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The North Face Flight Futurelight Review

A running jacket built like a hardshell, with excellent attention to detail and build quality
The North Face Flight Futurelight
Photo: The North Face
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $280 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Sturdy, breathable, good reflectivity
Cons:  Heavy, overkill for less-than-extreme weather
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Walt Handloser ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 9, 2021
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74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 9
  • Breathability - 30% 7
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 9
  • Comfort and Mobility - 20% 7
  • Portability - 15% 6
  • Features and Visibility - 15% 8

Our Verdict

It can be difficult to make a running jacket that balances the needs of everyday runners and extreme mountain racers. The North Face Flight Futrelight doesn't even try. Aimed firmly at trail and mountain running, this jacket is built with the quality and thoughtful design touches normally reserved for more boutique brands. Though it is on the heavy side, its intelligent weight use, full waterproofing, and soft interior justify its weight and make it a pleasure to wear. If your running adventures may take you to snow-covered peaks, this jacket would make a great addition to your layering setup.

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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award  
Price Check Price at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
Check Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
Check Price at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$325.00 at Backcountry$129.00 at Backcountry
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Pros Sturdy, breathable, good reflectivityLightweight, good breathability, packs into pocketComfortable and stretchy material, good weather protection, breathableVery water resistant, lightweight, small packed sizeVery light, soft and comfortable material
Cons Heavy, overkill for less-than-extreme weatherNot the most weather resistant, fit is hit-or-miss for larger framesHood is not adjustable, almost no reflectivityNot as breathable as a softshell, very expensive, almost no extra featuresNo pockets, limited weather resistance
Bottom Line A running jacket built like a hardshell, with excellent attention to detail and build qualityOur favorite model, this lightweight, breathable running jacket is ideal for all occasionsA comfortable jacket with just the right balance of weather protection, breathability, and weight, with a lower sticker price than the higher-end modelsIf price is no object and compromise isn't an option, this ultralight waterproof layer is your jacketA comfortable, lightweight performance top that blurs the line between a shirt and jacket
Rating Categories Flight Futurelight Arc'teryx Incendo H... Brooks Canopy Arc'teryx Norvan SL... Airshed Pro Pullover
Breathability (30%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
Weather Resistance (20%)
9.0
7.0
5.0
8.0
4.0
Comfort And Mobility (20%)
7.0
7.0
10.0
7.0
10.0
Portability (15%)
6.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Features And Visibility (15%)
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Specs Flight Futurelight Arc'teryx Incendo H... Brooks Canopy Arc'teryx Norvan SL... Airshed Pro Pullover
Measured Weight 8.9 oz (Size S) 4.4 oz (Size S) 5.4 oz (Size S) 4.6 oz (Size M) 4.5 oz (Size M)
Number of pockets 1 1 3 0 0
Main Material Futurelight (3-layer), 88% 20D recyled nylon Lumin 100% nylon 20D Ripstop fabric DriLayer Seal 100% ripstop polyester Gore-Tex ShakeDry 100% nylon
Unique Features Packs into back pocket Media pocket Elastic cuffs, packs into pocket Super-lightweight waterproof material, minimalist design Integrated stuff sack, double zipper
Vent Type None Mesh panels under arm Chest zip vent None Front zip vent
Reflective material? Yes Logo and blazes Blazes Logo No
Hood? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

A running jacket is a personal choice that's informed by your geography, physiology, meteorology, and kinesiology. It's nearly impossible to please all runners with just one jacket, and The North Face, perhaps realizing this, chose not to try. The North Face Flight Futurelight is a jacket aimed at mountain and adventure runners. Lighter than most traditional hard shells, this jacket is nevertheless a hard shell in all but name, packing a host of features taken directly from extreme weather technical trekking gear. And its remarkable breathability despite having no venting is a testament to The North Face's in-house Futurelight material's breathability. Daily road runners might have a hard time fitting this jacket into their rotation, but for adventure seekers and storm chasers, this jacket will be a welcome companion. Paired with a breathable mid-layer, this is a truly competent bad weather running jacket and a natural choice for our Top Pick for Harsh Weather Conditions.

Performance Comparison


The Flight might just be the piece of technical kit you've been...
The Flight might just be the piece of technical kit you've been waiting for.
Photo: Walter Handloser

Breathability


The North Face made a similar choice to other lightweight hardshell makers and did not include true venting on the Flight Futurelight. This is as much a design choice as it is a bet on the breathability of the waterproofing fabric. All waterproofing fabrics have a water resistance rating and an air permeability rating. Generally, as one goes up, the other goes down. Some (usually very expensive) materials can manage high water resistance and high air permeability. The Futurelight material in this jacket is one of them.


Despite running in punishing downpour, the jacket stayed dry and comfortable, with enough airflow that it was possible to feel the stiffer breezes pass right through the membrane. As with all waterproof materials, time will tell whether the initial performance holds up, but with two solid months of testing and over a hundred miles, the Flight Futurelight remains comfortable and airy.

Despite its relative weight and thickness, the Flight wears like a...
Despite its relative weight and thickness, the Flight wears like a much lighter jacket. You can almost forget you have it on. Almost.
Photo: Walter Handloser

Weather resistance


Running in the warm spring storms of the Mid-Atlantic tests a waterproof material on two fronts: the high heat and humidity minimizes the movement of internal moisture out through the pores while pounding rain taxes material's the water resistance. The Flight Futurelight performed admirably across multiple tests in Maryland storms, not wetting out while also breathing surprisingly well.


