The North Face Freethinker Futurelight Jacket

Climbing and Ski Touring have been in a process of rapid evolution in the past fifty or more years. New demands have evolved new equipment, and new equipment has evolved new techniques. Front points on crampons, ice tools, leashless tools, pin bindings, carbon skis, ski mountaineering races, skins that actually stick!

These were major drivers of change in what we do. They allowed the way folks recreate in the mountain to evolve in the direction of faster and lighter as everything became easier to use and easier to carry. Clothing and fabrics were no exception. Often a little more under the radar but a gradual evolution none the less. Gore-Tex in our waterproofs, Schoeller softshell, synthetic fill development, silicon treated down fills have all changed what we wear and how we wear it.

AC Guide Mark Austin puts the North Face Futurelight Freethinker Jacket through it's paces in the shower!!

This year I’ve had the chance to try out the The North Face Freethinker Futurelight jacket. TNF say: “For the first time ever, we’ve added air permeability to a waterproof membrane. The nano structure of the FUTURELIGHT™ membrane allows air to pass through for better venting and breathability without sacrificing waterproofness and durability.” 

That’s a big call to make. Taking a waterproof jacket and giving venting through the structure of the jacket sounds a little contradictory at the least! However, after a season of guiding I can say they have actually done what they said they’d do. So far, it’s been waterproof and breathable. But everything’s breathable right? The North Face have some good videos on their website and there are some independent tests you can find if you want to delve into the details.

What I know is that in a strong wind (and we get plenty in the New Zealand mountains!) I can feel a little of the air pass through and I sweat less walking uphill—and it’s waterproof. Essentially, The North Face have managed to combine the advantages of softshell with those of Gore-Tex.

The Freethinker is designed as a light freeride and alpine jacket. It has a sister jacket for the ladies and a lighter full alpine version SUMMIT L5 LT for the weight obsessed among us. I like the Freethinker. While it’s featured, it’s still as light as my older, light waterproofs. The pockets are generous for big gloves, the hood easily fits over helmets, there’s a chest pocket for the phone (unless your avalanche beacon is there!), the arms are long enough, and it fits both under my harness and over my generous frame! I’ve paired it with a light fleece that is not softshell and therefore ultra-breathable, and I use the jacket if it’s windy without the fleece compromising the breathability of the jacket. It’s worked well in summer and it looks like I’ll have plenty of time for ski touring this winter and will be popping it in my pack every day.

A group of ski mountaineers put The North Face Futurelight Freethinker jacket to test in the New Zealand mountains.

There’s always one thing to improve… there’s a hook for jacket-to-pant integration. It connects to the Futurelight pants to keep them from falling down. Normally that’s a positive and depending on what you’re using them for you may love it. It’s light and functional. Unfortunately, it digs in when carrying a heavy pack. You can remove it in about three minutes without any compromise of function. A Velcro tab could be stitched into the waist gusset for those Tim Tailor gear modifiers out there.

Futurelight is not going to change the world like front points, but it has changed the way I use my jacket. It’s a winner and worth seriously looking at if you are hunting for any waterproofs.

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The North Face Freethinker Futurelight Jacket in action as a ski mountaineering option.