For extreme cold weather testing, come to to my town, Gunnison, Colorado. That’s what BMW does. Every winter the famous German auto company brings their prototype vehicles here, wraps them in camo, and drives them around for a week. They count on temperatures likely dropping sub zero Fahrenheit — not uncommonly thirty below.
The North Face must have taken a tip from the Germans when they sent their new “Summit Series” ski mountaineering line of clothing here to “Sunny Gunny” for cold weather testing. It happened to be the same week the Bimmer crew drove into town. I’m no pro engineer from the European labs, but I still know how to send a piece of gear through some real world gauntlets, and live in the right place to do it.
This specific line of equipment is known as the “Summit Series,” which is a selection of clothing “designed to be a unique and complete skimo system.”
First up, the Summit L3 Proprius Down Hoodie. This 800-fill goose down jacket is clearly too warm for racing uphill. But that’s fine with me, I’m not a racer. Instead, this lightweight puffy is made just for people like myself, who show up to a trailhead well before sunrise at the coldest hour of the day, and begin skinning up the mountain with headlamps and frozen boogers. We’re completely comfortable to start the climb with too many layers on; we’ll shed the puffy when we’re above the inversion.
So upon first look, I was excited to put on the lightest 800-fill hoodie I’d ever laid eyes on (I measured 13 oz. on my home scale). First, I wore it on an early morning walk around town on our first day of below zero temps. Only disappointment, no hand pockets and only one large chest pocket (more on this later). This jacket was, however, remarkably warm.
Next, I brought the Proprius up to nearby Monarch Mountain ski resort for early morning uphilling. It was an even zero degrees F and slightly windy, so on went the down hoodie over my mid layer, North Face Summit L2.
Again, as I put a few accessories and snacks into the Proprius easy-access pockets, I was annoyed that there were no hand pockets. Then I strapped on my pack. My brain must have been a bit slow because my epiphany-of-the-day took longer than it should have. As I was walking to the base area, I noticed how comfortable the whole kit felt; especially at the hips. As I bent over to click into my skis and stood back up, I once again noticed how nice everything felt. Finally it hit me: if you don’t have pockets, zippers and little items in your waist and thighs, you’ll be more comfortable! (I realize some of you may have learned this a long time ago and have adjusted, but it took me until the ripe age of 36.)
Thus, in this case regarding hip pockets but in other ways as well, The North Face has created a system that is specialized and good at one thing: uphill/downhill skiing. Comfort and performance take priority, so we lose minor conveniences (like hand pockets). Every piece of this series nails it in the comfort category. For the Proprius Down Hoodie, I do appreciate the large chest pocket as a consolation — it swallows up my phone, headlamp, and a buff with ease. The chest pocket also acts as a stow-bag so you can compress the jacket and drop it in your backpack. This is important for me, since I like to carry a lightweight insulating jacket like this on every single trip, no matter the forecast, in case of injury or an epic overnight situation.
Hoods are also a big deal to me and I like to have them on nearly all of my tops, even for casual “townie” jackets. This pre-tensioned, helmet-compatible hood, with elastic binding and rear adjustment, once again nails it for comfort and performance. The drawstring is easy to find in the back and it opens up my peripheral vision without pulling the front of the hood off of my forehead. I have not worn it over a helmet yet, but I don’t foresee any problems as there is ample room. Following the theme of comfort, the shape at the waist, elbows and wrists all fits me perfectly and helped me enjoy the first fifteen minutes of my ascent up Monarch after which it was time to shed.
The layer I exposed as I heated up and dropped the down jacket was the previously mentioned L2 Proprius Grid Fleece Hoodie. I really like this layer. I can’t name any features that were left out or compromised in the design. The large chest pocket could swallow up just as much bulk as the L3 Down Hoodie, which would get awfully bulky. One little energy gu pouch is all I want in there, staying warm by my body. The North Face touts an “unparalleled warmth-to-weight ratio” using Polartec grid fleece. I do not disagree.
