Even though the Outdoor Retailer winter trade show is a few weeks away, The North Face couldn’t wait to unveil its new super-material, a lightweight waterproof fabric they’re calling FutureLight. So they took the unusual step of debuting FutureLight at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas. Right alongside ovens that use augmented reality to help you cook, and TV screens that roll up inside your entertainment system.
Even more unusual, though the material is geared for TNF’s highest of high-end outerwear line in the fall of this year, FutureLight actually debuted as part of a camping trailer concept built with help from BMW. In fact, BMW’s Designworks arm appears to have partnered with TNF in developing the FutureLight material. Whether the trailer will be built is doubtful, but TNF plans to add a single-wall tent to their garment lines that will feature FutureLight tech.
So what is it? A waterproof and breathable membrane made from a polymer sprayed through 200,000 minuscule nozzles and layered repeatedly over itself forming a kind of tightly woven web. The result, reportedly, is millions of tiny pores—on the nanoscale level—that can provide unmatched breathability, while keeping out larger water molecules. This is, of course, how most waterproof breathables work. TNF is so invested in their new material, however, they’re phasing out Gore-tex from everything but their lifestyle collection, after a long relationship with the brand.
FutureLight—which it should be said is made from 100 percent recycled materials—can be applied in different densities to provide more, or less, waterproofing and breathability, depending on the application of whatever garment it’s applied to. The material can also be attached to just about anything. Heavy jackets, lightweight running shorts, baselayers, tents, and, apparently, campers. TNF experimented with different backing materials to give the FutureLight membrane as much structure as needed.
Underwriter Labs, an independent research agency that tests garments for waterproofness, among other things, has reported that FutureLight exceeds the waterproof standards of firefighter uniforms, while boasting the “highest moisture vapor transmission rate of any waterproof fabric ever tested,” according to Popular Mechanics.
The idea, of course, is to come as close as possible to the Holy Grail of outside activewear: One single layer that’s breathable, light, and waterproof, so you can wear it all day, during activity, while not soaking yourself with your own sweat, or having to constantly shed and add layers.
The North Face’s Scott Mellin says he was on an ice climb a few years back when they decided to try to revolutionize waterproof breathability. “We were in a full kit, in and out of clothing as the sun came out,” Mellin says. “It was a very typical process and, man, it would have been so great if we just could keep our shells on all day. It could have been so much faster and safer.”
FutureLight will be rolled out later this year, then with a bigger push in 2020. We hope to test something made from the material soon and will report back if it lives up to the billing.