The North Face Freedom Review
Cons: Limited seam and pocket sealing, less effective vent design
Manufacturer: The North Face
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Freedom Pants from The North Face are a great value for nearly every skier. The materials are simple and effective, and the construction is adequate. Yes, you can get better performing products, but to do so, you spend a lot more money. To really step up in performance you will be spending at least twice as much as you would on the Freedom Pants. This is the essence of our Best Buy Award; there might be less expensive products, and there are certainly better performing products. But there is often a product that is something more than the sum of its parts. The North Face Freedom fits this description "to a T."
On our overall scoring matrix, the Freedom Pants are nothing special. They sit squarely in the bottom third. Down there with them, however, are products that are mostly either much more expensive or much more specialized in function. The closest comparison is to the Columbia Ridge 2 Run II. The Columbia is a little bit less expensive but significantly compromised in some key areas. The Freedom is definitely worth the cost upgrade over the Columbia.
Ski clothing from companies that originated as climbing and mountaineering companies are generally pretty good about weather protection. The Freedom pants are no exception. In all but the most nuking of weather, they keep that weather outside. The fabric is waterproof and windproof. The main seams are taped for integrity. The only weaknesses are the zippers and seams around the zippers. None of the zippers (two pocket zips, two vent zips, one fly zip) are waterproof, and none are sewn in with taped seams. The thigh pocket is also vulnerable to weather. It closes with just a couple velcro tabs.
The weather resistance of this Best Buy winner is pretty similar to that of our Top Pick for Warmth. Both the Freedom Pants and the Spyder Dare have waterproof fabric and taped main seams, but zippers and pockets that are vulnerable. The Editors' Choice Arc'Teryx Sabre seals those gaps, as do the FlyLow products. Both the FlyLow Chemical and the FlyLow Baker Bibs have fully sealed seams and waterproof zippers everywhere. This North Face product, though, outperforms the Ridge 2 Run II in this metric.
Fit and Comfort
We found the Freedom Pants to fit true to size. We also found them to have a reasonable range of motion, a soft fleecy lining, and external fabric that is largely supple and generally "quiet." The range of motion could be better for things like backcountry hikes and pre-skiing stretching routines, but once skiing downhill, you won't notice it at all.
The cut and fit of the Freedom Pants is similar to that of the Marmot Discovery Bibs and the Columbia Ridge 2 Run II. The Patagonia Powder Bowl and Arc'Teryx Sabre step it up a bit. The most comfortable pants we tested are the backcountry specific OR Trailbreaker and the Top Pick for Backcountry Patagonia Descensionist.
Ventilation of ski pants is provided almost entirely by leg vents. On The North Face Freedom those vents are on the inner leg and lined with mesh. This configuration allows the user to keep them open while skiing looser snow and minimize snow incursion, but it also minimizes ventilation. You will notice the airflow increase, but some options allow for even more air flow.
The best venting pants are those with two zippers per leg and no mesh backing. Only the FlyLow Baker Bibs and the FlyLow Chemical Snow Pants have such zippers. Next are the pants that have external leg vents and no mesh backing. Matching this description are the Editors' Choice Arc'Teryx Sabre, the OR Trailbreaker and the Top Pick Patagonia Descensionist. Like the Freedom Pants, the Columbia Ridge 2 Run II and the Spyder Dare have interior, mesh-backed vents.
Ski pants are largely neutral in styling. The cut and finish of the Freedom Pants are decidedly neutral. The color schemes are a little bolder than is currently trendy. The pair we tested is all red with one black pocket panel. This stands out in the current, muted ski fashion world. It is impressive that The North Face offers these in a dizzying ten colors.
The plethora of color options for the Freedom is shared by the Columbia Ridge 2 Run II. With these inexpensive pants, the manufacturers have an economy of scale. They do enough volume that they can offer more color options. This is nice, but we kind of wish that the color choices were more subtle. Ski fashion has moved away from the bright and bold colors of just a few years ago.
As shell pants go, The North Face Freedom pants are relatively warm. The separate hanging liner creates a protective air space between it and the shell layer. The inner layer, in this case, is a super thin fleece that lends further, but minor, warmth. The insulating value of the Freedom Pants is just right for most users. The lining is appropriate for wearing directly against the skin on warm days while it doesn't bind on long underwear on the colder days.
There are warmer ski pants, and there are less insulating options. The insulated choices, like the Salomon Chill Out Bib and the Spyder Dare are quite a bit warmer than The North Face Freedom. The Powder Bowl and Top Pick Discovery Bibs are virtually the same, regarding insulation. The Editors' Choice Arc'Teryx Sabre and both FlyLow pants are less insulating than the Freedom Pants.
The only features to speak of on The North Face Freedom are the three pockets. There are two zippered handwarmer pockets and one velcro-closed thigh pocket. Interestingly, the thigh pocket is lined with fleece. It makes sense that the hand-warmer pockets are so lined, and we appreciate that. That the thigh pocket has fleece doesn't make a ton of sense. It is especially problematic when snow works its way under the velcro flap and soaks into the fleece as it melts. A non-fleece lined pocket would have less of this problem, and a zip-closed pocket would eliminate the problem.
On one level, the feature set of the Freedom pants is the same as that of the Arc'Teryx Sabre. They both have three pockets and little else. On the Sabre, though, all the pockets seal with waterproof zippers. They are far more useful that way. Also, the belt closure of the Arc Teryx is a little more secure than the velcro tabs on the side of the Freedom Pants. Thankfully, with The North Face Freedom, you can add a belt to hold them securely on.
These are great, all-around ski pants for anyone on a budget. The gnarliest weather and the most rigorous use will overwhelm them, but routine to ambitious use is within their capabilities.
Our Best Buy Award should speak straight to the question of value. We looked at all the variables and decided that these pants are the best choice for anyone on a strict budget. Others will perform better, while some are even less expensive. However, the Freedom pants sit at a sweet spot.
We've tested a few years' worth of Freedom ski pants now. Through it all, they have remained a great value with more than adequate performance. We recommend them.
— Jediah Porter