The North Face recently released their all new waterproof fabric technology called Futurelight. They did so with some pretty big claims; best in class breathability and full waterproof protection, in a comfortable and durable shell that could be thrown on and left on all day.
I recently headed out to Zermatt for a ski touring trip with local mountain guide and big mountain skier Sam Anthamatten. My aims: to keep up with him around his home resort, and to see how this all new fabric can handle charging around the Zermatt backcountry; both uphill and downhill.
So, how can The North Face make these claims and what separates this waterproof fabric from the rest of the pack? Well, that’ll be down to their clever use of a technique called Nanospinning.
Nanospinning is a membrane production technique that uses over 200,000 nozzles to spray and layer nano-sized fibres onto a surface, creating an extremely thin, waterproof – and most importantly – air permeable membrane that’s able to let air pass through it freely.
When I first took a look at the Summit Series version of Futurelight, I noticed the lack of pit zips on the L5 Shell Jacket. The mid-weight (Summit Series) and lightweight (Flight Series) fabrics have been built with enough breathability to negate the need for any extra underarm ventilation – saving weight and excess bulk.
This enhanced breathability is thanks to Nanospinning. By layering microscopic fibres on top of another, it creates a web of fibres with gaps between each fibre big enough to let air pass through it freely – giving the jacket full air permeability (rare for a waterproof membrane).
Although there are are an unfathomable amount of nano-sized holes in the membrane, these holes aren’t large enough to let water pass through – giving the membrane that full waterproof seal of approval – perfect for when the mountain is throwing all it’s got at you.
The North Face have built a good deal of stretch into Futurelight, meaning that the jacket will be able to move with you whilst touring, climbing or scrambling around the mountain. I certainly found this to be the case when testing the Summit Series L5 Jacket, where there was an evident amount of stretch built into the jacket, coupled with an unrestrictive cut.
Futurelight has been tested in some of the toughest conditions in the world by The North Face’s athlete team, from Everest to Aspen. The North Face are said to have clocked up to 400 continuous days of athlete testing whilst wearing the fabric, the most notable of which has to be the epic descent of the world’s fourth highest mountain in the world, Lhotse, made by American duo Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison.
“This is a seriously disruptive fabric that’s sure to cause a stir in the industry”
This fabric hasn’t just been tested out in some of the most inhospitable places in the world by some of the highest level athletes, however. The North Face have worked with Underwriter Labs, a third party testing company renowned for testing the likes of firefighter gear to put this new technology through the wringer.
This unique way of creating waterproof membranes allows The North Face to create five different weights of Futurelight fabric; ranging from the lightweight and extremely breathable Flight Series up to the durable, but less breathable Steep Series, with the mid-weight Summit Series sitting between the two.
So what does all of this mean in the real world? Well, you can expect to be able to throw on your Futurelight jacket at the start of the day, and leave it on throughout with few adjustments to your layers. It was this level of comfort that surprised me most whilst wearing Futurelight – gone are the days of needing to strip your noisy, stuffy and rigid shell layers before the ascent.
This level of comfort has previously only been achieved by soft shells – so it’s impressive to have this level of breathability and comfort in a waterproof fabric. Considering this is a waterproof fabric, this is a seriously disruptive fabric that’s sure to cause a stir in the industry – I’m sure it’s certainly pricked the ears of other fabric manufacturers. Keep your eyes peeled for Futurelight in stores, and watch as it gets rolled out in more and more products.