What do you get when you combine The North Face Summit Series tech along with the waterproofing and breathability of GORE-TEX 3L Pro Shell? Aside from perfection it’s hard to say, but The North Face Free Thinker Jacket comes pretty darn close to being the best technical shell we have tested designed specifically for ski touring and splitboarding in the backcountry.
One of the best features of the this years The North Face Free Thinker Jacket is it’s ability to dump unwanted heat quickly. This is especially nice when you find yourself going out on longer hikes or tours in the backcountry or even for short hikes via a ski resort.
Back in 2015, GORE-TEX updated its tech even more by introducing the 3 layer fabric called C-KNIT which improved breathability, offered a softer feel, and ability to slide over layers with ease.
GORE-TEX has strict requirements for outwear companies wanting to use their membranes. Waterproof, Breathability and Durability all must meet and exceed the strict GORE-TEX testing requirements for every piece of gear that gets the GORE branding. When you buy something like The North Face Free Thinker Jacket in 3L GORE-TEX you know it means serious business.
And if for some reason you find it too warm inside the jacket even with the 3L tech, there are pit zips on both arms that open directly into the jacket allowing air to flow quickly.
The North Face Free Thinker Jacket
With a lifetime warranty it will be hard to find another tough piece of gear in the snow sports world these days that can stand up to the durability of The North Face Free Thinker Jacket. And it’s not just the warranty that should have you interested instead, you can thank the 3L GORE-TEX once again as it bonds the GORE membranes to both layers of the fabric. Which in turn leads to less movement between the individual layers and enhanced durability thanks to less wear and tear overall.
I have ridden this jacket through trees that would have destroyed any other coat. Luckily I was rocking the top of the line jacket from The North Face. If you work outside and need a jacket to wear at work (think ski guides, volunteer ski patrol etc), The North Face Free Thinker needs to be on your radar.
Free Thinker Jacket Features
As mentioned above The North Face Free Thinker jacket would be great for anyone working on the mountain, specially with its dual chest pockets which I find is a must have when doing snow safety work in the field. I can easily store my avalanche notebook in one pocket and have my compass and other small tool in the other making it really efficient to get to the gear you need the most while on snow. These pockets would also work great for storing snacks, or as a media / radio pocket.
Like to hike in blowing snow? The North Face Free Thinker Jacket has a super comfy 6″ tall fleece liner at the top of the main zipper on the front. You won’t have to worry about chaffing your face while trying to hide from the wind and cold. This little feature may not seem like much but it truly works wonders when the weather is nasty and hammering.
The Free Thinker Jacket comes with possibly the most hard core cuffs we have seen to date. I find myself locking these into place once and forgetting about the cuffs for the rest of the day. The cuffs are made of burly Velcro, plus there is even elastic thumb-loop cuffs inside the cuff that will ensure your jacket to glove / mitten interface is bomber. You can either run your gloves or mittens over the cuffs or under depending on your style preferences.
What Can be Improved
We love jackets with powder skirts (honestly I feel naked without them) so it’s great to see The North Face Free Thinker Jacket comes with one especially since its articulated to stretch and move with your body. However there are three clips that are designed to integrated with North Face Pants which can easily get hooked in the wrong place if you happen to wear another brands pants.
You may or may not find yourself doing a weird dance at après–ski trying to figure out how to get your jacket disconnected from your pants, better yet just buy a pair of The North Face pants and this problem will go away
Helmet compatible hoods are great, especially when its storming. Sometimes though the hood on the Free Thinker Jacket can seem a bit too big especially if your not wearing a helmet on the way up the mountain. The North Face States that the Free Thinker Jacket comes with the following :
Adjustable, helmet-compatible, fixed hood
So maybe I just need more time to figure out how to sync the hood down into place? But keep in mind you may end up adjusting this throughout the day if you go from helmet on to helmet off etc.. And if this is the only flaw of the jacket, well its trivial at best.
With 7 pockets The Free Thinker Jacket is made for someone that likes to spend long days in the mountains and will most likely have lots of stuff to carry on them. The longer you spend outside in the snow the more apparent the need for reliable, high quality durable gear becomes.
Whether your job, your safety or your happiness relies on playing in the mountains you will find The North Face Free Thinker Jacket ($598.95 Backcountry.com) to be one of the best built and designed parts of your outerwear collection. Once you go The North Face, you won’t go back..