On October 01, 2019 The North Face introduces its new technology Futurelight. The new membrane heralds a new era for the brand from the USA and is intended to offer new possibilities for mountain wear and other areas. The Flight, Summit and Steep Series jackets mark the beginning of The North Face Futurelight technology. More products will follow in early 2020.
As part of the presentation of the new technology, we were able to test the material and gather background information during a visit to The North Face's European headquarters in Stabio (Switzerland). We also had the opportunity to talk to Michael Horsch, Senior Director Product & Merchandising of The North Face. He explained to us what Futurelight is all about.
Futurelight: The new membrane through nanospinning
The new membrane introduced by The North Face in 2019 is set to set new standards in breathability, waterproofing and weight. In addition, from day one, special emphasis was placed on sustainable production with a minimal ecological footprint.
The new technology is called Nanospinning: a process in which several thousand polymer threads are superimposed to form a net that is extremely breathable and tear-resistant. The whole thing is already being used in medicine. Here, nanospinning can be used to produce artificial skin. The North Face has adapted this production and taken it to a new, higher level. With this production, garments can be produced in three layers and in an extremely environmentally friendly way from recycled materials.
This means that small holes are created during the production of the layers, allowing for greater breathability and better dissipation of excess heat. These openings in the nanometre range also make the clothing much more tear-resistant and stretchy, without compromising on waterproofness. The complete development of the Futurelight products was accompanied by TNF athletes and feedback was continuously incorporated.
Another feature of the membrane is the ability to adapt to the activity the outdoor jacket is used for: "Tuneable". For example, trail running requires a higher level of breathability than rock climbing or freeriding. However, the tear resistance or waterproofness is then more important. The technology makes it possible to adjust the arrangement and number of threads to create the right products for the sport in question.
The North Face Futurelight: A visit to the test lab
During our visit in August 2019 to The North Face headquarters in Stabio, we were able to test the new Flight and Summit Series outdoor and running products for breathability, waterproofing and other features in the laboratory. During the presentation of the test criteria and the subsequent execution of the tests, we were able to gain exciting insights and experience the technology live on site. It was especially interesting to see how the different series - Summit vs. Flight Series - completed the tests.
In the laboratory tests, the individual materials and the finished products are tested to the extreme. In the rub fastness test, for example, the layer is clamped and friction in transverse, longitudinal and diagonal directions is simulated. In the spray test the PWR impregnation is tested but not the waterproofness. Here we look at how the drops that are sprayed onto the material roll off. The aim is to ensure that no water droplets remain on the sloping fabric.
The wind and water column test is carried out with pressure. Once with air and once with water pressure. In both cases the clamped material is loaded until it tears. The pressure that is created here is recorded by the connected machine and serves as the result of the test. For example, water columns values of 20.000 mm or 28.000 mm are measured.
Interview with Michael Horsch from The North Face
Keller Sports: The North Face has a long history. A long history of materials used. When and how was the idea of Futurelight born?
Michael Horsch: Like most good ideas of The North Face, it was born through interaction with our athlete team in the mountains. Andres Marin, a The North Face athlete from Canada, was on a ski mountaineering tour with our GM for Mountain Sport. It was a normal alpine day. You start early in the morning in the cold, then slowly your body warms up, you start to sweat. Depending on which side of the mountain you're on, you're more or less exposed to the wind. Depending on the steepness of the terrain, your body works sometimes more and sometimes less.
On these days you are actually working all the time with your hardshell jacket. Zipper closed, zipper down. Hood up, hood down. Jacket on, jacket off. Then, at the top, Andres said: "How great would it be if you could just leave your jacket on all day?" I guess that's what most mountaineers want. Hardshell jackets offer the protection you need, but they are not very breathable. The idea was simple: Can we develop a jacket that offers so much comfort that you want to wear it the whole tour?
Keller Sports: How does the technology work? What does Futurelight consist of?
Michael Horsch: The heart of Futurelight is a membrane made by nanospinning technology. Normally, membranes consist of an ePTF blanket (in other applications known as Teflon), which you pull apart until small microscopic holes tear. Through these holes a minimal passage of water vapour (in this case sweat) can be achieved. Futurelight consists of 50,000 small nano-sized polymer threads that are placed on top of each other. This creates an open structure that allows optimal passage of water vapor without compromising the waterproofness.
Keller Sports: What is so special about nanoweb technology?
Michael Horsch of The North Face: It consists of 50,000 polymer threads that are laid on top of each other and not, like other products on the market, a ceiling construction. The special thing about products with Futurelight technology are the advantages compared to conventional membranes: The structure is not based on the use of "holes" to allow breathability. It is therefore more breathable and cannot be glued by fatty residues of the skin.
