Compare the new Flight Better Than Naked (right) to the version we tested (left).
We link to the updated version above, but the review to follow refers to our experience with the original Better Than Naked.
Hands-On Review of The North Face Better Than Naked Jacket
The new North Face Better Than Naked running jacket is wildly different than its past generation. The new jacket has much less venting and far more protection from the elements. We aren't convinced that all of the changes are good and that the design is swaying from being a pure running jacket to be more of a jacket designed specifically to shield from the elements. It weighs in at only 2.8oz to its name. There were some other nagging issues with the jacket that we discuss in more detail further down.
The Better Than Naked had us struggling on big hills. While it has some nice features the breathability was lacking.
Breathability and Venting
Compared to the highest performing jackets in the Breathability and Venting category, the Better Than Naked didn't quite stack up. Yes, it has venting, and the material is breathable, but when our testers put the hammer down, the jacket couldn't handle the added heat and moisture. We ended up settling on a consensus of 6/10 for breathability and venting. If you're looking for a little more support with breathability check out the Arc'teryx Incendo While out for a two or three-mile jog on level terrain, it did keep us protected from the morning chill while venting our excess heat and moisture. The breakdown came when we would deviate from our normal jog and encounter hills or other terrain, causing deviations in our heart rate, and boosting our output of heat. This would result in a collection of moisture inside the jacket on the ups, and when we started to descend, there was just enough venting in the jacket that we would get uncomfortable from the evaporating sweat.
The Better Than Naked was equipped with gills along the ribs and shoulders. The issue being they lay flat and would require a wind tunnel to force air into them in order to be effective.
The reason we gave the Better Than Naked 6/10 for breathability and venting was when compared to the top performers, the user had to do 'extra work' to get the jacket to perform. For example, when reaching a long sustained uphill section of a run we had to unzip or remove the jacket entirely to avoid the moisture buildup inside, then replace the jacket once we started back down. The Arc'teryx Incendo offered enough venting to avoid having to alter the garment at all when in the same situation. As a runner, this is a big advantage. Instead of fiddling with your jacket, you could instead take that time before the uphill to take a drink, analyze the terrain, or even switch to Africa by Todo to fuel your uphill slog.
Overall the weather resistance of the Better Than Naked jacket is pretty good. It wasn't a top performer but it is far from the worst. Along with all of the jackets in this review, we found the DWR treated nylon to perform well in light and intermittent rain. The Better Than Naked was most comparable to the Brooks LSD jacket both in wind resistance and rain resistance. The Brooks LSD, however, is much cheaper. When you consider the protection that both provide, the Brooks really is a screaming deal.
On our wind resistance downhill ride, we again found the Better Than Naked to ride right in the middle of the pack. You could feel some air leaking in through the venting, which isn't a bad thing. It kept us from being absolutely pummeled by the wind and kept us from feeling the chill of the canyon air. All said and done, it offered us decent wind resistance but not enough to justify the price. You could get the Brooks LSD, which offers comparable wind and rain protection, for much cheaper.
Comfort and Mobility
The middle child of the running jacket review just can't decide if it wants to be a comfortable, forgiving jacket. The 100% nylon is incredibly slick and quiet when you are on the move. Out of all of the jackets, if we had a category for the quietest material the Better Than Naked would take the prize with ease. As you move, and your arms swing, you don't hear that typical nylon melody you get with most jackets. Unfortunately, the positives stop there.
We found the Better Than Naked to need more material in the arms. They were simply just too short.
The arms are too short for anything other than having your arms directly at your sides, the elastic cuffs on the wrist don't create a seal, and we were constantly tugging the waist back down as it rode up during our run. None of these little niggles were enough to ruin the jacket on their own, but when you were dealing with all of them together and then running in a rainstorm, you might end up ditching this jacket for something a little more forgiving like the Outdoor Research or Arc'teryx models. Both are comparable in price but offer a jacket that is much more comfortable in a wider variety of situations.
When we think about portability, we think about solutions. We don't want to just cram our jacket into the bottom of our hydration pack or tie it around our waist. We are looking for a way to pack it along with us during the times it isn't needed and be able to unpack it and get it on fast and easy. The Better Than Naked checks most of those boxes until you get to the point where you want to unpack it fast and easy. It packs down quickly and easily with its slick nylon. The stuff pouch is a great size for the jacket, allowing the entirety of the garment to be contained without having to enlist the help of a stranger on the side of the road. The problems arise when you get to the zipping and unzipping of the stuff pouch.
Notice the zipper on the Better Than Naked jacket has a one sided pull. We found it difficult to open and close this stuff pouch.
When we were doing anything other than popping out the door for a quick two or three mile jog this jacket didn't suit our needs like the other top performers. It just was too much of a hassle to pack and unpack to justify bringing it. On those shorter runs around the neighborhood, it was indeed better than being naked, though we didn't test that for various reasons.
Day and Night Visibility
We didn't find the Better Than Naked to have the best day and night visibility. It was awarded a 6/10 and could have done much better if it had reflective material visible from all four sides. As it stands there is a reflective North Face emblem on the front and back but when viewed from either the right or left side it is noticeably harder to see. Reflective emblems on the arms, like we see on the Arc'teryx Incendo, offer superior visibility while the subject is moving. The movement in the arms gives more opportunity for light to hit the reflective blazing and thus a better chance that the attention of the distracted drivers will see you.
Using the same low light method as all other jackets, you can see the North Face doesn't offer superior low light visibility. We found the same to be true in our real world testing.
At $130, the Better Than Naked is on the upper end of price for this years running jacket review. For the cost, we would like to see a jacket have a more well-rounded approach to running. As it is, The North Face does a pretty good job protecting its wearer from wind and rain and does retain some breathability, though the venting wasn't completely adequate. While there are vents, they don't get much air moving through them. Although the North Face isn't bad value for money, you could spend less and get a jacket better suited for running.
The North Face Better Than Naked provides adequate protection from the elements while out on your training runs. It is lightweight at 2.8oz and stuffs down into a manageable size. While we found the venting and breathability to be lacking during strenuous outings, for running around town and keeping your heart rate below the redline, it is a great jacket.