North Face Jackets
My interest in backpacking and hiking started in high school. Much of my first minimum-wage paychecks went straight to backpacking gear. One of my first purchases was a North Face Mountain Light Jacket (with Gore-Tex), from Hansen Mountaineering, in Orem, Utah. I got it on sale for $170 (back in 1989), if you can believe it.
Anyway, I wore that North Face jacket for several years, during college, and on almost every hiking trip I went on. I took the jacket on a 2-month backpacking trip along through Utah, and on a 2-month trip along the Pacific Crest Trail, and on many other shorter trips -- adding up to hundreds of days.
Eventually, the jacket started leaking. North Face jackets (actually, all their products) have a Lifetime Guarantee, so I returned it to the store, not realizing how much I had actually worn it compared to most people. The store returned it to the North Face, who in turn agreed the Gore-Tex was leaking and beyond repair. So North Face sent me a brand-new, current-year Mountain Light Jacket! And that's the one I have to this day.
Of course I'm not promising or implying anything specific with that story, just that The North Face does stand behind their gear. North Face jackets may be a bit more expensive than other brands, but in my mind it's a worthwhile investment. Why get a cheaper jacket that won't last as long or have a guarantee (or look as good)? Makes sense to me.
A Gore-Tex shell can be a lifesaver in cold, wet, windy conditions, so I consider my North Face jacket to be my most important clothing item.
By the way, the Mountain Light jacket is an outer shell layer, not insulation. As part of the well-known "layering system", it is meant to go over insulating clothing like fleece or down. I own a North Face fleece jacket that I wear underneath.
If you don't already own a fleece layer, you should look at the North Face Denali Jacket. It has the advantage of being comfortable, warm, lightweight and very fashionable (if you care about that). An even lighter and warmer insulating layer is the famous North Face Nuptse Jacket, with 700-fill down (the highest fluff rating). With the Mountain Light Jacket, that rounds out the North Face's top 3 best-selling jackets, all of which I can recommend without reservation.
Where's the best place to buy North Face jackets? To get the best support and service for North Face products, I suggest going with BackCountry.com. They're the North Face's top online dealer, and have great prices to boot. They will most likely have all North Face jackets in stock.