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The North Face HyperAir GTX Trail Rain Jacket Review

The North Face Hyperair GTX Trail Rain Jacket Review
The North Face Hyperair GTX Trail Rain Jacket Review

The North Face Hyperair GTX Trail Jacket

Water Resistance
Breathability
Comfort & Mobility
Hood Adjustability
Weight
Durability
Packed Size

Very Lightweight but Fragile

The Hyperair GTX Trail Jacket is the most breathable Gore-tex jacket available and permanently waterproof because it doesn't have a DWR coating. But this thin Ferrari of a jacket is not durable enough for hard core backpacking and is more suitable for trail running without a pack.

The North Face HyperAir GTX Trail Jacket is an ultralight, breathable rain jacket that only weighs 5.0 oz in a size XL and compresses down to the size of a sandwich bag. This jacket is even lighter weight and more minimal than the first generation HyperAir GTX Rain Jacket (note missing “Trail” in product name) that preceded it.

The HyperAir GTX Trail Jacket is different from most Gore-tex Jackets because the breathable layer is on the outside of the jacket, not sandwiched between additional layers of protective fabric. While this makes the Hyper GTX Trail very breathable, it does significantly cut down on durability, so much so, that The North Face recommends NOT using the HyperAir GTX jacket with backpack shoulder straps, lest they rub away the thin external Gore-tex layer. I guess they want backpackers to carry their gear in baskets on their head.

Minimal Features

That said, the HyperAir GTX Trail Jacket looks super cool. It has a slick, shiny exterior like a high-gloss leather jacket that everyone wants to touch when they first see it. Rain also beads up on it and rolls off easily. Feature-wise, the jacket has a waterproof main zipper, taped seams, a volume adjuster on the hood as well as a soft front visor, hem adjuster, and a rear stuff pocket with its own waterproof zipper. But being a minimalist jacket, it’s outfitted more like a windbreaker than a rain jacket.

Breathability

The breathability of the HyperAir GTX Trail jacket feels flat-out better than any of the other the many Gore-tex jackets I’ve owned or reviewed. I’ve worn it in all-day rain storms and my clothes have stayed drier inside while wearing it. That’s drier, not dry. My clothes still get damp inside, but I guess that’s to be expected when you cover any waterproof breathable jacket with a backpack and hip belt, effectively reducing its breathable surface area by 50%.

Rain water beads on the rain jacket and rolls off easily
Rain water beads on the rain jacket and rolls off easily

Assessment

Despite it’s good breathability, I still consider the HyperAir GTX Trail Jacket to be a fail as a backpacking rain jacket for a host of reasons:

  1. The jacket makes a huge racket when worn, like the sound made when you crush a bag of potato chips repeatedly. It sounds like it’s raining around you when you wear this jacket, even when it’s not.
  2. The jacket is very thin, and while it blocks wind like a windbreaker, it’s a very cold jacket that doesn’t retain heat very well. I suppose staying cooler is a contributing reason for why you sweat less wearing it, but I prefer being damp and warm more than being damp and cold.
  3. There are no wrist cuffs, so rain water rolls down your hands into your shirt sleeves and soaks your lower arms.
  4. There are no neck cords to adjust the size of the hood opening or cinch it tight in blowing rain and high winds. The hood is tensioned with elastic sewn into the sides. I prefer a better hood adjustment system when hiking in the open, especially in the mountains, above treeline.
  5. There are no side or chest pockets, so you have to stop and get stuff out of your pack if you want to pull out a hat, or gloves, or put them away. The same goes for snacks or a map, etc. I like having jacket pockets and view them as a valuable extension of my backpack’s storage capacity because they keep me moving quickly and help eliminate frequent stops.
  6. Durability is just plain awful. The fabric is very thin and is easily punctured. I didn’t even have to bushwhack to poke holes in the jacket, although they can easily be repaired using tenacious tape.
You need to wear a billed cap with the jacket if you want to prevent rain from dripping onto your face
You need to wear a billed cap with the jacket if you want to prevent rain from dripping onto your face

The North Face HyperAir GTX Trail Jacket can be a great trail running jacket when you’re unencumbered by a backpack, you’re cranking out vast amounts of body heat, and really just want a waterproof windbreaker. But I’d give it a pass if you’re a backpacker and want a jacket that’s more durable, has pockets, and a more adjustable hood.

Despite the HyperAir’s GTX Trail’s impressive breathability, I still prefer the highly durable, non-breathable Lightheart Gear Silnylon Rain Jacket, which has pit-zips for moisture evaporation and temperature regulation, pockets, and a fully adjustable hood. Priced under $100, it’s still a great value that has withstood the test of time.

Published 2018.

Disclosure: The North Face provided the author with a jacket for this review.

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20 comments

  1. Has anyone done research on the inexplicable potato chip cravings experienced by hikers using this in the daytime and sleeping on a NeoAir at night?

    If Lay’s sponsors the study, I’ll volunteer to be the subject…

    • It’d bother me a lot less if his jacket sounded like a Kazoo when worn, but potato chips? I couldn’t believe it. You’d think they’d know to avoid that particular sound.

