The North Face Summit Series is, in broad terms, intended to be the 'best of the best' of technical mountain clothing and equipment. It is, if you like, the Navy Seals of outdoor kit - honed, focussed and ready to take on anything at a moment's notice. It's also the US mega-brand's way of showing the world that even if its logo is commonplace on the high street, it's still capable of making cutting edge gear.
The series relaunched last year as honed, minimalist capsule collection of just seven pieces which had numbers not names, L1 through to L7 no less and it was, in our experience of using the L5 hardshell jacket, quite exceptional in terms of fit and performance. It also had possibly the best hood we've ever used .
For winter 2016 - it's in selected shops from 14 October - it's back, updated and with a few key changes. The first of these is a women's collection of clothing that shadows the men's, but in a different colour. Next, following on from last year's distinctive mono-chrome whites, the men's version is a less in your face green, who the women's comes in teal. There's also new Summit Series legwear. And finally, there's now a Summit Series pack.
And guess what, it all looks rather good. Changes aren't just skin deep though, the fit, which was rather 'uncompromising' has also been tweaked for a slightly more forgiving fit, though it's still apparently
L1 Baselayer And Summit Series Pack
Totally new for this year is a Summit Series alpine pack which has been made using TNF's Fuseform technology. In other words, it's one piece of fabric that's been cunningly woven to produce different textures and properties in different areas. Otherwise, as you'd expect, it's a minimalist creation with what you need for mountaineering use, but no frills.
Meanwhile the L1 baselayer is a comprehensively zoned, close-fitting garment using a circular knit and with minimal seams. It features a proper deep zip-neck for ease of venting and cooling on the go and the idea is that the various zones correspond to the physiological needs of your body, warmer where needed, high wicking and cooler where it makes sense. There are matching leggings too, though they hid when we got the camera out...
L2 And L3 Summit Series Jackets
The L2 is a tough light insulation layer that's made from a hardface Polartec lightweight fleece for a mix of durability - you can wear it with a pack for example - and stretch comfort. It has three handy pockets, black reflective tape for night-time visibility and, a neat touch, the hem uses a silicone gripper to stop the jacket riding up in use.
Meanwhile the L3 is pretty much the same as before, a micro-baffled down jacket with a helmet hood designed as an alternative to the knock-about synthetic L4 Thermoball jacket for dry conditions. The fill is top-notch, responsibly sourced 800 fill power goose down and the jacket uses printed dye for improved sustainability. Check the graduated change in colour.
Summit Series L4 Thermoball Jacket
This is the 'workhorse' alternative to the sleek down jacket. It uses TNF's impressive synthetic Thermoball technology, which gives a claimed warmth to weight equivalent to 600 fill power down, but with better damp resistance. This year it gets that funky new quilting pattern, stretch side-panels for a sleeker fit and more fill for improved warmth.
Like the L3 it has a helmet hood. Given the choice for all-round mountain use, particularly in the UK, this is the way we'd leap, no question. Better damp condition performance and a generally more knock-about jacket. Yes please!
Summit Series L5 Jacket
Last year's first L5 jacket was amazing, but the unforgiving, body-tight fit wasn't for everyone and those carrying a little extra ballast were out of luck. For 2016, the fit has apparently been relaxed slightly for improved comfort and mobility. The armholes have been lowered a little and fit has generally been 'improved' says TNF.
Remaining the same, we hope, is the excellent helmet hood, one of the most protective we've ever used complete with a super-stiff and wired peak of prodigious proportions. What has changed is that the jacket is now made from Gore-Tex, the first time it's been used with the Fuseform technology. Oddly it's standard, general issue Gore-Tex rather than the all-singing, all-dancing Pro version due to production constraints.
We actually got on okay with last year's own-brand material and it'll be interesting to see how this matches up. For next spring, Fuseform Gore-Tex hits the TNF mainstream by the way. More about that soon.
Summit Series L6 Down Jacket
Finally, meet the fat L6 down belay jacket, a seriously warm beast stuffed full of the same 800 fill power down as the L3. It's built with a serious hood, has a Z-baffle construction for maximum insulation and is cut to be thrown over the rest of your outfit for stops and belays in extremely cold conditions. One neat touch is a 'reach through' - no, not 'reach round' - pocket that allows you to access stuff stowed in pockets in your other layers.
And that pretty much rounds things off. As you can see, it's a collection that you could either use en masse for serious mountaineering or, potentially, mix and match with other kit, though you'll run the risk of ruining your colour-co-ordinated good looks in the process...
We don't have prices, but we confidently predict that this stuff, which will be available only in selected, elite TNF stockists, won't be cheap. Then again, based on our experience of last year's range, it's very, very, good indeed.
The TNF 2016 Summit Series available from 14 October, 2016. See www.thenorthface.co.uk