An expert of outdoor equipment, Simon, loves to get hands on and test out any new gear. Over his years of experience, he has tried out many new technologies in gear and understands what adventures need while out in the elements. Simon, heads to NZ to test out The North Face’s latest waterproof technology, Futurelight that is designed to be a game changer in waterproof fabrics.

So there’s a new waterproof membrane in town and if the hype is to be believed, it heralds a revolutionary increase in breathability, among other amazing benefits. As an outdoor retailer with almost two decades experience in the industry, I can’t help but be a little sceptical, as we’ve seen many new waterproof innovations over the years, with some being better than others. Can The North Face’s new Futurelight range of waterproof clothing really truly change the game?

To launch Futurelight, The North face hosted snow trip in New Zealand during spring, which had the perfect conditions to test how breathable the gear was. Paddy Pallin sent me over to find out more about Futurelight and test it out, but why me? On first glance it seems strange, the cream of the Australian and New Zealand outdoor industry; elite athletes, legendary adventurers, incredible journalists, and an ageing store manager from London who now lives in sunny Perth. But the genius of the bigwigs at Paddy’s soon becomes clear, if you truly want to test out the breathability of a fabric, elite athletes just don’t cut it, what you really need is a middle aged, overweight, horribly unfit and therefore extremely sweaty bloke, luckily for everyone involved I absolutely nail that brief.

Group photo of adventurers wearing Futurelight in NZ

Photo Credit Mark Clinton

A relatively brief history of waterproof fabrics:

So it’s important to note that waterproof fabrics are not new, we’ve been oiling or waxing or tanning a variety of options for thousands of years. But it’s pretty safe to say that modern waterproof fabrics as we know them came about when in 1969 Bob Gore stretched some polytetrafluoroethylene and created the first ePTFE Membrane: GORE-TEX and they’ve been dominating the high end waterproof clothing market ever since. The expanded PTFE created millions of tiny pores more than big enough for water vapour like sweat to escape, but not large enough for water droplets to penetrate, the first major waterproof breathable membrane was created and it opened up a whole world of new possibilities for practical and lightweight, waterproof breathable clothing.

Breathability was the key for outdoor sports clothing, there’s simply no point in wearing a waterproof barrier if you just get completely soaked with your own sweat from the inside. With the introduction of GORE-TEX outerwear you could enjoy high aerobic outdoor activities in horrible conditions and stay relatively dry and comfortable. There were issues though, ePTFE was difficult to manufacture and was seriously compromised by dirt and oils, both of these issues were solved with the addition of a PU polyurethane layer onto the membrane, but this came with a real cost to the breathability and some say that the original GORE-TEX membrane was more breathable than their premium membranes being produced 40 or 50 years later. Over the years GORE-TEX became synonymous with high quality waterproof clothing, many people today even think that a product is not waterproof unless it is made with GORE-TEX.

The North Face’s partnership with GORE-TEX was extremely popular for both brands and has resulted in some absolutely iconic pieces of outerwear (Mountain light circa 2000 anyone? Just me? Beautiful jacket) and was certainly one of the reasons that The North Face were able to grow into the massive industry leading brand that we know today. The sheer size of The North Face, means they often get a bit of unwarranted flak from some in the outdoor industry, but for me they’ve always been right at the forefront of innovation, especially in terms of high end waterproof outerwear. It’s also vital to point out that this article isn’t criticising GORE-TEX, I have GORE-TEX gear that I love and will continue to keep in my collection.

Spring snow in New Zealand's Cadrona

Warm spring days allowed for the perfect conditions to test the breathability of Futurelight.

Futurelight or Futurehype?

So mad ramblings about waterproof fabrics aside, what is Futurelight? Essentially it’s a ultra-thin nano spun polyurethane, air permeable, waterproof membrane. It’s manufactured by 220,000 tiny nozzles almost spraying the fibres on each other to create the membrane, this is then sandwiched between an outer and inner fabric (or coating), like most waterproof layers and coated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR). The North Face highlight that there are five key benefits of Futurelight:

  1. Better breathability
  2. Innovative waterproofing
  3. Superior Softness
  4. Sustainability driven
  5. Proven Durability

So how do these five claims stack up with some real world testing, bear in mind I’ve only had a few days in the stuff and the wonderful West Australian summer hasn’t afforded me too many opportunities to use it since.

Skiers in spring on a small trail wearing futurelight snow gear

Photo Credit: Mark Clinton

Better Breathability: It’s undoubtedly the most breathable waterproof layer that I’ve used, we spent two days skiing at the Cadrona resort near Queenstown in New Zealand, in those two days the only sweat (and as previously mentioned I sweat buckets) I really noticed was on my face, I never felt particularly wet or uncomfortable at any point, nor do I remember overheating much even at max exertion and this is something that happens to me with all my previous waterproof layers. People often have some mis-conceptions about sweat and breathable fabrics, you even sweat when you’re naked so no fabric layer is going to let your perspiration out quicker than the air around you can. A breathable fabric won’t stop you sweating but good ones move this perspiration on, stopping you from overheating, keeping you dryer and more comfortable and this is where Futurelight truly excels.