Keller Sports: What were the challenges in developing Futurelight until its launch in 2019?
Michael Horsch: Nanospinn technology is already being used in industry, e.g. it is used in the medical field to create artificial skin (e.g. for burns). The problem was that there were no machines that could produce a membrane of the size required for use in textiles. So we had to build a complete production line to make Futurelight possible.
Keller Sports: How does a wearer notice the difference between a Futurelight and another hardshell jacket?
The North Face: When you wear it for the first time you immediately notice that Futurelight is not "hard" compared to conventional hardshell jackets. Because the membrane consists of infinitely long threads, it has an extremely high mechanical stretch. This makes it softer than other jackets and not as stiff. When using it, you notice immediately that there is better air circulation. This means that more sweat is transported to the outside and you stay drier inside the jacket. The jacket is also much quieter, which is noticeable when wearing the hood and when the wind is blowing strongly. This is a great advantage when you have to communicate on the mountain.
Keller Sports: In the first tests the Futurelight technology has convinced. Which criterion surprised you the most?
Michael Horsch: We knew that the technology had outstanding breathability. But what we then often received as feedback during the tests was the comfort provided by the softer material. More stretch simply creates a better wearing experience. You get the feeling that the jacket moves with your body and you don't have to fight against it.
Keller Sports: In connection with Futurelight, the term "tuneable" is used again and again, i.e. changeable or improvable. What exactly does this mean for the different uses of waterproof material (e.g. hardshell ski jacket vs. summer running jacket)?
The North Face: With conventional membranes, the same technology is usually used for different activities; for example, alpine skiing, freeriding, ski touring, alpine mountaineering, hiking or trail running. All of them must be 100% waterproof. However, there are differences, e.g. how much water pressure they have to withstand, or how breathable they should be.
A ski touring jacket, which is used during extremely high physical exertion, should ideally be extremely light and breathable. A freeride jacket, on the other hand, should be very robust and also be waterproof when you are sitting in a chairlift with your body weight and a full rucksack in a snowstorm and get snowed in.
That's why no Futurelight product is like any other: A running jacket only has to withstand the pressure of rain or snowfall, while a ski jacket has to survive a fall in wet snow. However, the running jacket must be able to wick away significantly more sweat than a ski jacket, as it is used for more permanent physical activity. Every Futurelight product is therefore 100% waterproof, but ideally suited to the activity in terms of breathability and water pressure.
Keller Sports: Futurelight was born out of the athletes' desire. How did The North Face athletes accept the final product?
Michael Horsch: The athletes were the real innovation drivers. After testing the first jackets, they immediately realized that there was even more potential in the technology. And immediately the questions came up: What about gloves? Can you build a tent? Can you build it as a layer into an insulation jacket? Or make a cap out of it? Our athletes, whether running, outdoor or skiing, are the real drivers for the development and also the further developments that come with Futurelight.
Keller Sports: What are the biggest differences, positive and negative, between a brand that sources materials and technologies from others and a brand that develops its own technology? At The North Face we know both sides.
Michael Horsch: One of the biggest advantages is that you can develop complete systems: At Futurelight, everything is designed to work together to deliver the best possible performance with the smallest possible environmental footprint. That means that the membrane has been tuned to work with recycled nylon and polyester; the impregnation has been designed to bond best with the fabric and work best.
When you buy materials from other manufacturers, you are much more limited. I think it also gives the consumer the opportunity to make a decision based on the performance of the products. If all brands use the same suppliers, the end products are very similar.
Keller Sports: Sustainability and environmental protection has been an increasingly important topic in recent years and will continue to become more important in the future. The North Face is known for environmentally friendly and sustainable manufacturing. How important were these components in the invention and development of FutureLight? And where does the end product stand in terms of sustainability and environmental protection?
Michael Horsch: Right from the start, the goal was not only to create a product that was highly functional, but also better than its predecessors in terms of sustainability. Therefore, product development was approached from the very beginning with 100% recycled nylon and polyester. The big breakthrough came with the development of the DWR.
In the past we were forced to use a fluorocarbon based treatment for impregnation in this type of product. For Futurelight we now used a proprietary C0 treatment that is completely free of fluorocarbonites. And all this without any loss of performance; we even managed to make the treatment more long-lasting (80% after 80 washes).
Keller Sports: Thank you very much for your time! We are curious to see how The North Face Futurelight products will be received in our tests.
The North Face Futurelight now at Keller Sports
Suitable for the launch on 01.10.2019 you can find the new The North Face Futurelight Outdoor Jackets in our Keller Sports Online Shop. No matter if Flight Series, Summit Series or Steep Series; convince yourself of the new material and the new products.