When I reached the ridgeline at Monarch, the reliable, chilly Continental Divide breeze was there to meet me like a trusty old friend. The L2 zipped up, hood went over my buff, thumbloops over my gloves and I slid on up the ridge, comfy and thankful I didn’t have to stop. The breathability checks out when the layer is exposed, and it is pretty impressive even under the down hoodie and a shell. This little shirt fits and functions so well, I’ve found myself wearing it casually around the house and around town, trail-running in the afternoons and nordic skiing with my family.
For the brisk descent down Monarch, I pulled out the L5 Proprius GTX Active Jacket. This is meant to be a burly, lightweight shell to complete the Summit series. My first impression is that the hood, shoulders and arms fit perfectly. So I was surprised to find the waist feeling huge and frumpy. Full disclosure here: I’m extra skinny, therefore I come across huge-feeling waists in clothing very often. But considering how well the other layers from the series felt, I was a bit disappointed.
Above being said, the Proprius GTX checked out everywhere else: another large chest pocket with an internal mesh media pocket inside, a large hood with a pleasant functionality similar to the L3 Down Hoodie, and adjustment tabs all easily operated with gloves on. Since this season it refuses to snow or rain in the high mountain valleys of Colorado, I have not been able to test the Proprius GTX waterproof capabilities, but I am confident it sheds rain and snow well enough for my purposes. More important to me regarding waterproof function is that a shell performs well for two or more seasons, after it’s been beat down, packed, and worn for a few months. I’ll revisit this review once said “beat down” is accomplished, possibly later this season.
Conclusion: The North Face accomplished the goal they set for themselves — to make a clothing “system” that performs exceedingly well for backcountry skiing. The L3 Down Hoodie is best used within these parameters: for leaving frigid trailheads, layering at the summit and keeping for an emergency layer.The L2 Grid Fleece Hoodie, on the other hand, is such a well made piece of clothing that it goes well beyond the niche borders it was made for. The L5 GTX Active Jacket falls somewhere in between, clearly excellent for battling a blizzard on a ridge, but being so light and breathable I’d probably happily take it along on summer adventures in the rain.
Living in one of the coldest regions in the U.S. is a matter of pride for many Gunnison locals, so we’re always happy to learn that our place can be of some use to BMW auto testers — as well as skimo gear testers. The flip side of the coin here in Colorado’s Rockies is that even on dreadfully cold days, it is also usually sunny, so if you’re hiking up a mountain, you are going to be de-layering and re-layering constantly. It is nice to see a clothing company take this layering system seriously and offer us some well-executed solutions.
(Guest blogger, Andy Sovick, owns Off-Piste Ski Atlas. A self-professed map-geek, Andy has been skiing Colorado’s backcountry his entire life. Raised on cross-country skis pulled from a dumpster in Fort Collins, he began his ski career following his parent’s tracks along Cameron Pass. Having perfected the classic wobbly telemark turn, and subsequent telemark face-plant, he moved to Durango, where he graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango. He now resides with his wife and son in Gunnison, Colorado.)
Andy is the founder and owner of Beacon Guidebooks, a ski guide and mapping publisher. Author of Backcountry Skiing: Crested Butte Colorado, Andy has been skiing Colorado’s backcountry his entire life. Raised on cross-country skis pulled from a dumpster in Fort Collins, he started his ski career following his parent’s tracks along Cameron Pass. He moved to the Colorado’s western slope in 2000 and now resides with his wife and son in Gunnison. From woodworking to book writing, Andy is a craftsman to the core. He believes that sharing relevant information and photos about skiing the backcountry will help travelers spread out, get inspired to explore, and most importantly, make better and safer decisions.
I seem to have a lightweight fleece obsession and I absolutely love my L2 Proprius that I picked up when it came out. Lightweight, warm but still the right level of breathability, don’t ever miss the pockets when I’m doing an actual activity.
I have all of this gear. Here’s my experience.
Great athletic fit. Very light weight. Layers very well. Each layer has a hood so stacking up to 3 hoods gets a bit tedious. Packs into very small volume. Was warm and toasty even in very high winds winter 14er. Did not bother using a wind shell. More and more I find that I only need a hard shell to protect during tree skiing.
When worn a couple of weeks ago on Longs Peak in very high winds, the down hood gets blown back off your head/helmet because there is no actual cord to cinch it tight, it is elastic only, so I will modify and thread a cinch cord in.