Skiier in The North Face's Futurelight carving down a mountain in Cadrona in New Zealand

Photo Credit: Mark Watson

Innovative Waterproofing: The North Face has put Futurelight to the test in the harshest weather conditions through laboratory tests and field expeditions with their elite athletes. It even surpassed US standards for waterproofing in first responder gear. Waterproof fabrics have different levels of waterproofing, which can be measured by a hydrostatic head (check out our ‘All About Waterproof Fabrics Blog‘ to learn more about this). The North Face haven’t released a Hydrostatic Head for it’s Futurelight products, so we can’t compare them, but neither do many leading waterproof membranes such as GORE-TEX who don’t generally release these figures either.


The North Face's Futurelight being tested by skiers on a chairlift

Photo Credit: Mark Watson

Superior Softness: This is another area where The North Face Futurelight absolutely nails the brief, it is soft, stretchy, light, quieter and incredibly comfortable. This in combination along with the epic breathability meant a number of firsts for me, the first time I didn’t feel the need to take my jacket off pretty much at all, the first time I completely forgot I was wearing waterproof pants, the first time I’ve comfortably worn a pair of waterproof shell pants against bare skin (on my legs guys, I was wearing boxers). One of the most interesting comments of the trip, was that on the Freethinker jacket that most of us were wearing, the outer and inner fabrics were almost identical to the previous (still epic and has always been one of my favourite hardshells) GORE-TEX version, this meant that the completely different feel of the jacket, was just down to the thinner and softer Futurelight membrane.

Skiers in NZ wearing futurelight gear from The North Face

Sustainability driven: The North Face state that, “With face and back layers crafted with 90% recycled materials, it’s our most sustainably produced fabric to date.” This is incredibly important and we are seeing this with most of the big hitters in the outdoor industry, Patagonia and Marmot are both doing similar things. The one big change and it’s a welcome one, is that The North Face has often frustrated the hell out of outdoor retailers, by following and in some instances even creating more ethical and sustainable processes, without even telling anyone. We had a relatively recent training session where they told us that there entire range of TKA fleeces had had a significant recycled content for many years and no one (in Australia anyway) even knew.

Skier in The North Face Futurelight hiking up a mountain in Cadrona New Zealand

Photo Credit: Mark Watson

Proven Durability: A lot of expeditions have already taken place with The North Face’s elite athletes wearing Futurelight.  The fact that most of the inner and outer fabrics will be similar (or better, in the case of the new 3 layer version of the Dryzzle jacket and pants), seems to suggest that durability, i.e., abrasion and puncture resistance should be the same as their well regarded GORE-TEX range was. Something to consider is how will the durability and longevity of the membrane itself will stack up over the years, GORE-TEX, especially in it’s burlier three layer options has decades of evidence and a mostly excellent track record on this score. Although, being a product from The North Face we are expecting it to be just like all of their other great quality gear that for lasts years.

A group of outdoor enthusiasts and professionals testing The North Face's Futurelight in NZ

Photo Credit: Mark Watson

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • It’s a real and genuine step forward in terms of breathability, comfort and performance. For high aerobic activities it’ll be difficult to beat.
  • It could open up the whole idea of waterproof clothing so that some clothing items just happen to be waterproof, like walking pants that are waterproof too, instead of horrible overpants, the possibilities are endless, it could really start to blur the lines of outdoor clothing categories.
  • Comfortable waterproof footwear in all conditions could be a thing, footwear waterproofing has been quite neglected. The vast majority of waterproof footwear as it stands is just not suitable for hot or humid conditions.
  • Its just the beginning, who knows how this technology will evolve and improve. The way the membrane is manufactured means they can play with it and customise it to be way better suited to different types of activities.
  • The North Face are one of the few outdoor companies who can make this step, have the resources to back it up and truly compete with GORE-TEX. Now that they have done this, all the big players will have to respond and who knows what further innovations will be created.

Reasons to be cautious:

  • We won’t have too much of an idea of the effective lifetime of these garments for a decade or so.
  • Futurelight products are still using durable waterproof repellent coatings (DWRs), which need re-applying over time.

These points are relatively minor gripes, or simply unknowns, and for me compared to what I’ve used previously this product is a huge step up in breathability and comfort, two factors that I value in waterproof clothing above all others, so honestly what else can I say? Game Changer!

Skiiers on a chairlift wearing The North Face Futurelight gear

Have you tried The North Face’s Futurelight yet? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Don’t forget to tag us in your adventures on Instagram, we always love to see our customers adventures.

#ExperienceIsEverything | #PaddyPallin 

About The Author


Simone is a gear junkie and loves trying out anything new. He will never miss a chance to get outside and head out on his next adventure. Being the Store Manager of Paddy Pallin's Perth store, and with nearly two decades worth of experience in the outdoor industry, Simon is definitely an expert and he is always happy to share his knowledge with customers.

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