The north face of most mountains on earth is the coldest, iciest, most treacherous face. The angle of sun exposure in the northern hemisphere means the north face spends the most time in shadow, allowing more snow accumulation and harsher conditions for an ascent. For this reason, the founders of The North Face thought it an apt name for the climbing equipment company they founded in 1968. The North Face’s mission is to provide “the best gear for our athletes and the modern day explorer, support the preservation of the outdoors, and inspire a global movement of exploration,” and by keeping in mind the harshest conditions their equipment could possibly be put through, they’ve ensured that The North Face became synonymous with tough, durable, weatherproof gear, from head to toe.
An emphasis on exploration and an “explorer mentality” has remained central to the company’s approach in the decades since its founding, and their cold-weather gear is popular with a wide range of folks, whether they’re making a record-breaking ascent or learning to ski for the first time. The explorer mentality means different things to different people, but by crafting cold-weather gear that’s ready for the harshest possible conditions, The North Face ensures it’s ready for your next adventure, no matter what.
We’re all about getting out into the elements at Outdoor Equipped, so The North Face’s explorer mentality speaks to our own outlook, and we think some of the innovations they’ve incorporated into their offerings to improve their performance and lessen their impact on the environment are worth taking a closer look at. So as winter settles on us, we wanted to talk a little about what goes into this kind of all-weather gear and showcase some of The North Face’s best offerings so you can be ready for anything as you step out into the snow and cold for your own explorations.
Tried-and-True North Face Puffer Jackets
From their original skiing and climber’s coats, The North Face’s line has expanded over the years to accommodate a variety of weather needs on the trail and in the city. Case in point: the Metropolis Parka. The is long and slim-fitting, with ergonomic seams and a durable non-PFC water-repellent finish. The quilted Metropolis is packed with weather-ready 550-fill down from its detachable hood all the way down to thigh-level.
Scientists have yet to develop materials that can compete with the heat-to-weight ratio of down. Nothing traps heat so well and so efficiently, but as with any animal product like leather or fur, it can raise concerns about animal welfare. The North Face is committed to making sure that the down that goes into its winter coats doesn’t come from animals that have been subjected to harmful farming practices or unnecessary harm. In 2014, the company launched the Responsible Down Standard (RSD) in partnership with Textile Exchange. The RDS opens the entire supply chain for The North Face’s down to scrutiny, in order to validate the practices employed by their suppliers and protect animals from inhumane treatment. The initiative has had effects far beyond The North Face itself, incentivizing over 6000 farms worldwide to seek RDS certification, with 50 different apparel brands adopting RDS supply-chain standards.
The North Face Rain Jackets
The North Face’s versatile rain coats utilize Durable Water-Repellent (DWR) waterproofing in the outer shells to make water bead right off of them instead of soaking in. Many water-repellants contain chemicals known as Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) which are toxic and persist in the environment. The North Face uses only non-PFC waterproofing in rain coats like the Venture 2 Jacket, and guarantees that each piece is made of at least 75% recycled, regenerative, and responsibly-sourced renewable materials by weight. In addition to embodying the best in environmentally-friendly apparel practices, the Venture is thoughtfully-designed, fully wind- and waterproof with a storm flap over the zippers, a fully-adjustable hood, and a hem cinch-cord to keep the gale from finding its way in. Best of all, it stows in its own hand pocket, making it an easy and essential piece to throw in your backpack just in case.
Earth-Friendly North Face Fleece
One of The North Face’s perennial best-sellers is their line of extremely versatile and warm fleece jackets. One big benefit of fleece is its high heat-to-weight ratio; fleece is more compact than down and weighs just a fraction of what sheep’s wool does, while remaining soft, warm, and water-repellent. The North Face fleece jackets like the Canyonlands Quarter-Zip and the Candescent Quarter-Zip pack a lot of warmth into stylish, unassuming packages, utilizing 200-weight smooth-face fleece in a slim cut with a drop-tail hem and raglan sleeves to fit comfortably with a backpack. What’s more, while a lot of fleece material is synthesized from oil, back in the 1990s The North Face turned away from that kind of manufacturing and began making all of its fleece from recycled plastic bottles. Diverting some of the estimated 27 million tons of plastic that finds its way into landfills each year and giving it new life as top-notch cold-weather clothing feeds two birds with one seed, so to speak, and we just love it.
The North Face Pants
Hiking pants are a constantly-underestimated article of clothing. Many people are content to pull on a pair of jeans when hitting the trails, but when you hit any kind of inclement weather, you quickly learn the shortcomings of your trusty blue jeans. They’re durable, sure, but denim is terribly heavy for the warmth it provides, and if it gets wet - forget it.
The North Face designed their Paramount Active Convertible Pants to meet the needs of outdoor exploring in foul weather or fair. To achieve this, they developed the soft, non-PFC FlashDry XD cotton that not only keeps water from absorbing and weighing you down, but wicks away and breathes out your own sweat as you scale the heights. The material is durable enough to survive whatever you throw at it and provides an impressive UPF of 50 for such lightweight pants. The slim-fit Paramount Pants are designed for maximum freedom of movement while avoiding snagging on branches along the trail, and they’re truly convertible, with an unobtrusive kissing welt seam, easily unzipping into shorts with a 10 ¼-inch inseam.
