I'm slowly coming to grips with the fact that I have an obsession with waterproof clothes. I have two Nike Gore-Tex ponchos, two Nike Gore-Tex jackets, one terrible Adidas trench, a Uniqlo trench, and a vintage Land's End Gore-Tex jacket. I'm hoping that's all of them, but it may not be.
I thought I was good, that I had every type of waterproof garment one could ever need, but then in fall of 2019 The North Face announced Futurelight, a new waterproof technical fabric that, on paper at least, seemed to be better than Gore-Tex in pretty much every way. The big, standout feature is breathability. You see, many of the waterproof jackets you can pick up at Uniqlo for $100-150 aren't breathable at all; they're just sealed fabric. A few hours in one of these will have you soaked from your own sweat, completely defeating the purpose of a waterproof jacket in the first place.
For the longest time (more than 50 years!) Gore-Tex has been the king of breathable waterproofing. It's basically a membrane with tiny perforations that are too small for water to pass through, but big enough that some of the air inside can escape. I can tell you from experience, though, that while Gore-Tex is a huge improvement over cheap, sealed fabrics, it's still pretty darn hot to wear. So you can imagine that I was extremely excited to test The North Face's claims of vastly improved breathability in real life.
The only issue was that The North Face's first round of Futurelight outerwear was too expensive even for an obsessive like me. Most of the jackets were priced in the $450-650 range, and if you wanted the Futurelight pants to match, those would put you at close to $1,000. I love the outdoors, but there's no way I could justify that. But over the course of this year The North Face (TNF) started releasing other, cheaper variants of their Futurelight jackets and introduced other Futurelight products like hats and shoes. Finally, with so many rainstorms happening in New York this summer, I decided torture my wallet and go all-in on Futurelight.
I ended up going with the matching Seven Summits series jacket and pants for a couple of reasons. Ultralight hikers will scoff at the jacket's 500 gram weight, but it's still on the lighter side as far as waterproof shells go. The Seven Summits pants are clutch because they zip off into shorts, meaning that I can hike with them that way and add the legs back if it starts to rain pretty hard.
The jacket, for its part, conforms to TNF's "retro" or "classic" design with the block shoulders, and I think it's a timeless design that ages pretty well considering the company's body of work. If we're really picking nits, though, my biggest criticism of the jacket is that the velcro on the wrists is a bit too thin and that there aren't any interior pockets. Some people on TNF's website complained that the breast pockets are too shallow, but unless you've got a gigantic phone or wallet I don't really see this as a problem. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the jacket fit me overall, which is a good thing because alterations are probably out of the question given how niche this fabric is.
Enough about the cut, though, let's talk about performance. As shown in the video above, I wore the entire Futurelight ensemble in a tropical storm with torrential rain. The clip is only a few seconds long, but we were out there for 45 minutes to an hour and the jacket stayed perfectly waterproof even in spots where the outer layer had started to saturate. Not content with that test, I also hopped in the shower to really give the clothes an extended test under even higher water pressure. The results? Still completely dry.
Second, and arguably most important, is breathability. There are technical measurements of breathability out there, but many companies aren't terribly interested in giving customers a single datapoint to cross-shop their products, so we have to make due with anecdotal data. In my experience the Seven Summits jacket is quite a bit more breathable and comfortable than my Nike Gore-Tex products, though I should stress that we're still talking about a waterproof jacket. For as good as Futurelight is, it still won't be as breathable as other outerwear categories like windproof jackets. But still, it's a definite upgrade.
The thing about breathable waterproof fabric is that it will, eventually, wet out, and I'm sure that's the case with Futurelight as well. In this Outdoor Gearlab review of a Futurelight tent you can see that the roof has wetted out, and that's definitely a problem (what the heck, TNF?), but all of this depends on your use case. If you're expecting to be in some kind of Death Stranding scenario where you're walking out in the rain for an entire day, you'll probably need a sealed fabric like you might find in a wader. But for passing showers on a hike (even strong ones), these jackets will keep you dry.
Now on to the price; it's really all about context. People who aren't familiar with how much real outdoor gear costs are usually sticker shocked. After all, a serious-business Gore-Tex shell, especially from high-end brands like Arc'teryx, will run you between $300 and $500. Right now you can get TNF's Dryzzle Futurelight jacket for $229, and that's actually a pretty good deal. That's actually TNF's whole thing: yes the company's stuff is expensive, but when you compare its prices to more boutique brands, the pricing is actually very competitive. Now if only it could bring down the price of its Futurelight tent, then I'd really have no choice but to stan.