If traveling through the Southern Ocean recently taught me anything, its that the weather there can be incredibly unpredictable and can change quickly. That makes it a great environment for testing gear, and it was the perfect place to put the new North Face Apex Flex GTX rain jacket through its paces. The jacket hit the store shelves while I was away, but fortunately for me I had an advance sample to take with me. It proved to be an excellent travel companion, and became my go-to shell for all kinds of different types of weather.
Believe it or not, the Apex Flex is The North Face’s first ever soft fully-waterproof soft-shell rain jacket. The company has made hundreds of different jackets over the years, but this one is marks a milestone in terms of performance and comfort. That’s because it pairs incredibly soft stretch-woven fabrics with a Gore-Tex layer to provide a fit that isn’t restrictive in anyway, but can repel the worst conditions imaginable.
Completely wind and waterproof, the Apex Flex not only looks good, but feels great when you put it on as well. I personally like the more fitted cut of the design, which hugs the body nicely and stays out of the way when things get active. While wearing it on South Georgia Island and in The Falklands, I used it with various base layers, insulating layers, and even a down puffy, and it worked well in conjunction with all of those items. In fact, it was a mainstay jacket that I wore on numerous hikes, visits to penguin colonies, or whale watching out on the deck of our ship. During that time, it survived rain, sleet, and snow, and even kept me comfortable in winds approaching 50 mph (80 km/h).
The secret behind the Apex Flex is that it uses Gore-Tex 3L shell material and combines it with a soft, woven facing fabric and a knit backer. The result is a jacket that feels a bit like a comfortable hoody, but with the performance of storm shell. That isn’t easy to pull off, but it brings a level of versatility to the jacket that is difficult to find elsewhere. It also makes this a coat that you’ll want to wear in a wide variety of conditions, ranging from perfect clear and sunny, to heavy rain showers, to near-blizzard whiteouts.
The jacket features two zippered hand pockets, as well as a convenient zippered chest pocket as well. Two additional zippers are found under each armpit for venting purposes. Those came in handy on longer hikes with a lot of vertical gain where I built up excess heat quickly. Once we started down hill, and things began to cool off, it was a snap to close them up again to maintain warmth. All of the zippers – including the main one on the front – are polyurethane coated to be waterproof as well.
In addition to providing a high level of performance, the jacket doesn’t take up much room in your duffle bag or backpack either. And since it only weighs about 24 ounces (680 g), it isn’t especially heavy or bulky too. That will go a long way towards making it a favorite for future adventures as well, as I see this accompany me on more outings in the near future.
For those that like technical performance in their outdoor gear, but don’t particularly care for an overly technical look, this jacket will become a favorite as well. The Apex Flex has a subtle, stylish design that offers a classic look without coming across as “retro” in any way. While wearing the jacket I’ve had several compliments on its appearance, which is understated in the best possible ways. While for most of us performance is the key factor we look for, it doesn’t hurt if the outdoor apparel we wear looks good too.
Priced at $199, the Apex Flex offers a lot of performance for the money. In fact, I was surprised when I learned the final price, as this jacket could easily have sold for more. In my opinion, The North Face has a real winner on its hands here, and this is a piece of gear that is going to have wide appeal. The fact that it offers so much performance at a reasonable price is further testament to just how well built and designed it is. If you need a new rain shell, this one should be at the top of your list.
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