Ultralight Rain Jacket
The North Face Flight FutureLight Jacket
$300, 8.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL
When The North Face billed its Flight FutureLight Jacket as the most breathable rain shell the brand has ever brought to market, that naturally caused a stir in the outdoor industry—and made me eager to put it to the test. From spring into summer, I wore this light rain shell for missions ranging from trail running in rain showers and cool wind, to backpacking through thunderstorms with strong gusts, and even backcountry skiing in variable spring weather. And while it has some minor flaws, the Flight FutureLight Jacket demonstrates impressive breathability and a comfortable fit.
On a 12-mile, trail run-hike in my local foothills, running up a frequently steep trail on an exposed ridge in cold wind and brief snow flurries, then traversing and descending, the jacket cut the wind while breathing well enough that I didn’t overheat; in fact, in the last couple miles, I was back at a lower, warmer elevation where I could have stripped to my long-sleeve base layer top, but I kept the jacket on because it never got uncomfortably hot.
Similarly, wearing it while backpacking for hours at a time through episodes of intermittent rain showers and thunderstorms, strong gusts and a temp around 70° F on Nevada’s Ruby Crest Trail in July, the jacket breathed well enough that I never felt clammy: It didn’t allow much moisture to build up inside. I also wore it on spring days of backcountry skiing in weather that shifted from overcast with a cold wind, to a thunderstorm and snow squall, and then to warm sunshine; and while I sweated when skiing under the hot sun, the jacket allowed my base layer to dry out from my body heat.
TNF’s recipe is the nano-spinning process used to create the membrane. Thousands of very tiny nozzles spray a liquid PU onto a sheet, creating a thin layer of millions of microscopic fibers with spaces between them. Air can pass through those spaces, but water cannot. It’s similar to the highly breathable, proprietary AscentShell membrane from Outdoor Research, used in technical shells like OR’s Interstellar Jacket. Whereas the Interstellar works for virtually any mountain activity in four seasons, the Flight FutureLight Jacket is designed for less-abusive pursuits like trail running—and it may be more breathable.
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The standard fit allows space for one or two base layers underneath and feels quite comfortable. The adjustable hood has a low-profile brim that offers some face protection from rain, though not as much as a fully technical hood. The hood and hem adjust using drawcords, but they’re both finicky: The cords tend to loosen easily, illustrating that a shell this light does present compromises. The shell also packs into its back pocket down to about the size of a softball—easy to fit into a small hydration pack or running vest.
The soft, lightweight, stretchy, 20-denier fabric has a DWR (durable water-repellent finish) and is reasonably durable: While I did try out the jacket on backpacking trips that featured mostly good weather and just spells of rain showers, this shell is not designed for the hard use that a fully technical rain shell for the backcountry can withstand—the light fabric may tear with sustained wear under the straps of a backpack. But while the Flight FutureLight Jacket is a light shell primarily for trail runners, it can double as a “just in case” rain shell for dayhikers and lightweight backpackers who stick primarily to trails and generally avoid going out in forecasts of severe weather.
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THE NORTH FACE FLIGHT FUTURELIGHT JACKET
Light, waterproof, and quite breathable, The North Face Flight FutureLight Jacket arguably breaks new ground in the ongoing battle to fend off wind and precipitation without overheating. Ideal for trail running, it crosses over to lightweight dayhiking, and, with care, ultralight backpacking.
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See “The 5 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking,” “The Best Ultralight Hiking and Running Jackets” “5 Pro Tips For Buying the Right Rain Jacket For the Backcountry,” and all of my reviews of rain jackets and outdoor apparel and that I like at The Big Outside.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.
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12 thoughts on “Review: The North Face Flight FutureLight Jacket”
Hello! Thanks for the comprehensive review, good read.
