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The North Face Summit L5 GTX Pro Review

This jacket is a favorite of our testers thanks to its perfect fit and functional features.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $650 List
Pros:  Great fit, impenetrable weather protection, one of our favorite hoods
Cons:  Expensive
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 28, 2019
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85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weather Protection - 35% 10
  • Weight - 20% 6
  • Mobility and Fit - 20% 9
  • Venting and Breathability - 15% 7
  • Features - 10% 9

Our Verdict

As of 2019, The North Face no longer makes this particular version of the Summit L5.

The North Face Summit L5 GTX jacket is hands down one of the best hardshells on the market right now. The fit is superb, with room for layering without being too bulky. It's loaded with great features, including a removable powder skirt, so this jacket is ready for endless laps in deep powder, or it can be trimmed down for alpine ascents and ice climbing. The hood has several points of adjustment and kept us dry in everything from torrential rain to stinging spindrift better than any model we've tested. The price is a real kick in the pants, no getting around it, but its versatility and durability will serve you well, making it a more than worthy investment if playing outside in the worst weather is in your future.


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.

Perormance Comparison


This model kept us completely dry on the heaviest storm days because of its deep hood and long hem.
This model kept us completely dry on the heaviest storm days because of its deep hood and long hem.

Weather Protection


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.

This jacket has one of the best fits around. It achieves a great balance by being roomy enough for layering  while never feeling like there is superfluous material getting in the way.
This jacket has one of the best fits around. It achieves a great balance by being roomy enough for layering, while never feeling like there is superfluous material getting in the way.

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.

Pit zips are crucial for this jacket since the Gore-Tex Pro Membrane and the 44D face fabric don't breathe as well as lighter  more fragile fabrics.
Pit zips are crucial for this jacket since the Gore-Tex Pro Membrane and the 44D face fabric don't breathe as well as lighter, more fragile fabrics.

Features


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.

We love this hood! It has one of the best fits of any model we tested  has three points of adjustment  and kept our testers completely dry.
We love this hood! It has one of the best fits of any model we tested, has three points of adjustment, and kept our testers completely dry.

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.

Having no pockets to shove your hands in takes some getting used to. Fortunately  the chest pockets are large enough that you'll still have plenty of storage options  plus they'll never interfere with a harness or waist strap.
Having no pockets to shove your hands in takes some getting used to. Fortunately, the chest pockets are large enough that you'll still have plenty of storage options, plus they'll never interfere with a harness or waist strap.

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.

An additional mini zippered pocket lives inside the left chest pocket so you can root around in the larger pocket without worrying about dropping your phone  keys  or wallet in the snow.
An additional mini zippered pocket lives inside the left chest pocket so you can root around in the larger pocket without worrying about dropping your phone, keys, or wallet in the snow.

Best Applications


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.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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!


Matt Bento