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Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Thursday, July 13, 2017

GEAR REVIEW: The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket

In the dry western US we carry our rainwear much more than we wear it, thus our priority is finding the lightest functional rainwear available. The Fuse Jacket meets these criteria quite well, so I give it high marks.

By Will Rietveld

The Fuse Jacket is marketed as a water-resistant and breathable running jacket, but I used it as an ultralight rain jacket for backpacking.

The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket (TNF photo).


Actually I didn’t know that it’s only water-resistant and meant for running. I checked the North Face website and found some mixed information about the jacket: on the one hand they describe DryVent as a waterproof/breathable technology, but on the other hand they describe the jacket as water- and wind-resistant.

So how waterproof is it, and how suitable is it for backpacking?

Specifications and Features

Manufacturer
The North Face (www.thenorthface.com/)
Product
Flight Series Fuse Jacket
Materials
53 g/sq meter DryVent 2.5L (PU membrane on nylon)
Features
FuseForm fabric with engineered ventilation, 1 chest pocket, water-resistant zippers, adjustable hem, elastic cuffs, attached hood with brim and one rear adjustment and elastic on sides, seam taped, 360 degree reflective logos
Weight
Size Large tested, 5.35 oz, mfr specification size Medium 4 oz
MSRP
$250

Description

The Fuse Jacket has FuseForm fabric construction, which is described by TNF as: “Our proprietary fuseform construction technique … is a revolutionary weaving process that blends thicker, more-durable threads with lighter, lower-density fibers in high-wear zones, effectively reducing overall weight and creating a seamless transition from tougher to lighter zones.” That basically means that the fabric is both lightweight and durable.

The waterproof technology in this jacket is DryVent 2.5L, which is described by TNF as: “DryVent™ fabrics using a 2.5 Layer construction are primarily used for highly active, fast and light pursuits, where light weight and packable is an essential requirement of the user. The inner layer is finished with a functional dry touch print that helps raise the fabric from the skin to provide comfort and enable the quick transfer of vapor through to the outside of the fabric. These fabrics are generally designed into unlined clothing and accessories for maximum light weight, packable, waterproof and breathable performance.”

A third technology in the Fuse Jacket is “engineered ventilation” consisting of fabric perforations in the underarms, side panels, and back. The perforations are cut in the thin nylon fabric before the membrane is laminated on, so the holes are covered by the thin membrane.

Besides the technologies in the jackets, the features are Spartan, as would be expected for an ultralight rain jacket: elastic cuffs and hood side adjustment, one zippered chest pocket, one simple hem adjustor, and one simple hood adjustment on the back. It does have a full-height front zipper, which is very handy for thermoregulation.

Field Testing


I tested the Fuse Jacket on 14 outings consisting of day hiking, backpacking, XC skiing, and snowshoeing.

 Fit – The Fuse Jacket has a trim fit, meaning it fits close to body. The back and sleeves are adequately long for a size Large (back is 29.5 inches, raglan style sleeves are 35 inches from center back neck). The jacket will layer over a thinner midlayer; I was able to layer it over an ultralight down jacket.

The hood has sufficient adjustability for a good fit. It has a stiffened brim, side elastic edging, and one adjustor on the back.

The sleeves measure 35 inches long (center back neck to cuff), but they were a smidgen short for me.

 Adjustability – Although the jacket’s adjustments are minimal, I had no problem adjusting the jacket’s hem and hood to seal in heat and seal out weather.

Breathability – The jacket’s thinness and perforations do give it more breathability than the average rain jacket made of heavier fabrics. It will steam up inside while hiking uphill carrying a backpack, but the front zipper helps a lot to maintain comfort. The breathability specification is 750-800 g/m²/24 hours. The silver color of the tested jacket also reduced heat absorption, keeping the jacket cooler.

Durability – In my testing I carried a day pack or backpack over the jacket on most trips and there are no signs of wear in the fabric, especially on the shoulders.

Waterproofness – Despite the label “water-resistant running jacket”, the Fuse Jacket performed just fine as a rain jacket for backpacking. I tested it in rain and snow and it stayed dry inside.

Windproofness – As expected, the jacket sheds wind with aplomb. It’s not as breathable and comfortable in the wind as a dedicated wind jacket, but it comes close. Opening the front zipper offers a lot of thermoregulation.

One issue I had with the Fuse Jacket is the stiff water-resistant front zipper. It’s basically a two-handed operation to open/close the zipper. Another issue is its trim fit, which limits layering. However, the Fuse is intended for running, for which the trim fit is appropriate.

Evaluation

For lightweight and ultralight backpacking we look for the lightest rainwear that will provide rain protection when needed. In the dry western US we carry our rainwear much more than we wear it, thus our priority is finding the lightest functional rainwear available. The Fuse Jacket meets these criteria quite well, so I give it high marks.

However, this jacket is expensive at $250.

I don’t mind the stiff front zipper, I can get used to that, and what’s more important is that it works properly.

What I do mind is the trim fit. When I layer it over a thin insulating jacket the Fuse is a snug fit. Going to the next larger size is not a good option because that bumps the weight up. The limited layering ability of the Fuse relegates it to summer-only use.