I have a question about FutureLight which you have partly covered, but there’s still a concern. You explained well your views on durability, but that’s what brothers me. I have recently purchased similar TNF jacket which is Impendor FutureLight. It’s more expensive and allegedly targets hiking/camping audience. My concern is, and based on what you have written about durability of the membrane, is how applicable is it in real life when you have a solid backpack on your back? It all sounds controversial when there’s a jacket aimed to protect you from water and being too fragile to handle serious intended use at the same time. Do you think this material is any good for anything other than sports where no hard physical contact is intended?
Would be great to know your thoughts on this particular matter. Thanks and best regards!
I’m happy to clarify that point. As I wrote in the review: “While I did try out the jacket on backpacking trips that featured mostly good weather and just spells of rain showers, this shell is not designed for the hard use that a fully technical rain shell for the backcountry can withstand—the light fabric may tear with sustained wear under the straps of a backpack. But while the Flight FutureLight Jacket is a light shell primarily for trail runners, it can double as a ‘just in case’ rain shell for dayhikers and lightweight backpackers who stick primarily to trails and generally avoid going out in forecasts of severe weather.”
TNF does not market this shell primarily for backpacking. I consider it an adequate backup shell just in case of rain for backpackers who don’t often encounter rain. It could handle such sporadic use just fine, keep you dry, and add less weight and bulk to your pack. But if you want a rain shell built for regular wear while backpacking, I’d get a more durable one. See my picks for “The 5 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking.”
I hope that helps.
The impendor is 70D material as opposed to the 20D used in the Flight series so will be much more durable and long living. It’s made for mountaineering as opposed to running.
That’s true, Thomas.
Thank you for the review.
I am interested in this product
I am 6,1 ft m and 161 lbs, would you recommande size M or L ?
I’m 5’8″ and 155 pounds and I wear a medium jacket from probably every brand I’ve used jackets from. I don’t know whether the jacket and sleeve lengths of the medium would work for you. I suggest you consult TNF’s website’s size chart for jackets. Good luck.
Thank you for the information !
You’re certainly welcome.
Hi Michael, I’ve been eyeing this jacket since it came out. It appears to be a really nice jacket and the people I know that have tried it really like it (all for trail running). Just one question thought. Is it permanent DWR that doesn’t need to be re-applied or is this a (yet another) jacket that once it wets-out, the jacket is really never the same no matter how much you try to re-apply the dwr coating (wash in or spray). Thanks so much!
Thanks for the question, Jon. I’ve seen nothing that suggests this jacket’s DWR is substantially different from the DWR found on most waterproof-breathable shells; frankly, making those finishes more durable would involve an intensified use of chemicals that many outdoor companies are trying to move away from.
However, my experience is that a DWR will last for years if one simply takes reasonably good care of a shell. The causes of DWR wear and failure are pretty well-known: dirt, smoke, body oils. Don’t throw a shell on the ground, keep it away from campfires, and wear a good base layer under it and it will probably last until you tear it, the zipper fails, or you’re ready to replace it. I have shells I’ve owned for years that still have a functioning DWR and don’t wet out.
For the uses the FutureLight Jacket is intended, I think you’d be satisfied with it. I hope that’s helpful.
I read all these rave reviews when this jacket came out, but it didn´t take long before you could buy it at a reduced price. Today you can easily find it for 30% lower price. You never see something like Gore Wear jackets at a 30% discount. Makes me wonder if this jacket was not so successful.
Hi Stefan, your speculation may have some merit. I’ll offer a few other observations about it. This is a time of year when many retailers and brands are offer discounted pricing, both as season closeouts and as the holiday season approaches. Also, if the FutureLight Jacket does not generate large sales, it would not be the first time in 25 years reviewing gear that I’ve seen a good product just not attract popularity in the marketplace. It doesn’t always reflect on the product; consumers don’t always recognize the quality of something that’s breaking new ground. Sometimes a product is ahead of its time, too.
I suggest that if the reviews you read describe something that aligns with your needs, and it’s available at a discounted price, those are two good reasons to buy it. I hope that’s helpful to you.