Ultralight Wind Shell
The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket
$250, 5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-L
Biting winds hit us on the 1,400-foot, third-class scramble up 10,651-foot Snowyside Peak, roughly halfway through an 8.5-hour, 20-mile, 4,500-foot, mid-September trail run-hike of the Alice-Toxaway Loop in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. So I zipped this ultralight shell up tight and yanked the hood over my head, and got what I needed from it right then: a shield from the wind, to keep me warm.
I also wore it in temperatures in the low 40s Fahrenheit for the first couple of hours that day, mostly running uphill, and for a long stretch on the downhill side of our loop that afternoon, when the temp topped out around 50. And it was equally ideal when I dayhiked to waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of western North Carolina, on a mid-October day of light rain and temps in the 50s. Those situations spotlight the strengths of The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket, an ultralight shell made for runners that transitions over to long dayhikes when you’re trying to travel light.
Unique to the Fuse Jacket’s design are perforated strips built into the 2.5-layer membrane, running down the back, sides, and underarms. These are not holes in the jacket fabric itself—so you don’t have wind whipping through it. Hold the jacket up to light and you can see the fabric is thinner where perforated. While the DryVent fabric breathes moderately well, sheds light rain, and cuts wind as well as any ultralight wind shell, the perforation allows air to pass through the fabric more easily. The Fuse got only a little clammy when I started heating up with temps in the 50s.
I also carried it on an 80-mile, five-day backpacking trip in the North Cascades National Park Complex in the last week of September—just in case—because we had a forecast for mostly dry weather. While The North Face calls the Fuse Jacket the brand’s lightest waterproof-breathable shell, that’s not to confuse it with a full-on, waterproof-breathable rain jacket. It’s not really intended for multi-day, backcountry trips where you expect sustained rain. This falls into the category of ultralight shells that strike a balance between breathability for high-octane activities like running and fast hiking, and protection from wind and light precipitation—adventures done in a day or an hour. At this weight, of course, it also lacks the features of a true waterproof-breathable rain jacket.
It does not have the breathability of, say, running jackets made of lightweight fabric that’s designed to give you added warmth and ultimate breathability, rather than wind or water resistance (and those jackets are usually several ounces heavier than an ultralight wind shell). Wearing the jacket over two base layers while cross-country skiing in falling snow and temps in the mid-20s, with the hood up much of the time, I stayed warm enough, but the inside back of the jacket was damp from sweat when I took it off. Also, wearing any kind of pack would compromise the mechanical breathability of the perforation down the back of the jacket.
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The athletic fit leaves space for a couple of light- to midweight base layers, and the adjustable hem extends about halfway down the butt. The close-fitting, elasticized hood, adjustable via a single drawcord in the back, has a small brim to help keep rain off your face. The hood also has a small, always-open vent, with a flap to keep rain out, that allows the release of some heat and moisture off your head and upper back. The shell’s one zippered pocket, on the chest, is large enough for a hat, pair of gloves, or a phone. The jacket has reflective logos and material front and back and on the forearms, and is machine washable.
Balancing some breathability and weather resistance for an ultralight shell, The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket is best for cool-weather running and ultralight dayhiking in wet climates, where you need protection from wind and a possible light shower.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to purchase a men’s The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket at moosejaw.com or a women’s Flight Series Fuse Jacket at moosejaw.com.
See my review of “The Best Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking Jackets” and all my reviews of ultralight wind shells, ultralight rain jackets, trail-running apparel, hiking apparel, and outdoor apparel 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 categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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