The Fuseform Brigandine 3L is one of two The North Face jackets tested in this review which turned out to be very similar to each other in design, features, and intended use, despite the fact they have very different fabrics and membranes. They each have the same hood design, same pattern of internal pockets with powder skirt, and are each extra long in the waist for optimal protection against powder invasions. While this jacket is made of proprietary DryVent 3-layer waterproof breathable membrane, The North Face Free Thinker Jacket instead uses GORE-TEX Pro. How this impacts the user is that the Fuseform Brigandine 3L feels more supple and mobile than the crinkly and stiff feeling Free Thinker. That said, they received the same score for mobility and fit because while the Fuseform is more mobile, it is also a bit tight fitting, causing a few constrictions in the shoulders and underarm area not found on the Free Thinker.
There is no doubt that these two jackets are the only ones in this review designed specifically for skiing. All of the other jackets we tested were designed either as all-around hardshells that will shine no matter what the activity of choice, or as alpine climbing specific layers, like the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, that are also serviceable for backcountry skiing. The large, bulky fit, heavy weight, and plethora of features does an effective job at eliminating them from serious consideration for anything but skiing at the resorts, regardless of the marketing content that might claim they are light and versatile. You know what? That's okay.
While their score certainly suffered a bit in our comparison testing due to this bias, there is certainly room in the market for resort specific hardshell jackets, which is why we wanted to test these two. While they are very similar in function, these jackets look totally different and have a different price. At the end of the day, we enjoyed wearing the Fuseform Brigandine 3L much more, which is why it won our Top Pick Award.
Enjoying the awesome scenery of the San Juans on a side-country lap outside of Telluride ski area while wearing our Top Pick for Resort Skiing.
Our Top Pick for Resort Skiing is also a good choice for some side-country laps, here sampling the fresh snow just outside of Telluride, CO.
We really like the super low hem of this jacket, which combined with the integrated powder skirt does a great job of protecting from snow coming up under the bottom of the jacket, better than any other we tested. However, similar to problems we had with the Outdoor Research Furio, we found the sleeves to be a little bit too short for our frame. This was not such a big deal on this jacket, as we only used it while skiing, and didn't need to swing ice axes with our arms above our head.
The main problem with this jacket while testing it in our shower test was that the brim of the hood did not do enough to protect and cover our face, and allowed water to run off the edge and spill down into the collar and inside the jacket. This was much the same problem we experienced while testing the Patagonia Triolet and Patagonia Refugitive, and which we also found on the Free Thinker Jacket. Luckily, you should not ever encounter a rain storm if you use this strictly as a skiing jacket, but if you do, you have been warned. 6 out of 10 points for weather protection.
In the shower test we found that the hood of this jacket did not completely protect out face and keep water from running off the sides and trickling down the inside of the collar.
Weight and Packability
Weighing 24.5 ounces for a men's size medium, this jacket was about five ounces heavier than any other jacket not made by North Face. This fact alone is enough to totally debunk all the "lightweight" verbiage thrown about on North Face's website. Not only is it heavy, but also quite bulky. In short, this is not a jacket you ever want to be carrying around in a pack. That said, wear it at the resort, as we recommend, and you should barely notice that it weighs a little bit more than some other guy's jacket. If weight is an important metric to you, we recommend the protective and fully featured Arc'teryx Beta AR or Outdoor Research Axiom instead for skiing. This metric did more than any other to drop this jacket's score compared to most others; we only gave it 3 out of 10 points.
Mobility and Fit
While it was bulky, there is no doubt that the DryVent membrane used in this jacket lends itself to exemplary mobility. It has more in common in this regard with the Outdoor Research Axiom, than it does with any of the crinkly and loud jacket with a GORE-TEX Pro membrane, like the Arc'teryx Beta AR. Honestly, the quiet fabric and supple feel alone endeared us to this jacket, but we were slightly disappointed that our model was cut slightly smaller and tighter than the similarly shaped Free Thinker.
While the problems didn't manifest as badly since we generally only skied while wearing it, we did experience a slight amount of tightness in the shoulders and underarms, not unlike what we felt while wearing the Patagonia Triolet. For this we had to bump the score down slightly, giving it a 7 out of 10 points. If you are purchasing this jacket and find yourself in between sizes, we recommend trying them on first to see which one suits you better.
