Catskill Mountaineer

Review of North Face Summit L5 Fuseform Hard Shell Jacket

North Face Hard Shell Jacket

Rating: 3 star rating North Face Hard Shell jacket Good

Price: $450

Sizes: S, M , L, XL
Colors: 4 colors
Material: DWR/WPB (3 layer) - 88% nylon, 12% polyester
Hard Shell Resistance: Fair
Waterproof for general use: Excellent when new - chemical waterproof agent will wash out eventually
Waterproof for backpacking: Excellent when new - chemical waterproof agent will wash out eventually
Durability: Fair
Weight: Excellent - Good for minimalist - 13 oz
Comfort: Excellent
Zippers: Poor
Warranty: Life Time with many exceptions (read warranty carefully)
Availability: The North Face and most hiking retailers (REI, EMS, etc)

If you are a minimalist, you will like the light weight of this jacket. Furthermore, the jacket can be compacted into a small space in your backpack. The trade-off is that the fabric is not as durable as it should be. When you get the jacket, you will discover that it is waterproof. But, once you wash the jacket, it does lose it's ability to be 100% waterproof. Gore-Tex states that if you put the jacket in the dryer after you drip-dry it, it will automatically reactivate the chemical waterproof nature of the jacket. We didn't find that it be entirely true. The sleeves and hood are too big, while the rest of the jacket might be just a tiny bit small. The hood was made bigger for helmets and hats. Personally, it was just too big for me. While you could adjust the size of the hood, it just never seemed natural. We did like how you can easily zip up the jacket all the way to the top easily. The zipper is one size too small. Probably trying to save weight for minimalist hikers. The latch for the zipper was very small, fragile, and difficult to use. At some point the latch will break. Our general overall opinion of this jacket is that you will like it the first year, but the jacket will lose some of it's functioning more-and-more each year after that.

Many years ago their warranty was the best in the business. Now, there are so many exceptions that the warranty seems to have very little value. You have to physically return the jacket (at your expense) to have the jacket evaluated to see if it meets their warranty to be repaired. You must also clean the jacket before you send it in. It doesn't cover any thing that looks like "wear-and-tear". So, if the fabric get brittle in the Winter and breaks open, you are screwed. Even though it is a Winter jacket. It does not cover any situations where the jacket loses it waterproof nature. Which appears to be highly likely that it will leak someday. In fact, we could not think of any situation where the warranty would help you.

Things we DIDN'T like:
Fabric - The fabric is basically just nylon with some polyester mixed in. It is made by Gore-Tex, but does not look and feel like a Gore-Tex products. North Face states that it is a 3-layer fabric that is Waterproof but Breathable ("WPB"). The Gore-Tex label states that it is DWR fabric. Is it WPB or DWR fabric? Based upon the examination of the fabric by our experts, it appears to be both. Or, at least we hope that it is. In cold Winter months the jacket crinkles with every movement. The crinkling makes it seem like it is fragile. And yes, it will rip if you brush up against a sharp rock or branch.

Durability of the Fabric - The fabric may be a Gore-Tex product, but it does rip easily if you brush up against a sharp rock or branch. Disappointing. It does have a breathable inner layer. But, that inner layer didn't have a layer to protect that fragile breathable layer. North Face states that it is 3-layer fabric, but it looks like 2-layer material. The third layer is on the inside, and is used to protect the waterproof middle layer. But, we didn't see a third layer.

Number of Colors - These hiking pants come in couple of different colors. Not many options. Their web site only shows one color, but were were aware of four colors. Yeah, and their web site sucks. It provides very little information about the jacket. The web site is pretty, but not very functional.

Main zipper - The main zipper to close the jacket in the front is too small, and it is cheap. It is a #3 comb zipper with a cheap latch. Difficult to get the zipper connected and started. I bet it would be a real challenge in 60 mph winds. I would have preferred a #5 molded zipper.

Cut of the jacket - The sleeves were massively big. They look like they would fit Popeye's arms. This is a negative for bushwhacking in thick brush and conifer trees. The torso section seemed just a tad bit small. But, most hikers liked it. But, if you have a big waist, you may have problems. The hood was made to cover a helmet or hat. Great for the Winter. But, in the summer it is massively too big. You can reduce the size of the hood. But, you cannot reduce it enough for times when you are not wearing a hat.

Things we DID like:
Light Weight for Minimalist - Mininalist will like the light weight fabric that was used. It weighs 13 oz, and folds up very tightly to take up very little space in your backpack.

Waterproof - windproof - breathable - For the first year, the jacket was completely waterproof. It never leaked on us. If it truly is DWR fabric like Gore-Tex claims, then eventually it will lose it's ability to be waterproof. That concerned us. In high winds it appears to be windproof. But, the North Face web site said that it is wind resistant. North Face stated that it was highly breathable. We didn't find that it was that breathable. In fact, it was a little warm. Very nice on cold Winter days. But, not so nice in the Spring and Fall. For a very expensive shell jacket, we would expect a high quality WPB material. The extra cost for high quality material would be less then $10.

Cut of the jacket - The cut of the jacket was pleasing to everyone that tried it. It has that great fit that everyone likes. The length of the jacket seems to be perfect. So were the lengths of the arms. If you use it as a Hard Shell jacket for occasional use, you are going to love it.

Features of the jacket - All the features seem to work quite well. Everything from the zippers and hoods worked fairly good. The one exception was the waist cinch cord.

North Face Hard Shell jacket North Face Hard Shell jacket
North Face Hard Shell jacket
View of the hood
North Face Hard Shell jacket North Face Hard Shell jacket
North Face Hard Shell jacket
View of the breathable interior

Links and References:

North Face Official Web Site

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