I love layers that keep pockets, zippers, and heavy seams away from areas where backpack hip belts and harnesses fall. This kit was clearly designed with that in mind. Solid!
Cody, well put. I miss the pockets when I’m not actually skiing. When I am skiing, I’m remarkably comfortable. Kristian, I agree that the hoods begin to feel too bulky when I’m wearing all layers. I donned the full kit yesterday at 13,000 feet during strong winds. I didn’t have a helmet and my hood stayed on. I’d love to see your modification when you’re through!
“designed to be a unique and complete skimo system.”
Missed that mark by a mile. Looks like a good backcountry ski touring kit, but Skimo implies something entirely different. Puffy jackets and gore-tex layers don’t usually mix well with “skimo” activities.
The products look decent, but TNF is clearly latching on to a trend and trying to give old products a new look by calling them “skimo.”
I would say that they are very much Skimo. They also have matching softshell pants. And a really awesome North Face Summit L3 Proprius Primaloft Hooded Insulated Jacket that I use the most as my outer shell now.
There’s literally zero gore tex being worn by competitive skimo athletes. Same for puffy jackets and grid fleece hoodies. Call it ski touring, ski mountaineering, maybe. It’s not “skimo.” That’s the marketing department chiming in.
Another question, why is the jacket hard-shell and the pants soft-shell? Seems incongruous.
I’ve struggled with the term “skimo” since I first heard it. Especially when we began seeing spandex-clad city-folk skinning up a resort, then calling themselves “ski mountaineers”. Sifting through comments within this blog, and every single other ski-based media, I can tell I’m not alone. Though some people prefer to keep the definition of “skimo” specific and limited, my take (not my opinion, just my assessment of the colloquial process of a new word) is that it is as broad a term as “backcountry skiing” or “car racing” or “wrestling”. I steered clear of calling this a “competitive skimo” kit, since I believe it’s more of a recreational ski-mo kit. So, to that degree I agree with you. Regarding your question about soft-shell pants with a hardshell top, Lou and I will try to get the TNF response for you. Incongruous or not, this combination is my preferred system. Based in Colorado, I have rarely wished for hardshell pants in the backcountry, but I usually want a hardshell top.
Ive used the softshell pant hardshell top combo for years on Colorado and Alps. Usually works well but not when things get really wet, then one needs the barrier. Lou
Come to think of it, used similar getup for most of Denali.
I agree on softshell bottom and hardshell top, mostly because the top rarely comes out of the pack. I tend to carry a 4 oz. windbreaker, a 9 oz. shell and some sort of puffy that will fit over everything else. The windbreaker almost always gets used. The puffy gets used if I take an extended break along the way or on the descent if it is very cold. The shell tends to sit unused. The only time I carry a full sized softshell jacket is if it is close to zero F, overcast and very windy and I expect to need a slightly warm layer for skinning. Those days are pretty rare in CO.
I’m still testing the softshell pant, so stay tuned.
I love this kit. The pant is a hybrid between a soft-shell and hard shell but is stretchy and provides maximum range and ease of movement. Really they are a game changer. The tops are awesome too. The shell is super lightweight but provides an impervious wind and weather barrier. The puffies are light and warm. The hoodie fleece wicks moisture like none other (I have switched back to polypro because wool, while very comfortable, simply does not wick nearly as well, and the “keeps you warm while wet” deal is a myth. Sweat heavily with merino against the skin, take a rest, and prepare to be chilly!) All pieces are reasonably form fitting along the “light and fast” lines. What I like about the kit most is the crossover between skimo racing ethic of “light and fast” with more practical necessities of backcountry ski touring. I think that’s where the skimo label definitely does apply, but no, the name is not meant to mean replace your spandex race suit with this kit at the start line. But when skimo racers go for a proper tour, they’ll be reaching for the summit series.
Looks like a good system. What type of base layer is suitable for the top? I’ve found layering under fleece mid layers not as easy as under puffy mid layers.
They have a nice L1 stretchy zip neck top that I have used for a couple of years. Still looks like new. Just heading out in it now.
I’ve been sporting a thin wool t-shirt beneath. This has been working very well for wicking and warmth for me, so I haven’t tried anything else yet.
