Ultralight Rain Jacket
The North Face Flight FutureLight Jacket
$280, 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 hasa 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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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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