      • Some years ago, raccoons invaded a friend’s campsite. They unzipped his tent, turned the latches on his cooler and helped themselves to the contents. He returned to crash a full bore raccoon party to which he hadn’t received a proper invitation. He broke up the festivities, cleaned the campsite, and went to bed. Around midnight, he was awakened to “Crunch, crunch, crunch… crunch, crunch crunch…”. His flashlight illuminated a raccoon sitting there snacking on a bag of potato chips like one of his buddies watching a ballgame. He thought for a second the animal was going to ask for a cold one and the remote but instead my inhospitable friend tossed a rock in it’s direction.

        If you hike in Big Bend wearing that Hyper GTX, you might attract raccoons.

  2. Off the topic of this specific jacket, but would you prefer the LHG jacket over a Marmot Precip? It seems the Precip is very popular, yet it still gets breathability complaints. Does the LHG have a chance of wetting out from the outside, not from the inside?

    • I’m curious about the LHG wetting out from the outside as well. I’ve never used one, but since I tend to be cold I’m not as worried about it wetting out from the inside. However, I have a precip and it failed rapidly on me. I would never buy one again. Relatively bulky and heavy, resists water for maybe 5 minutes before it starts seeping inside the jacket. My experience seems to be a minority, but my frogg toggs jacket was half the price and has stayed waterproof for 5 times as long now. The low bulk and pit vents of LHG are calling me though!

      • No, it’s not. Everyone who’s ever purchased a waterproof breathable jacket covered with a DWR coating (like the Marmot Precip and countless others) experiences wetout (which is always) external sooner or later when the DWR rubs off, usually after 40 uses or scrunches-up in a backpack. When the DWR comes off, the external fabric soaks through and the jacket ceases to be able to vent any water vapor because the pores in the external fabric (which protects the breathable membrane from damage) are blocked by water that has soaked the fabric.

        The LHG jacket can’t wet out because it’s silnylon all the way through. That’s not technically true because you can force water through any fabric, but it would have to be under very high pressure and won’t be anything you’d ever experience on land in normal use, even in extremely bad weather.

      • The reason people buy Marmot Precips is because they do a decent job in casual use and because they are dirt cheap. They are waterproof and breathable “to an extent” that many people find complete tolerable. Let’s face it. Most people aren’t going to hike day after day in all-day rain. I don’t personally mind it all that much, but it’s not the normal use scenario.

      • I have used both a Precip and LHG and find they have different use cases. I’ve found the LHG to be very cold against my skin in the rain (silicone = excellent heat conductor). I only pack it if I’m expecting to be hiking in intermittent or no rain. For constant rain I’ll pack a breathable Marmot jacket. I figure I’m going to be wet under the jacket either way, at least with the breathable jacket I can wear my clothes dry at camp and it’s a much better extra insulating layer.

      • I almost never wear a rain jacket without wearing a base and mid-layer under it to prevent the conductive heat loss you describe. The thinner the jacket fabric, the thicker the mid-layer. It’s a real issue with these new thin breathable rain jackets that manufacturers are coming out with.

      • If I’m having to pack another extra layer just to use my UL jacket, am I saving any weight? In the summer the only extra long sleeve shirt I’m packing is my sleep shirt, not about to get that soaked under a rain jacket.

      • I always carry a 100 weight fleece pullover on hikes in the Whites. Year round. So it’s not extra weight for me. I consider it an essential layering piece.

      • You’re the guy who carries IPAs on backpacking trips. Why do you worry about an extra 10 ounces of fleece? Get the dog to carry it.

      • How am I supposed to be packing those IPAs if that space is taken up by a fleece? Besides, IPAs are consumables so my baseweight doesn’t suffer.

      • Forgive my inexperience but what does LHG stand for?

  3. Edit: my experience with the precip seems to be in the minority.

    • Claire, I agree with your assessment of the Precip. I’ve also never seen a rain jacket delaminate faster than that one did–all over the inside of the jacket, and since then I’ve heard of a lot of people with similar experiences. I got one for my wife and it was only used for a few short hikes and casual use (commuting to work, running errands) before it was trashed. It may be made for the casual user, but it didn’t even stand up to casual use. Both of us use Outdoor Research rain jackets now, because of their fantastic warranty, but I plan to make a (much lighter, long-term water repellant) homemade silnylon one.

  4. Is there really a “perfect” rain jacket/suit? Would like to know if so. My $18 Harbor Freight two-piece yellow “Gordon’s Fisherman” suit is bulky, constricting and unsophisticated but nothing hardly gets in. Just don’t make any sudden movements. : )

  5. Hey Philip, what’s your impression of how this jacket would hold up under the pack straps of an ultralight backpack, think 8 lb. baseweight range (total pack weight ~12 lbs.)? I’ve read around a little online and am surprised by one user saying they used it on a thru hike and it was fine while other seems to tear it apart on their first use…

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