To enhance the shell’s streamlined exterior, designers start with a single piece of fabric, which is then folded origami-style and sewn precisely into an athletic-fitting jacket (this also reduces the total number of seams, maximizing the benefits of the FuseForm fabric). According to The North Face, dialing in the pattern was a major challenge, as the easiest way to fine-tune fit is by adding seams. Designers went through more than 20 versions before getting tricky details like the arm hole size and shoulder shape just right.
Designers stuck to one adjustment cord on the back of the hood to keep the fabric pattern as simple as possible, and testers found the hood adjustable enough to protect their heads. But it only fits over low-profile climbing helmets.
The North Face weaves a heftier, high-tenacity Cordura nylon into a lighter, 40-denier nylon at the yarn level, so the fabric transitions from one to the other without seams or seam tape. The result: a tougher fabric on the high-abrasion areas on the shell’s shoulders and upper back and a more breathable material on the bottom. And because designers don’t have to cut and sew two different materials together, you get a smoother look and feel, a more durably waterproof exterior, less weight, and better breathability. The slightly stretchy fabric didn’t restrict our movement when we wore midlayers or down sweaters underneath. But the liner feels grabby on bare arms, like a water balloon.
You get two hand pockets placed clear of pack hipbelts and climbing harnesses. Each closes with a thin, low-profile zipper to match the shell’s minimalist look. A small inner chest pocket fits keys but not a wallet or phone.
Sewn seams have two major drawbacks in a waterproof shell. First, they’re vulnerable to abrasion and one of the most likely spots for a jacket to fail. Secondly, seam tape is less breathable than a shell’s membrane, so it physically obstructs the jacket’s waterproof/breathable technology. By combining the FuseForm weave (see Fabric) with a one-piece pattern (see Construction), the Originator dramatically cuts down on seams: The jacket uses only 11 yards of seam tape, compared to 24 yards on a comparable shell without those innovations.
The North Face’s 2.5-layer HyVent fabric felt more breathable in the Originator than in other shells we’ve tried, thanks to the seamless design. “I never felt like too much moisture was building up inside the jacket, even on steep approaches in Colorado’s Eldorado Canyon State Park,” says a tester.
Adjustable cuffs and hem
Sleeves seal tightly with slim Velcro straps that kept out cold drafts. Testers could lock in warmth at the hem by cinching cord toggles placed inside the pockets for a streamlined look.