One of the best things about this jacket is the very low cut hem, shown here from the back, that easily covers the hind regions, protecting the torso from snow, a great quality for a ski jacket.
Venting and Breathability
Combine a 70 denier face fabric with a 30 denier liner on the inside and you end up with a lot of material in this jacket. While it does have a breathable membrane sandwiched between those two layers, the effect is still very insulating, causing the user to heat up quickly, especially if they are working hard. The North Face only made a token gesture at venting with much smaller than average pit zips, shorter than the average length ones found on the Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell and in no way as high performing as the unique arm zips found on the Rab Latok Alpine Shell or the Outdoor Research Furio. Actions speak louder than words, and the design of this jacket further solidifies our conviction that this jacket was not designed for serious uphill travel, so we gave it 5 out of 10 points.
The North Face claims this jacket is lightweight, making it a good option for uphill skinning. We put this claim to the test and thought that it was a bit heavy, warm, and not very well ventilated for too much uphill travel. It uses the DryVent membrane designed by The North Face.
In this picture you can see the 30D brown liner fabric that protects the DryVent membrane from the inside. Also shown is one of the two matching internal stash pockets, perfect for extra gloves or a hat, and the integrated powder skirt that buttons closed across the front of the body.
The Fuseform Brigandine 3L has without doubt the most features of any jacket in this review, and with one or two exceptions, they all work really well. Some of the more unique features are a forearm pocket with tethered goggle wipe inside, the powder skirt that has attached clips that allow it to hook on to the waist belt of nearly any pair of pants, and dual internal stash pockets on each side of the body. For those who like to listen to their tunes while riding, an internal zippered pocket has a headphone porthole, similar to the OR Furio or OR Axiom.
One of the many features on this jacket, these thumb loops help keep the wrist cuffs in place. We didn't often use this feature, but it is handy if you are repeatedly opening and closing the pit zip vents.
The jacket also has large zippered handwarmer pockets low on the body, combined with dual napoleon style chest pockets higher up. But, there were also a couple features we didn't like so much. The main one was the front hood pull cords. Despite a buckle that lived encased within the fabric, nice for looks and to keep it out of the way, the methods of pulling little loops of cord either inside the collar or outside was always difficult and never seemed to result in the hood tightening much. Regardless, the feature set on this jacket was second only to the Rab Latok Alpine Jacket, and we gave it 9 out of 10 points.
The front hood pull cords on this jacket are a bit of an annoyance. Here you can see how a loop can be pulled either on the inside of the collar, as shown, or on the outside, visible next to the other cheek. The buckle lies within the fabric sleeve on the side of the face. It was quite hard to tighten and adjust the hood with these pull loops.
As our Top Pick for Resort Skiing, we naturally think that is the best application for this jacket. It is really not designed with alpine or ice climbing in mind, and while some may use it to hike up to the top of the mountain they are about to ski down, we found it to be too heavy, warm, and without enough ventilation to consider buying it with that intention in mind. This jacket is meant for downhill skiing.
Testing the Fuseform Brigandine 3L on a gladed slope in the backcountry on a high avalanche danger day. This is a great ski jacket that uses a proprietary membrane called DryVent.
The Fuseform retails for $499, grouping it with some of the other higher cost jackets in this review, but still not placing it at the top of the list. Typically, manufacturers use their own proprietary membranes like the DryVent one found in this jacket to save the consumer some cash. This holds true in this case, as this jacket is $100 cheaper than the GORE-TEX Pro alternative Free Thinker Jacket. However, this is still a very expensive jacket.
The North Face Fuseform Brigandine 3L jacket is the best option in this review if you need a burly hardshell jacket for skiing at your favorite resort. Its heavy, warm build will help keep out the wind and blowing snow at the coldest resorts, and its many skiing specific features will help you stay dry as you slay the pow all day. Despite The North Face's marketing language, we do not consider this a backcountry skiing jacket, and would not regularly use it as such. But as long as you know what you are getting, and what you aren't, we think this is an excellent jacket.