The North Face Summit Series L5 Shell Pants

Fit

The L5 has, what I would consider to be, a pretty standard fit for a mountaineering pant. In pants I am generally a Medium in length and Small in the waist. I went with Medium on this pant (as I do with most) and it was definitely the right call. The length is just about perfect for ski touring/mountaineering and I can cinch the waist down with the built in belt just fine.

Sam Shaheen reviews the North Face Summit Series L5 shell pant for Blister Gear Review
Sam Shaheen in the Summit Series L5 Pant, Glacier 3000, Vaud, Switzerland.

The silhouette of the L5 is pretty timeless, it has a generous cut in the thigh, butt and upper legs with a crotch gusset — all of which helps with easy mobility. The leg tapers just slightly coming into the cuff to help prevent bunching around the ankles.

The knees have a pretty generous amount of articulation as well. For a pant that has zero stretch in the shell fabric, that articulation makes all the difference. I haven’t had any range of motion issues in this pant.

Fabric

We have already talked a decent amount about the face fabric of the L5, but we haven’t talked much about the performance of this particular Hyvent 3L layup.

Feel

The L5 feels like a typical stiff hardshell. It is certainly softer than a Gore Pro piece, but not as soft as a typical NeoShell piece. There is a decent amount of swishing noise while walking, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The fabric has no stretch but it remains quite comfortable due to the anatomical cut.

Breathability

One of the first things I noticed when I got these pants was how cold they feel. There is obviously no insulation in this pant, but there is also next to no insulating value to the fabric and Hyvent membrane. Of all the 3L pants I’ve worn, I’ve never felt a pant quite so chilly.

One of the biggest reasons for this, I believe, is the excellent breathability of the L5. Although I don’t have experience wearing NeoShell pants, I want to say that the L5 has breathability that competes with NeoShell.

The L5’s certainly breathe better than other Gore Pro pants in the category. My previous go-to pants were the Patagonia Knifeblade’s. The L5’s don’t breathe as well as the Polartec PowerShield Pro+ in the Knifeblades (a laminated softshell), but they do pretty well.

Sam Shaheen reviews the North Face Summit Series L5 shell pant for Blister Gear Review
Sam Shaheen in the Summit Series L5 Pant, Diemtigtal, Bern, Switzerland.

Wearing thin long underwear, I occasionally will open the vents in ~30deg weather on moderately steep skin tracks. If the wind starts to blow, or the temperature dips, I typically leave the vents closed.

In contrast, the Knifeblades have no vents and I never wear long underwear under them. The Knifeblades are definitely warmer than the L5’s and they definitely breath better.

Overall I am impressed with the breathability of the L5’s, and they stand up to the most protective softshells like the Knifeblade.

Waterproofing

The L5’s have done a good job keeping me dry, from the cold light pow of Aspen to the wet slop in the low altitude of the Bernese Alps.

The DWR does as good a job as one can expect with companies shooting for maximum breathability these days. I have had some minimal soak through at the knee articulation seams and seam tape borders in some very wet, but light snow. I didn’t get any moisture actually penetrating the membrane, just a little DWR failure.

I am confident that the L5’s will keep me dry in 95% of the conditions I encounter day-to-day. Kneeling/sitting for long periods in wet packed out snow may cause some leaking, but I have yet to experience this.

Features

This is a simple, bare bones pant when it comes to features. Two hand pockets and two side vents, both with narrow (~4mm) coated waterproof zips, a built in belt and zips at the cuffs. That is pretty much it.

The features on the pant all work great. I am a huge fan of the zippers that TNF chose. They are low profile, flexible and stay out of the way as opposed to many coated coil zips that are bulky and stiff (they also make a lightsaber-esque sound when zipped quickly, “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi”).

Vents

The side vents work quite well. They are placed high on the legs and more towards the back and do an excellent job at dumping heat without huge, full length zippers hindering movement and causing discomfort — like many pants in this category.

