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.
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.
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%.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- There are no wrist cuffs, so rain water rolls down your hands into your shirt sleeves and soaks your lower arms.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Disclosure: The North Face provided the author with a jacket for this review.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.
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