I'll get this out of the way from the very start: I live in New York. A big black puffer is basically a requirement if you pay rent in this city. (This still goes for those who own property here, but who can really afford that?)
It's been memed to death by now, but the fact remains: who in the Big Apple doesn't like a cozy puffer jacket? Walk a mile in a New Yorker's crusty Doc Martens and you'll see about a hundred big puffer jackets a second on the streets, on cold and cool days from October through April.
Of those hundred jackets, though, the most abundant coat is The North Face's 1996 Nuptse.
The North Face Nuptse, Then Vs. Now
Originally released in 1992, the Nuptse jacket has become an icon of the San Francisco-born brand. (The North Face now calls Denver home.) Just last year, The North Face released a recreation of that OG jacket for its 30th anniversary. The version we tested, and are focusing on in this review, though, is the 1996 Nuptse Jacket, which originally dropped in, well, 1996. One of the most sought-after products on the market, the re-released 1996 Nuptse was tough to get your hands on even just a few seasons ago.
Indeed, in Q4 of 2020, the fashion search engine Lyst declared the Nuptse as the world's most popular individual product for both men and women, citing the total number of social media mentions, searches, page views, interactions and sales. While other products have caught up in the last couple of years, the Nuptse remains ubiquitous — thanks in no small part to the fact that it's well-stocked in over a dozen colors right now, meaning you can actually snag one this late into winter.
While the Nuptse oozes style and offers plenty of street cred, is it actually worth the price? I got my hands on one of these puffers and put it through its paces to see if it still sets the bar for performance and style, just as it did three decades ago.
What's Good About the North Face 1996 Nuptse Jacket
It's very, very warm.
This should be a prerequisite for a down puffer that's this puffy, right? Well, I've worn some of the bigger jackets out there, and, let me say, they are not all created equal.
The Nuptse, however, really does keep you toasty — I rocked it on a -5 degree Fahrenheit day in Wisconsin in late December and was perfectly cozy with just a long-sleeve tee underneath. It also easily withstood the blustery banks of the East River and a handful of snow flurries on a day in Prospect Park. Utilizing 700-fill goose down, the jacket lives up to its bonafides as a winter-ready workhorse that can take on some serious wind chill.
Its subtle, retro design makes it easy to put on.
I've spoken to the Nuptse's credibility before — the oft-paparazzied Emily Ratajkowski and Ben Affleck (among other celebs) have been seen wearing one for a day out and about. The cropped, boxy fit is still an ideal silhouette 30 years on; the bottom of the jacket hits just below the waistband and, even though it's crafted by one of the top outdoor apparel companies in the world, it somehow doesn't feel out of place in the city.
I'm a huge fan of the GORP phenomenon we're seeing right now, but even an Arc'teryx jacket feels a bit out of place in the city, despite the brand's appeal to streetwear enthusiasts. The Nuptse just feels at home in the city and on the mountain.
What's Not Ideal About The North Face 1996 Nuptse Jacket
It probably won't work as your only winter coat.
While the cropped fit does wonders for fit pics and style spotting, the jacket falls a bit, ahem, short when compared to other winter jackets. It's undeniably cozy, but when you're walking around outside and the temperatures are below freezing, you really want something that doesn't show a little skin when you lift up your arms.
Additionally, the jacket is billed as water-resistant and while it may attempt to resist drops of H2O, it soaks through very quickly in any type of consistent downfall; 15 minutes in the rain, and you'll notice the water getting through the shell's membrane, dampening the down beneath. Furthermore, the jacket's puffiness makes it extremely difficult to layer a raincoat over the top. I also wish it had lined hand pockets for that extra bit of warmth you can't get from ripstop-lined pockets.
The price may not be right for some.
While $320 isn't an exorbitant amount of money for a winter jacket, you can definitely find ones that are equally as warm for less; brands like Columbia, Everlane and even Abercrombie make something similar for a much more palatable price.
That's not to say the Nuptse isn't worth it, or that these other jackets are just as good, but it's just not the most affordable jacket on the market, especially if you value function over form.
The North Face 1996 Nuptse Jacket: The Verdict
Thanks to both its clout and its alpine pedigree, the 1996 Nuptse is a jacket I can wholeheartedly recommend. It looks great with just about anything and you're guaranteed to find one that fits your style, thanks to a bevy of color options. There's even a Real Tree Camo option, but you'll never go wrong with all-black or the classic North Face Yellow (or orange). It's very accessible and available (as of mid-January), but if you don't see a color you like in stock at The North Face or your favorite outdoor retailer, it'd be easy to find one on a resale site like eBay or Grailed.
The generous cropped fit makes it perfect for layering up and is flattering on just about anyone. Plus, it has a few tricks up its sleeve, like a stowable hood for protecting your neck and head from intense breezes and the occasional drizzle, and a right hand pocket you can pack the jacket into when you need to make space in your carry-on.