Retro styling meets the latest technical fabrics and the result is a stylish and capable waterproof jacket - but it's not perfect
- Waterproof and breathable
- Retro styling looks great
- Zips snag fabric too easily
- Adjusters are basic
- Pockets could be bigger
The North Face has steadily reinvented itself to become as much the darling of high street fashionistas as it once was grizzled mountaineers. That twin appeal is perfectly embodied in the 1994 Retro Mountain Light jacket: it takes the design of the Mountain Light jacket, which confusingly enough actually debuted in 1988, and brings it bang up to date with The North Face’s very own Futurelight waterproof fabrics.
The result? Pretty good, overall. Other jackets are a better bet for pure outdoors use, but The North Face has created a tantalising blend of fashion and rain-repelling function. If you want a jacket that’s as at home in the city as it is on the hills, this is an eye-catching and functional addition to your wardrobe.
The North Face 1994 Retro Mountain Light review: What you need to know
- Seven sizes (XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL)
- Four colours (TNF Black, Summit Gold, Mr. Pink, Clear Lake Blue)
- Three-layer Futurelight fabric construction
- 3 pockets (2 large external; 1 internal stowable)
- Fully adjustable hood, adjustable waist and hem
- Two-way front zip with button-down external storm flap
- Weight (claimed): 784g (XL)
What do we love about the 1994 Retro Mountain Light Futurelight jacket?
Futurelight 3L fabric feels great and performs well: Compared back to back with a reasonably high-end Gore Tex jacket – the Rab Kangri GTX we reviewed last year – the Futurelight 3L fabrics acquit themselves well. Heavyweight fabrics protect the arms and shoulders, while a beautifully soft denier is used elsewhere and there’s also a mesh inner to keep air moving. Crucially, though, the jacket handled heavy downpours without wetting out or leaking, and also did a good job of fending off biting winter winds – truth be told, we’re quietly impressed with Futurelight so far.
Breathable fabrics and flexible design: In our testing, it felt like The North Face jacket breathed marginally more easily than its Gore-shelled rivals, even while plodding through the heaviest downpours. That said, once the pace picks up you’ll still need to reach for the pit zips to stop yourself from overheating – even the best breathable fabrics can’t shift enough heat to keep you sweat-free in milder weather. When the mercury drops, however, you may want for more warmth, and here The North Face suggests zipping one of its Denali fleeces into the jacket’s inner zips. This is a nice touch, and we also found it worked well with the brand’s Lhotse Down jacket, which zipped into place and made for a superbly warm combo in freezing temperatures.
Good-sized hood: When the weather outside takes a turn for the worst, this is a jacket you’ll be glad to have on. The hood cinches aren’t especially easy to adjust – they’re a far cry from the elegant single-handed adjusters of modern rivals – but once you’ve got them just so, the big, wide peak and sensible cut does a good job of keeping wind and rain off your face. When the sun comes out, you can roll the hood away and cinch it closed with the velcro tab.
Packable design is handy: This is by no means a light packable shell, but the integrated stuff sack means that you can fold the jacket into itself and pack it neatly into your rucksack without it taking up too much space. The bulk of the jacket means that you have to do so very carefully to get it to fit in at all, but whether you’re using it for work, play or serious outdoors adventures, it’s still a handy option to have.
Retro cool: The vast number of vintage The North Face garments on eBay tells you everything you need to know about how popular these retro jackets are. For anyone who lusted after these jackets a couple of decades ago, there’s a definite appeal to having an old-school jacket fused with new-school fabrics. Can this old design compete with the best modern examples? No, but it’s pretty good, and the more mountain-ready options out there rarely have the same street appeal.
What don’t we like about the The North Face 1994 Retro Mountain Light Futurelight jacket?
Hood and waist adjusters are outdated: It’s good to see proper, moulded YKK Vislon zips in all the key places, but the hood adjusters, while looking suitably retro, aren’t very easy to actually use in the wild. Unlike the single-handed adjustments you’ll often find on modern jackets, you’ll need two hands to adjust these. The hood’s soft, unstructured peak isn’t great either, as there’s no way to adjust it when the hood’s cinched up tight in bad weather, so it can impinge on visibility. The small spring locks holding the hood adjustments in place are rather cheap-feeling, too, and as they’re only retained with a simple knot in the elastic, you’ll want to make sure the knot is nice and tight if you don’t want the adjuster to bounce off into the bushes when you least expect it.
Zips snag occasionally: While it’s great to have a button-down storm flap for when the weather turns bad, the cut of the storm flap combined with the soft, pliable Futurelight fabrics means that it tends to get snagged in the main zip if you don’t take care to hold it out of the way. Same goes for the pockets, where the loose fabric near the zip gets caught far too easily.
External pockets clould be bigger: The North Face has retained the jacket’s Alpine-style pockets which are designed to stay out of the way of a climbing harness. That’s great for mountaineers, but we like to be able to cram maps in our jacket pockets, and it’s a tight fit here. They’re by no means unusably small, but ideally we’d like them to be a bit bigger – and specifically a little deeper – than they are currently.
Could be lighter: The downside to using an old jacket design is that the Mountain Light won’t win any awards for lightness. The chunky cuff straps are needlessly bulky, and the various retro features probably add a fair few grams that aren’t entirely necessary. It’s not hideously overweight, but this is not a cutting-edge mountain shell – the likes of the Rab Kangri GTX are around 200 grams lighter while matching it for rain-repelling performance.
Expensive: At this price, you are not short of very capable options from serious-minded rivals such as Rab or Mountain Equipment, to name just a couple. If you can find the Mountain Light at a good discount, though, then you can add a star to the review – this is a good jacket, but be in no doubt that you are paying for the retro looks.