The Aphrodite 2.0 Capris are similarly constructed of The North Face’s durable FlashDry cotton blend, light and breathable, designed to fit loosely or snugly around your legs with a 17-inch leg openings with drawcords for cinching them closed. Like the Paramount Pants, the Aphrodite is designed with backpacks in mind, with a wide waistband that won’t dig in or chafe under the weight of your pack.
The North Face Puffer Vests
The venerable Cuchillo Insulated Vest really showcases a lot of the techniques that The North Face uses to make their gear. It’s not surprising that The North Face’s vests are so consistently popular with the exploration crowd - vests allow for better range of arm motion than even the best-designed coats, and with the right insulation they can be extremely effective at keeping your core warm and dry. The Cuchillo Insulated Vest is made with the ultra-wicking FlashDry cotton blend, with a layer of non-PFC waterproofing in the outer shell. The zipper is exposed for easy accessibility, with an internal storm flap to keep our drafts. The inner layer is composed of soft 100% recycled Sherpa fleece, and the whole vest is stuffed with The North Face’s Heatseeker Eco insulation. Heatseeker Eco is a long-strand, high-performing insulation made from 100% recycled polyester fibers, and it has a number of great qualities that make it perfect for outdoors vests. It’s got a great warmth-to-weight ratio; it’s extremely resilient over the long run, water-repellent, and hypo-allergenic. It’s also highly compressible, allowing it to fill with air for peak insulation and also pack down when necessary for movement or stowing. And of course, being made of recycled materials, it’s low-carbon and in-line with The North Face’s goals of making more earth-friendly gear.
The North Face Gloves
Folks, get yourselves a good pair of gloves. I’m always surprised to see so many people on the ski slopes or hiking trails with those little sopping-wet stretchy gloves stuck to their hands, sapping away their warmth and shortening their stay out on the slopes. It really doesn’t take too much insulation to make a good pair of gloves that maintain your fingers’ freedom of movement, but keeping the wind and water out is an absolute necessity.
The North Face’s Apex Gloves are a good example. Compact Heatseeker Eco insulation wrapped up in a tight wind- and water-resistant polyester blend with a silicone gripper palm, they’re made to maintain your dexterity so you don’t have to take them off to do things - the fingers are even touchscreen-capable so you can operate your phone without exposing yourself to the cold. And with a good pair of dry gloves, you’ll find your stamina for staying out in the snow increases dramatically. The crackling fire at the ski lodge can wait.
The North Face Hiking Backpacks
The North Face’s backpacks have become some of the most trusted in the business for good reason. Made with the same careful thought and durability that goes into their clothing lines, packs like The North Face Vault backpack are tough enough to carry your load up the mountain (28 liters!), with strong stitching, a sternum strap, and a FlexVent suspension system on the back and straps that helps keep your back healthy and ventilate sweat on long hikes. They’re also versatile enough for the college campus or the airplane overhead compartment, with a laptop sleeve and a highly organized front pocket to help you reach small paraphernalia quickly, be it a pen, granola bar, or compass.
My personal favorite is The North Face Jester backpack. Like the Vault, it’s got a large main compartment and a well-organized front pocket (27 liters in total), as well as the FlexVent system and sternum strap for comfortable hiking (in fact, it’s endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association). It stands on its own on the ground for easy loading and unloading, and has bungee storage for quick access to your sweater and two external water bottle pockets. The whole thing is built strong out of 600D recycled polyester with a non-PFC waterproof finish that is lightly reflective 360 degrees around. Little touches like the whistle clip on the sternum strap and two handles at the top make the whole package a perfect all-around pack for the workweek and weekend.
Opening Up Winter Hiking, Skiing, and Exploring
In September 2018, a team led by Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison made the first ski descent of Lhotse, the fourth tallest mountain in the world. Sitting next to Mt. Everest, Lhotse’s summit is 27,940 feet above sea level. On one hand, climbing an enormous Himalayan peak like Lhotse requires good weather and lots of equipment. On the other hand, skiing a mountain like that requires snowy weather at all elevations and extremely light packing to maximize speed and safety on the way down. Balancing these contradictory needs during the month-long expedition was, in Nelson’s words, “barely managed chaos.” They traversed the crevasses of mighty glaciers, camped on ice fields, and raced against the coming winter winds, but on 30 September they succeeded in one of the most ambitious skiing trips ever attempted.
Most of us will never even dream of skiing the fourth highest peak in the world. Exploration takes many forms, most of them personal and not recorded in the annals of history. But gear that pushes the envelope of what’s possible for people like Hilaree and Jim makes our own journeys of exploration safer and more accessible. The North Face VP Steve Lesnard said it best: “We want to dare to lead the world forward through exploration because we believe that whether you’re an elite athlete who wants to climb one of the highest peaks or just a consumer who wants to go further in discovering this new view that will leave an incredible experience for you, you deserve it.”
You deserve it. Now go get it.