A lightweight Summit Series hardshell using novel construction techniques but it needs some refining
The FuseForm Originator jacket is part of The North Face’s ‘Summit Series’ of clothing aimed at the the more hard core mountain users. The North Face bill the FuseForm Originator as being suited ‘Alpine climbing, rock climbing and mountaineering’. Throughout the review period it has proved to be a durable and lightweight jacket but there are a couple of issues with its design in terms of Alpine mountaineering. First a little technical background. The revolutionary FuseForm™ construction weaves multiple textile properties into one single fabric by eliminating the stitching and taping of traditional seams. What this means is you can have a single piece of fabric with different weights or denier threads, so heavier more abrasion resistant for the arms and shoulders and lighter on the lower torso. FuseForm™ technology allows this to be done without seams which can make for a lighter, tougher and more packable jacket. The FuseForm™Originator jacket is actually made from a single piece of Hy Vent 2.5L material tailored with some extremely clever cutting/patterning. With the FuseForm™ Originator jacket The North Face have produced trim and well cut shell that moves without restricting you whilst climbing (in fact I used it running a couple of times and it worked fine for that as well). In fact the cut of the jacket is one of its best points – spot on for climbing where you don’t want any flapping or bagginess that could snag or obscure your dainty foot/crampon work. This was my first time using HyVent and I was suitably impressed, without proper testing I hesitate to comment on breathability but it certainly kept me comfortable during high exertion activities including a bit of trail running. Packability wise and weight wise the Originator is also a winner, it is lighter (258grams for my size small) and packs smaller than any full mountain shell I posses (including a Gore Paclite model) and feels more durable. Design wise you get a helmet compatible hood with a laminated brim, two hand warmer pockets and an inner chest ‘security’ pocket which you can just about squeeze a phone into. It is with some of these design elements that the Originator seems to miss the mark. The ‘Harness and pack friendly hand warmer pockets’ are set quite low and when you don a harness I find they are almost completely obscured by the waist belt. You can pull the jacket up to get access to them but then you have a bulging jacket above your harness, a problem exacerbated when you put stuff into the pockets, and a jacket that is likely to come untucked.
Surprisingly the front zipper has no flap behind it and though I experienced no ingress of water here it seems an odd omission – I’m not sure it would survive the full Scottish winter test. What really lets the jacket down in my opinion is the hood. Although it fits well over a helmet and moves without obscuring your vision the laminated peak does not do a good job of shielding your face from the rain and worse still there is no way to tighten the chin area of the hood. The clever tightening system works brilliantly around the upper head but there is no way to tighten it around the neck and chin area. When you’re not wearing a helmet the open neck/chin are allows water to funnel in at times which is far from ideal! It is hard to see the thinking behind this design, given that The North Face get it so right on their other Summit Series jackets why the change to an inferior design on the FuseForm Originator?
Overall the FuseForm Originator has the makings of a great lightweight and compact mountaineering jacket but is let down by some of the design elements such as the hood and pocket placement. With a few changes it would make an excellent ‘take along’ hardshell for summer alpine ascents or good forecast winter trips where you want a lightweight hardshell to back up a soft shell ‘just in case’. The pockets need moving up to clear a harness or even just go with a single external chest pocket making it a truly take-along ultra lightweight and the hood needs a better closure system when not wearing a helmet. On a side note my particular jacket seems to have developed talismanic like properties in relation to rain fall – I’ve shoved it in my pack for three trips now to the Lakes with wet forecasts in the hope of getting some action shots in the wet and each time it has remained dry!
Available from: The North Face
SRP: £260.00 (Currently on sale £156)