Belt

The best feature on the L5 though is definitely the built in belt. Belts are a tricky thing to get right. It is so easy for them to be overly bulky and difficult to use. TNF hit a hom run on this built in belt. The belt is a slim piece of webbing threaded through the entire waist with a simple single piece sliding buckle for length adjustment. For closure, the ultimate in low profile simplicity, a single hook/loop setup

I love this belt for several reasons.

Everything about it is low profile, which means it is super comfortable under a hip belt. There are no belt loops, bulky belt buckle or areas of scrunched up fabric to be found. It is super comfortable.
It doesn’t stretch. I hate stretchy belts, if the belt stretches, it won’t keep my pants up. This belt has zero stretch which means I never have to worry about it.

Sam Shaheen reviews the North Face Summit Series L5 shell pant for Blister Gear Review
The North Face L5 Pant belt

The belt is routed entirely inside the upper waist. This allows you to spread out the bunching of the fabric evenly around the whole waist which eliminates huge areas of fabric bunch in the front or back.

Two thumbs up TNF.

Cuffs

The few simple features that the L5 has are great, but in the quest for simplicity, I think TNF went one feature too far. I really find myself missing a cuff drawstring. Of course, a pant like this is designed for alpinism and mountaineering, not specifically skiing, so I don’t think it should have a integrated snow gator. But I do think it would benefit from a draw string at each cuff.

Sam Shaheen reviews the North Face Summit Series L5 shell pant for Blister Gear Review
Summit Series L5 Pant cuff

When wearing the L5 with my mountaineering boots (Salewa Raven Combi GTX) I have no choice but to wear full length gators. I really don’t like wearing gators. They are bulky, heavy, hot and often unnecessary.

For most of my mountaineering, a drawstring with a cord lock is the perfect level of protection and gators are overkill. Plus, with a drawstring cuff, you can easily keep out light snow on even the deepest of days and greatly increase the functionality of the pant while only slightly increasing the weight.

When skiing in the L5’s, they are tight enough around both my Dalbelo Lupo’s and Scarpa Mastrale’s to keep snow out, as long as I’m not groveling in deep powder. Wind is a different story, I often feel a draft come in from the cuff. As a result, I only use the L5 touring and I almost always pair them with my Patagonia silk weight Capilene long underwear.

Durability

After about 6 days touring in these pants, they have held up pretty well. I do have one slice out of the high denier patch on the left ankle. I am pretty light on my feet and don’t knock my skis around very much, so this was a bit of a surprise.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend this pant for resort skiing or other situations where it could get abused. It is a lightweight piece of gear, and should be used where its weight will be appreciated: ski touring and mountaineering. The fabric certainly will get sliced by ski edges and punctured by crampons if you’re not careful.

Bottom Line

The L5 pant is a gorgeous piece of outerwear. The North Face’s FuseForm technology makes for a truly unique piece that could be the blueprint for future generations of outerwear and clothing in general.

If you’re looking for a pant for ski touring and mountaineering and don’t mind wearing gators, the L5 is a highly breathable and comfortable pant that is almost artful in its simplicity. I sorely miss drawstrings at the cuff, however, and that makes it hard for me to unconditionally love these pants in the mountains.

But I can’t wait to see where the future of FuseForm takes us. This first taste is certainly one to get excited about.

1 comment on “The North Face Summit Series L5 Shell Pants”

  1. I bought this pants as they were on a massive winter sale (40% off) and there was no chance to buy any similar product for that price.
    From the first usage I have to say that the North Face did pretty good job here. And despite the whole greatness I have to say that a lack of side zip and not being able to put them on and off without taking the boots of is a massive disadvantage. Seriously!? What they were thinking designing it. My first thought was, ah maybe it’ll be ok but sooner than later I found it very problematic.
    With all due respect to NF if I could I’d return this product as for me all the pros really diminish by this miss look making the pants very impractical.
    If somebody don’t agree with me that’s fine. I only expressed my opinion.

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