Headlined by its use of groundbreaking fabric, The North Face FuseForm Dot Matrix jacket is a great rain shell that’s capable enough for a variety of other pursuits.
FuseForm Dot Matrix Rain Jacket Features:
- FuseForm construction for fewer seams and weight reduction
- Increased abrasion resistance in high-wear areas
- Waterproof, breathable 2.5 layer HyVent
- Pit zips for venting
- Weight: 12.3 oz (medium)
- Price: $199
Dot Matrix Printer Meets The North Face Tech
It takes a lot to introduce something new in the waterproof/breathable shell market, but The North Face has done that with their award-winning FuseForm fabric technology. I first saw it and loved it at Outdoor Retailer in January 2014 and I’ve finally gotten my hands on a jacket featuring the technology.
The Dot Matrix Jacket is intended to be an all-around shell that leans towards “rain shell.” That said, it’s certainly versatile and lightweight enough to be used for skiing (with the proper layers), hiking or even trail running. As is usual, I’ve tried my best to push this jacket to its limits and beyond.
With FuseForm, you get a seamless flow between low and high abrasion areas, thus reducing seams, weight and bulk. The North Face has put a lot of effort into this new construction process and it is certainly an innovative idea that does work well in practice, but it’s not perfect.
With most jackets, seams serve as both a fabric transition (tougher or lighter or more breathable material) and an opportunity to fine-tune the fit. The Dot Matrix seamlessly transitions to more abrasion-resistant fabrics and as such, loses out on opportunities to dial in the fit. As it stands, the size medium fits pretty well on my 5’11” 170 lb. frame. There is ample room for a base layer and a midweight fleece or a base layer and a down vest. The shoulders and sleeves got a little tight when worn with a midweight puffy jacket underneath, so I’d stick with fleece as a mid-layer.
The sleeves feature an angle-cut cuff for improved coverage on the move, but do seem just a tad short. With a Velcro cuff, it’s easy to cinch down, but you may suffer a cold gap unless you have longer glove cuffs.
Back to the fabric, this is a hardshell, so you’ll notice the restricted movement when doing extreme movements, but it doesn’t restrict most movement. Speaking of movements, I pushed the limits of this jacket while running and it does breathe OK, but does need the pit zips to do so. HyVent is a good, mid-grade laminate fabric, but does get bested by eVent or Polartec NeoShell. If you do wear this jacket with a short-sleeved base layer, you’ll notice that your arms will get stuck to the inside of the sleeves. Just wear full sleeves and you won’t have that problem.
HyVent does excel in water repellency and this thing can take serious weather in stride. The waterproof zippers reduce bulk and are easily zipped up/down (not something you’ll always find with waterproof zippers). I’m a fan of zipper pulls and the simple pulls utilized here are outstanding with excellent ease-of-use with gloves on. Of course, wind protection is also excellent.
When needed, the hem can be cinched down using the hidden toggles and the hood can also be snugged down in a jiffy with a couple of pulls. Pack compatibility is excellent and the abrasion resistance is made specifically to accommodate that as well. One little niggle is that the fleece-lined chin guard has curled backward. A simple foldover design would have made for a zipper garage and prevented this annoyance.
- Unique, seamless fabric design
- Lots of adjustments that are all easily reached
- Zipper pulls… these work masterfully
- Excellent abrasion resistance
- Waterproof to the extreme
- Collar height is perfect to hunker down and stay warm
- The fabric has an unrefined “loud” feel to it
- Sleeves could be just a tad longer
- Breathability is average
- Chin guard curls backward
The Bottom Line: The North Face FuseForm Dot Matrix
Theres a huge story with FuseForm and that alone does make this jacket stand out. I’d call this a good rain shell for backpacking, ski touring and occasional high-aerobic activity. It won’t wow you, but it is a great, no-fuss journeyman rain jacket.
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