PaulN, the pants are a “gamechanger”? That sounds overstated or shill-like. This entire line seems like catch-up, not game changing. The baselayer seems like an R1 hoody 10 years after the fact. The soft shell pants are the same weight as Strafe’s Cham2 pants but without the wind or rain protection. And the insulated layer seems like a jacket from easily 5 other companies, maybe more. Not trying to hate. I have a NF down jacket that won’t die and a tent that defies belief in its performance. But they’ve been selling down jackets to Manhattan for so many years while other companies have paid more attention to those out in the hills. Would be interested to hear how I’m wrong.
wtofd – You are wrong.
Just back from another day of using this kit today in RMNP. It’s by far the best thought out, tailored, cut, layered, materials, and features. It is for very much an athletic fit. Layers and glides without any restrictions. I was kicking and gliding uphill in AT setup like I was cross country skiing.
Subtle thinking like varying the chest pockets from left to right so that the layers do not bulk on one side. And so on. Look at the weights and materials – consistently lightest and best materials. This is the first time since the Alex Lowe design era that a complete excellent integrated kit has been issued.
The pants and suspenders are very well thought out and quick for bio breaks. The ankle volume is easily setup with a zipper and snaps. And I was able to leave the pants completely down while easily switching my Syborg boots between walk and ski numerous times today.
And I was wrong about the hoods. The warmth comes from the layering. And the cord locks at the back pull directly from the forehead so there is a very secure fit against high winds.
Love the kit! Especially the pants.
Kristian, “wtofd – You are wrong.”
Thanks for the insight. We’re you really in RMNP?!?! Omg,you must be an authority on everything backcountry then. So sorry to question this kit. If is known you were in RMNP or I was wrong, I’d never have written that the base layer seems 10 years after the party and the soft shell pants are the same weight (as taken from the NF website and my own scale) as ultrabreathable and wind and waterproof pants from another manufacturer.
Best of luck.
Love the L2 Proprius Grid Fleece Hoodie.. Especially if it is so casually, it is a must-have!
Became a big fan of “grid fleece” last year after winning an OR “Deviator Hoody” at a local skimo race. (one advantage of being a senior with few other competitors) The Deviator has very lightweight fleece. It includes an extremely lightweight outer shell of nylon in the front and shoulders as wind protection. For warmth to weight ratio, it exceeds anything I have experienced.
This Fall, I came across a Terramar grid fleece hoody at a North 40 store. At 10% off the $60 tag price it was a no brainer. (Take skiing out of the marketing ploy and the price goes way down!) Made of a heavier fabric than the Deviator, it is VERY toasty, so much that I’ll probably only use it on really frigid touring days or cold days on lifts. Both of these include the “must have” thumb loops, hand warmer pockets and a small chest pockets. Both have hoods that zip up over the mouth like the TNF product here.
What I’m hoping for now is to find a grid fleece product with a slick outer surface like my (still) “go to” Adidas acrylic sweat shirt I found at Goodwill for $11. As an outer layer, that slick surface keeps all but the wet snow from sticking to me! It was an XL so I tailored it down to M size and got nice long sleeves and a big hood! (And it has thumb loops!)
Like the grid fleece and primaloft options for the mid layer but not sure when one makes sense over the other. I looked at the NF website and it gives both of these mid layers *exactly* the same benefit ratings (warmth, water repellency, wind resistance, and weight). Surely, there must be some difference between the two.
There are two grid fleece options. A full zip that is lighter weight and a pull over slightly heavier weight. I use either of these as a mid layer and use the primaloft over that – often as the top layer. The down layer fits perfectly over all of that when needed.
The layering is well designed including the tapering of thickness at the sleeve ends. Very nice that they are all the same color.
Just heard that these were designed and tested by Aspen skimo’s.
Thanks Kristian. Did you size up the primaloft to fit over the grid fleece?
I am 5′ 10″ 155 lbs 32 inch waist. Bought all medium and they all fit perfectly and layer perfectly.
L4 softshell pants + L1 zip top + L2 grid +L3 Primaloft + L3 Down.
Hey The North Face!
An all Canary Yellow L5 PROPRIUS Goretex shell would be nice!
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