The North Face Summit L5 GTX Pro Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
This jacket has better fit and mobility than the Arcteryx Beta AR, Alpha FL, and the Black Diamond Sharp End Shell, and dominates the field in terms of weather protection. Its weakness is weight, but even with all its features and ample coverage, it still weighs about the same as the Patagonia Galvanized jacket and the BD Sharp End. When weight is a concern, the Arcteryx Alpha FL or the Outdoor Research Optimizer are both worth a look; for all-around mountain fun, whether you're ascending or descending, you can't do much better than the Summit L5.
The Summit L5 use 44 denier nylon as it's outer shell fabric; forty-four seems like the magic number. It feels much more durable than the 30D used for the REI Storm Bolt GTX, but without feeling too heavy. Combined with the Gore-Tex Pro, it makes for a tough, weatherproof layer. Much like the hood on the heavier TNF FuseForm GTX, the hood on this jacket provides excellent weather protection by allowing you to pull the brim down and the collar up, creating full coverage for your face. The hem? Long! And we're grateful, as we find these coats are often too short and we want weather protection well below the waistline. The removable powder skirt is a rad addition, gently hugging the waist while keeping snow out. It's easy to zipper it off when not needed and sheds 1.25 ounces from the total weight of the jacket when removed.
Weight and Packability
For ultralight pursuits, this model is on the heavy side. The Arc'teryx Alpha FL is our favorite hardshell for going fast and light, but it's stripped down and lacks several features that are pretty much standard on other models such as pocket and pit vents. Fully loaded with features, the Summit L5 GTX Pro weighs just over a pound (16.5oz) according to our scales. It's more packable than its rough and tough 70d nylon cousin, the Fuseform GTX Pro, but it doesn't fit into a tiny stuff sack like the Alpha FL or stuff into its own pocket like the Patagonia Galvanized.
Mobility and Fit
No complaints in this metric. For a company best known for the oversized boxing fitting Denali Jacket, TNF seems to have listened to their athletes when it comes to designing their Summit Series models, and they nail the fit with the L5 GTX Pro. The hem is well below the waist, giving us that precious extra butt coverage when we're hunkered down at windy belays or even just sitting on a wet chair lift. The arms and shoulders allow us to reach high, while the hem barely rides up an inch. The hood is deep and voluminous, with plenty of room for a climbing or skiing helmet. You can still zip this jacket all the way up to your nose and turn your head every which way while wearing a helmet.
Venting and Breathability
This jacket has two large pit vents with fairly easy-to-grab zipper pulls for venting, a feature that's standard on hard shells, except for the lightweight Arc'teryx Alpha FL and the Outdoor Research Optimizer. The Gore-Tex Pro membrane is on the durable, less breathable end of the Gore-Tex spectrum, so this shell isn't as breathable as the Optimizer, which uses Gore-Tex Active to keep the weight down and negate the lack of pit zips. This makes for a lighter more packable jacket, but for long expeditions and everyday use, we prefer the tougher Summit L5.
Our testers love the features on this jacket, with one minor exception. The cavernous, well fitting hood has three adjustment points, and the front pull cords are located on the inside of the collar, so you need to unzip the jacket about eight inches to make adjustments. If they were on the outside, we wouldn't have to expose our faces to the cold. Aside from that, the features on this jacket are well designed and functional.
Starting from the bottom, two cohesive cord locks secure the hem and keep out drafts. For deep powder, the removable snow skirt keeps out any snow that gets past the hem cinch. The snow skirt is stretchy, unobtrusive, comfortable, and you shed 1.25 ounces by removing it. This jacket eschews hand pockets that are difficult to access under a climbing harness or waistbelt, opting for two large chest pockets.
The pockets are large enough for ski goggles, climbing skins, or a small pair of gloves. Inside the left chest pocket is a smaller zippered pocket to secure a phone, GPS, or a lighter, so you can pull things out of the larger pocket without worrying about dropping smaller items in the snow. Inside the jacket is an internal stretch pocket that you can shove a pair of mittens or gloves into, but it's too small for a pair of climbing skins. This jacket has a two-way zipper that can be finicky to thread with gloves on, but we appreciate the access when wearing a harness underneath the shell.
The Summit L5 can do it all, offering impenetrable weather protection, plenty of mobility for climbing, and all the features you need for skiing in the backcountry or at the resort. Its durability makes it an excellent choice for guides and other folks that are working and playing outside all winter long.
This is one of the most expensive shells in our review, and it always pains us a little when the highest scoring model is also the most expensive. No jacket with a Gore-Tex Pro membrane is going to be cheap, but the Summit L5 is $100 more than its competitors, which use the same membrane. $650 is a real kick in the wallet. For a similar amount, you could pay rent, buy some new skis, or fly to Japan (Japow!), making it a bit difficult to fit into a tight budget. On the plus side, this jacket is versatile, and towards the end of our testing, it became the shell we used for everything.
This model is nearly perfect and is an easy pick for our Editor's Choice award; we just wish it wasn't so expensive. What we really love about the Summit L5 is how it fits. Does it cost that much to make the hem a little longer? To make the hood deeper? The Patagonia Galvanized fits nearly as well and costs $250 less, though most of the cost difference comes from using Patagonia's proprietary waterproof breathable membrane rather than the more expensive Gore-Tex Pro. Our pick for the Best Buy is the REI Stormbolt GTX, which offers decent weather protection, but doesn't fit nearly as well. What we're saying is, there's potential out there for a better jacket at a lower price. We'll let you know when we find it!
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