While the jacket is a champ against moisture, its breathability can become a liability when the weather suddenly turns colder. In a longer test run in a forest, a cold wind blew in as night fell and took the temperature down considerably. Because the jacket is highly breathable, it did almost nothing to keep us warm against the wind. As with so many other aspects of this jacket, this is due to its similarity to a hard shell: hard shells are only meant as moisture protection. Insulation layers worn beneath them are meant to keep you warm.

While this is understandable, it does mean that this isn't a "complete" weather solution in a single garment. When running in a place that could have weather extreme enough for this jacket, an extra insulation layer should also be part of the kit.

Expect to layer up when temperatures really start to drop. This...
Expect to layer up when temperatures really start to drop. This jacket is all about dry, not warm.
Photo: Walter Handloser

Comfort and Mobility


A phrase that keeps coming up in this review is "like a hard shell." We're going to use it here, too. Like a hard shell, this jacket is cut for layering. Unlike more sleek, body-hugging options from other brands, the Flight Futurelight leaves extra room in the arms and torso to accommodate thicker clothing beneath it. Despite that, the jacket never feels boxy or awkward. Intelligent choices in cut mean that it sits attractively despite the extra room.


Unlike most hard shells, the Flight Futurelight uses a stretchy face fabric that gives it better-than-expected mobility. The flex is subtle, but it has a real effect at the edges of mobility. Unlike some other jackets we've tested, we never felt like we would accidentally "hulk out" of it or break a seam if we needed to bend over to tie our shoes. Still, it's worth saying that the Flight Futurelight is comfortable and mobile by the standards of a hard shell. This isn't a jacket you might fall asleep in like some of the lighter models in our lineup.

The Flight's build quality on display: soft backing material...
The Flight's build quality on display: soft backing material, matching and well-applied seam tape on flat seams, and a full-sized zipper garage that becomes a waterproof zipper backing.
Photo: Walter Handloser

A soft backing material on its 3-layer waterproofing gives it a good next-to-skin feel: it never felt clammy. All things considered, this is among the most comfortable running jackets we've tested despite its weight. Like other technical jackets (but far too few running jackets), it has hood and hem adjustments to fine-tune the fit.

Though the hood can be a bit stiff at first, it fits snugly thanks...
Though the hood can be a bit stiff at first, it fits snugly thanks to both an elastic adjustment cord and separate elastic banding around the sides.
Photo: Walter Handloser

Portability


It's difficult to call the Flight Futurelight "packable." It is, in the strictest sense. It packs into its own pocket given time and patience. But if you're anything like us, you'll give up that effort halfway through and just stuff it in your pack or tie it around your waist.


The plus side is that if you do either of those, it's not that heavy. Despite being double the weight of our lightest reviewed running jacket, it's still not what most people would call heavy at 9 ounces (250 grams). And stowed in a container larger than its own pocket, it's still unobtrusively small. Nevertheless, don't try to compare it to the more flyweight running offerings. It's neither as compact nor as packable as the best-in-class.

Given a three minute timer sitting at a desk, this was as close as...
Given a three minute timer sitting at a desk, this was as close as we could get the Flight FUTURELIGHT to fully packed away.
Photo: Walter Handloser

Features and Visibility


The previously-mentioned hem and hood adjusters are the most obvious standout features of the Flight Futurelight. Other notables include a full-sized zipper garage, a surprisingly capacious lumbar pocket with a waterproof zipper that fits an XL-sized phone comfortably, and one of the more comfortable hoods we've tested. Finally, despite many jackets seemingly being designed without any thought for running at night, this was one of only two jackets tested with full (and ample) 360 reflectivity.


On the other hand, the lack of certain features is notable. No active venting and no pockets other than the lumbar give the flight a very stripped-down feel. As in other areas, the lack of creature comforts points to this jacket being a serious piece of kit for hardcore adventures. Still, it's hard not to wish they hadn't pared quite so much away.

With reflective barring encircling the entire body and both arms...
With reflective barring encircling the entire body and both arms, and reflective badges on the front, back and left side, the Flight Futurelight is one of the few jackets in our lineup designed around visibility.
Photo: Walter Handloser

Value


The Flight Futurelight is one of the most costly running jackets we've tested. But the price feels justified against the performance. From its bomb-proof construction to its rock-solid fit and finish, this jacket feels every penny of its price tag and then some. Balanced against true hardshell jackets that often cost twice as much, the Flight Futurelight holds its own and warrants a recommendation for crossover use where one might normally opt for something much heavier and less comfortable.

Built to last with performance to match, this is the kind of product...
Built to last with performance to match, this is the kind of product you keep in rotation for years.
Photo: Walter Handloser

Conclusion


The Flight Futurelight finds itself in an awkward position. It's not a "throw-on-and-go" single piece like most running jackets. It's not great for rapidly changing weather conditions. It's not as packable nor as light, nor as manageable as the lightweight offerings from other brands.

It is a jacket that might keep you alive on a hillside fifty miles into a mountain race when the weather turns bad. It is a jacket that fits right into an adventure race kit list. In short, it's a jacket that you're probably already looking for if your needs are this niche. If your running needs get this extreme, this jacket is an easy recommendation. If you live in a relatively mellow climate or your running needs never involve ice or snow, this jacket might be overkill. But if you want one of the most technical, breathable, and durable running jackets we've tested, the Flight Futurelight is the obvious choice, and for that, it takes home our Top Pick for Harsh Weather Conditions.

Walt Handloser