The North Face Summit L5 LT Futurelight Review
Cons: Fragile, unreliable wrist cuffs, excessively long waist drawcord
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face currently makes two men's Summit Series L5 Futurelight jackets: a standard and a lighter "LT" version. This is our review of the LT version. We've haven't had an opportunity to test the burlier standard version.
Our testers weren't very impressed with the weather protection supplied by the Summit L5 LT. A primary concern is the hood, which features a flimsy and single drawcord for adjustment. During our shower test, water poured off this hood and down into the chin of the jacket. We also dislike the wrist cuffs because the hook-and-loop closure are too long, so that they frequently open accidentally. Finally, the durable water repellent treatment on the Futurelight fabric seemed to wear off quickly, causing the jacket to wet out before the conclusion of our three-month test.
At just 11.8 ounces for a size large, the Summit L5 LT is among the lightest jackets in our men's hardshell review. In fact, the slight weight savings you could get with the absolute lightest is so small that it's probably not worth factoring in to your purchasing decision. This jacket is also extremely packable and is one of only a few models to come with its own nylon stuff sack.
Mobility and Fit
One positive thing we can say is the Futurelight fabric feels great to move around in. It's also not noisy or stiff like some of the heavy-duty hardshells made with Gore-Tex Pro fabric. Nevertheless, the unreliability of the wrist cuffs does negatively impact mobility because you can't trust the sleeves to stay in place. Fit wise, this jacket feels a little baggy in the torso. With a more athletic cut, good wrist cuffs, and the comfy Futurelight fabric, the Summit L5 LT could be a standout in this performance area. As it stands now, however, it's a disappointment.
Venting and Breathability
The biggest consequence of the Summit L5 LT's ultralight design may be the lack of pit zips, which reduces your options for venting when you're charging uphill. This issue is somewhat negated, however, by the above-average breathability of the Futurelight fabric. In our stationary bike test, we found this fabric to be noticeable more breathable than the Gore-Tex Pro fabric found on a lot of other hardshells.
Features and Design
The Summit L5 LT boasts a pair of internal pockets that are great for stashing a pair of gloves or skins. It's also got a single external chest pocket with a reliable taped zipper. Beyond that, the features are fairly limited. This jacket lacks underarm vents, and both the hood and waist hem each employ only a single drawcord for adjustment. The waist drawcord is particularly disappointing because it becomes excessively long when it's cinched down. Not only does this compromise your looks, but it's long enough that it's prone to snagging on tree branches or harness carabiners.
This jacket has the ultralight design and propriety fabric you find on most affordable hardshells, but not the corresponding price tag. At full MSRP, it costs around average for a hardshell, which is a couple of hundred dollars more than the cheapest models available. After factoring in its modest performance, we don't think it presents an exceptional value.
In the competitive landscape of today's hardshell market, it doesn't take very many problems for a jacket to fall behind the competition. In the case of the Summit L5 LT, The North Face deserves praise for their new Futurelight fabric, but the comfort and breathability advantages of this material can not outweigh this jacket's other design flaws. Our testers' chief complaints were the ineffective hood and wrist cuffs that wouldn't reliably stay closed. The Summit L5 LT is still a great jacket, but there are better choices currently available.
— Jack Cramer