Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $112 - $149 | Compare prices at 9 resellers
Pros: Looks great, fits well, inexpensive.
Cons: Odd hook and loop wrist closures, heavy.
Best Uses: Around town, alpine skiing, showshoeing.
The North Face Apex Bionic strikes an ideal balance between casual and performance softshell jackets. It is the winner of our Best Buy award in our because it performs well at a great price. The jacket is made from Apex Climate Block with a brushed fleece backing; its warm and sufficiently stormproof for chilly hikes, spring skiing, and most day use activities. Its also one of the best looking softshells weve reviewed. We took the Apex Bionic through both New York and San Francisco and emerged weird-look free, something thats not possible in a flashy performance jacket. The $130 price makes this the second most affordable softshell of those we tested. Our only complaint with the jacket is its long and odd-looking adjustable cuffs. Even with odd cuffs, this is a great jacket and its priced affordably.
How did it compare to others? Check out our complete softshell jacket review.
We also recommend three higher performance alternatives: the best is the Arcteryx Venta SV ($375) which one our Editors' Choice Award. This powerhouse softshell has three different types of Gore Windstopper fabric, taped seams, pit zips, fast and easy zippers, and the only hood thats comfortable to wear with a helmet. For the best fitting and least restrictive warm softshell look no further than the custom made Beyond Clothing Cold Fusion Shock ($325). Our favorite lightweight performance softshell is the Mountain Hardwear Dragon ($260). And for tearing up ski slopes and backcountry chutes you cant beat the waterproof and well-featured Fly Low Higgins ($270). All of these alternatives are made with better materials and have many more performance features than the Apex Bionic. Unfortunately, theyre also at least twice the price. The Apex Bionic will probably get you through if you dont ice climb or venture into more extreme alpine conditions.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The North Face Apex Bionic is a very good looking, versatile, and affordable jacket. A combination of attractive styling and basic performance makes it equally good for strolling downtown as shredding the groomers.
The Apex Bionic uses North Faces Apex Climate Block, a windproof and moderately water resistant material with a brushed fleece backing. Two hand pockets sit at waist level while a chest pocket is perched at the left breast. These pockets are useful and not obnoxiously flashy; they contribute to the jackets good looks.
The Apex Bionics style is conservative when compared to higher performance softshells; it's one of the few that can be worn in an urban environment. We commuted to and from San Franciscos often cold and windy Financial District in this jacket. Its good for cities because people dont think youre from another planet (which they do when youre wearing a bright orange and blue performance jacket). The Apex Bionic is available in nearly 20 different color options; we chose the spectacularly versatile brown that looks good on anyone.
The Apex Bionic performs well in the backcountry, too. Its sufficiently warm and stormproof for spring skiing, windy hikes, and cold weather day use activity. However, the jacket is far less performance oriented than its name suggests. Its low pockets are covered by a backpacks hip belt and the fabric is not as breathable or as waterproof as others. On the whole, the jacket is well priced, good looking, and somewhat versatile.
We have one small complaint: The hook and loop wrist closures are unnecessarily flashy. North Face uses a die-cut Velcro with two small slits. This saves a negligible amount of weight (its a casual jacket anyway), and gives the cuffs an odd and almost violent look that contrasts with the rest of the jacket. The bottom part of the closure system (the hook part) is also unnecessarily long. Closing the cuffs as much as possible leaves a miniscule one-inch opening thats far too small for any persons wrist. We suggest that the cuffs be redesigned to have a solid top closure and smaller bottom part. This would eliminate the jackets weakest point.
At 25 ounces the Apex Bionic is on the heavier side. Since we dont recommend this jacket for multi-day trips, the extra few ounces shouldnt be a problem.
On the whole, the Apex Bionic is a great casual jacket that balances looks and performance with ease. We highly recommend it.
Around town, day hikes, spring skiing.
The Apex Bionic is also available in a womens cut. This has a more curvaceous shape, vertical seam lines, and a less visible chest pocket.
— Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: March 30, 2011
Credit: North Face
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