As for the brand’s claim that FUTURELIGHT is now the most advanced waterproof-breathable technology in the world? It seems promising, but we’ll have to wait and see how it washes out after broader consumer use.