The North Face Summit Stimson Jacket | Review - Outdoors Magic

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Waterproof Jackets

The North Face Summit Stimson Jacket | Review

A highly breathable jacket with every detail you’d want during demanding mountain missions

The North Face’s Summit Stimson is, as you can probably tell from the £540 price tag, one of the American brand’s top-level waterproof jackets. It’s designed primarily for backcountry skiing and snowboarding and therefore it has a long cut as well as a host of technical details to cater for high tempos and demanding conditions.

I tested it out in just about perfect gear testing conditions in the mountains of northern Italy, wearing it through some nice snowfall but also heavy rain and through a range of different activities from hiking through to piste skiing. Here’s how I got on with it.

Fabric Performance

This is made from The North Face’s Futurelight fabric. Released a few years ago (to much fanfare) this waterproof fabric has gained a strong reputation for being highly breathable. It’s made via a process called nano-spinning where an electromagnetic field is utilised to weave a super-fine mesh of polymer fibres. Moisture in vapour form is able to pass through this mesh, but liquid molecules cannot.

Here at Outdoors Magic, we’ve tested out a number of Futurelight garments over the years and, with each one, the breathability, lightness and stretchiness of the fabric has certainly been notable. Things are no different with the Stimson; on one of the mild, rainy days I wore it on, I didn’t notice any clamminess – even when I had to yomp 50 metres uphill through powder to recover a ski after I completely wiped out.

Related: The North Face Futurefleece reviewed

Where we have had our doubts with Futurelight here at Outdoors Magic however, is in the durability of the fabric, with past editions feeling on the flimsy and fragile side – too much attention to breathability and not enough on durability. Have things changed though? It seems they have, somewhat. Being their own proprietary fabric, The North Face have complete control over how it’s made, including how thick or thin the material is, and they say that they have beefed up the Futurelight membrane on this particular jacket, making it more durable and more protective.

From my tests, it does seem more dependable than the early editions of Futurelight that I tried and I haven’t ripped it or noticed any points where moisture has managed to get in. But I would still say that the Futurelight fabric does still feel quite thin and a little fragile compared to standard Gore-tex or the likes of Demizax or Schoeller and I’ve felt I’ve had to treat it a bit more carefully than I would with some of the other jackets I own.

Back to the breathability though. This jacket really does excel in that regard. With the fading away of Polartec Neoshell, which in the past was regarded as one of the most breathable membranes out there, I’d say Futurelight might well have picked up the mantle. Sadly TNF won’t give MVTR (moisture vapour transmission rate) figures, but from my experience, Futurelight seems like the new leader.

Wet Weather Resistance

It’s waterproof, there’s no doubt about that, though I have noticed that the Stimson’s outer fabric did begin to wet out quite quickly and it needed reproofing with Nikwax – something that I think will need to be done on quite a regular basis. With the switch to PFC-free DWRs that’s happened in recent years, most jackets will tend to saturate quickly now, so Futurelight isn’t alone there. The new Gore-tex ePE fabric is very similar to Futurelight; it comes with a modern ‘eco-friendly’ water resistant treatment that just doesn’t have the strength or staying power that the non eco-friendly treatments used to bring. At the moment however, this seems the price we have to pay for being more eco conscious.


The North Face’s Steep Series, in which this jacket sits, was developed with the help of The North Face’s athlete team which includes steep skiers, alpinists and Himalayan mountaineers, and it really does show. This jacket has all the kind of details you want when you’re facing up to difficult conditions and tricky terrain.

Will wearing the Stimson in northern Italy. Photos: Aaron Rolph

The hood, for instance, has a protective, high collar, three-way adjustment and a long peak. The pockets are all carefully located so that they can be accessed when you’re wearing a harness – likewise, the main zip is two-way so you can unzip the bottom part of the jacket for easy harness access. It has pit zip ventilation, the zipper tabs are all large and glove-friendly, there’s a clever mini snow-skirt and there’s even a little lift pass pocket that also conceals a mini cloth for wiping your goggles. Loads of nice touches.

Fit and Comfort

As this is designed with skiing and harness wear in mind, the cut is quite long and drops just below the backside. I was extremely impressed with the articulation, finding absolutely no restriction to my movement – even with a few layers underneath, including a big puffy down jacket.

I’m 5 foot 10, I have an average build and I had this in a size M which is my usual size. The fit was perfect and I don’t think many people will need to size up or down with this.


It’s expensive, but it’s very high spec and the Futurelight membrane offers top-of-its-class breathability. The feature-set makes it spot on for backcountry skiing but it would also serve as a good hiking jacket too, especially for those who like a shell that comes down below the trouser pockets. The downsides, as I mentioned, are that the fabric will wet out quite quickly (Nikwax is your friend there) and it’s not got the durability of a Gore-tex shell, but if breathability in your pursuits is more important than durability, this is a jacket to consider.

Developer Interview

I spoke to Mike Arnold, an IFMGA mountain guide with a number of major first ascents and first ski descents to his name. He’s a member of The North Face’s athlete team and helped the brand in the development of its Steep Series. Here are my questions to him and the answers he sent me.

Prepping for the day ahead. Mike Arnold (left), Will (right). Photo: Aaron Rolph

Why does Futurelight excite you?

Futurelight has always been a big excitement since the day I tried it. Initially the feel was the most attractive part. When you put it on it becomes one with the body and the movement. The geographic locations I live and travel in are mostly dry climates and I don’t seek out the most waterproof material. What I look for is function, feel and breathability, then just enough protection so I can endure the days when it’s wet and snowy. When active in a FL piece I feel like I can go from the lower valleys to the highest summits while wearing the garment. Anytime I know there will be an aerobic output for hours on end, FL is by far the way to go.

Did you play any part in its development?

Fortunately I was able to be apart of the FL development process from the beginning. I remember receiving the first kit (ALL GREY) and taking it to Denali, Alaska. By the first touch I was intrigued. How could a piece be so light and breathable. The first round of prototypes didn’t last long but it started the evolution of one of the best fabrics on the market.

How has Futurelight evolved over the years?

The evolution of Futurelight has so many facets and its hard to pin point each one as the fabric evolved. The biggest changes happened when the consumer came into play and we noticed that some features trumped others. Like I said above, use case and location are huge players into testing and gaining confidence with a fabric like FL. For instance, maybe FL wasn’t good for Coastal Mountain Ranges when moisture was unforgiving but in turn, places like the Alps, Rocky Mountains and the Himalayas, FL by far was the choice most of the time. Just like any innovated fabrics, it demands a story and pedagogy which then allows the consumer to understand the ins and out as well as the evolution of FL.

Price: £540
Weight: 609g
Best for: ski mountaineering
What I liked: breathable, comfortable, lots of useful technical details
What I didn’t like: wets out quickly, lacking durability

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