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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Boxy fit, not very mobile, wrist closures are awkward
Manufacturer: The North Face
The North Face Apex Bionic is a popular softshell because it is cozy, blocks wind, provides some warmth, and breathes better than a hardshell jacket. During our waterfall test, the ClimateBlock fabric blocked water, but we eventually started to get wet through the seams. At 23.3 ounces, this was the second heaviest softshell we reviewed and we would not recommend it for extended backcountry use if you demand high performance from your gear. That said, it is very comfortable to use around town, for short hikes with the dog, or chilly bike commutes across campus. It isn't well suited to high energy adventures because it isn't very mobile and doesn't breathe very well compared with other softshells.
We liked the similarly featured Mountain Hardwear Fairing Jacket more because it's cozier, more mobile, and costs $10 less. If you want a cozy jacket that performs better in the backcountry, you should consider the Patagonia Adze Hybrid Hoody that scored much higher and costs $60 more.
RELATED: Our complete review of softshell jackets - men's
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The North Face Apex Bionic Jacket blocks a lot of wind and water, making it a top contender in the weather resistance category. Additionally, the cozy fleece-lined interior kept us warm on chilly days
The North Face Bionic uses the company's proprietary Apex ClimateBlock Fabric that performs as advertised at blocking all wind. We couldn't feel the breeze through the thick stretch-woven fabric that's bonded to a fleecy interior. When the wind really kicks up, you can feel it a little through the non-water resistant front zipper. When it come to warmth, this jacket is among the warmest in this review next to the very comparable Mountain Hardwear Fairing Jacket. These jackets are both fit for chilly days around town or at the ski slope. If we were reviewing the hooded version of the Apex Bionic, we likely would have given it a 9/10 for weather protection. Sans hood, you'll need to carry a rain jacket if it starts to pour, lest your head gets soaked. If you plan on taking this jacket to the ski resort, your warm ski helmet will keep your head toasty and you'll save $40 over the hooded version. Overall, this jacket is pretty weather resistant and will certainly block wind and light precipitation. If you use it primarily around town or in the snow, we expect it to keep you warm and dry.
The big test for any windproof softshell is to see how well it breathes when you're moving around. Unfortunately, we didn't find this jacket very breathable. While it is more breathable than full-on hardshell jackets, it fared worse than most of the other softshells in this review. If you're buying a softshell for aerobic endeavors like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing through deep snow, or hiking, you will likely be better served by a more breathable shell like the Patagonia Adze Hybrid Hoody. As with any jacket, you can always open the front zipper and pockets to vent some heat. Simply put, the Apex isn't breathable because it is warm and weather resistant.
If you just want a cozy softshell that you can wear around town or go downhill skiing in, then you probably won't mind the poor breathability of the Apex Bionic.
Mobility & Fit
Mobility is another category in which the Apex Bionic performed poorly. Like the Columbia Ascender Jacket, the cut of this jacket causes the hem to rise and the wrists cuffs to fall when reaching up. This is most important to people pursuing vertical sports like rock and ice climbing. For other uses like hiking, skiing, and strolling around town, this isn't as big of an issue. To the Apex Bionic's credit, the material itself is stretchier than that used on the Ascender. If you need mobility in a fleece-insulated jacket, the Mountain Hardwear Fairing should be top of mind. The mobility of the Fairing blew the Apex Bionic, Ascender, and Marmot Gravity out of the water. But before you write-off the Apex Bionic, ask yourself if supreme mobility is really valuable to you. As a softshell that performs from coffee shop to ski slope, the Apex Bionic is plenty mobile for the uses of most non-climbers.
The Apex has a somewhat boxier fit that's much looser than that of some of the more technical jackets like the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol LT Shell. Overall, the Apex fits true-to-size.
Weight & Packed Size
If you aren't going on long ski tours, climbs, or multi-day ventures, then weight probably won't be an important metric in your softshell selection. So it shouldn't bother you that the Apex Bionic jacket scored a 2/10 in this category. The reason it's heavier than other pieces is because it features a thicker softshell fabric bonded to a fleece liner. A softshell jacket can't have it both ways generally speaking, it can either be warm or it can be lightweight, and this jacket is one of the warmest we reviewed. Similarly, we hated having to carry this jacket in our packs because of its large packed size. If you value packed size, consider the Rab Vapour-Rise Lite Alpine Jacket that is slightly less warm, but packs down far smaller.
Although the Apex scored poorly in weight and packed size but if you don't plan on throwing this jacket into your backpack, then you may value the increase in warmth and comfort over packability.
One chest pocket, two hand warmer pockets, adjustable wrist cuffs, and hem adjustments located in the pockets sum up the Bionic's features. The cozy pockets were our favorite when strolling around town. The small Velcro strips used on the adjustable wrist cuffs was our least favorite feature. They felt less durable than other designs and their small size made them harder to fasten than the Velcro closures on other jackets.
As of the time of this writing, the North Face makes this jacket in 16 colors ranging from a vibrant red/black to softer tones like black and sequoia. Whether you want to be flamboyant or discreet, this jacket probably comes in a color you'll love. As a jacket to be worn around town and commonly over business casual attire, we appreciate the color options. After all, who wants to show up to work looking like they just jumped off the ski hill? We give this piece a 9/10 when it comes to style. It's easy to draw comparisons with the around town appeal of this jacket and the Fairing and Ascender. All three look great as casual wear but can still function outdoors when necessary.
The North Face Apex Bionic is a great jacket when you're looking for something that can provide moderate protection from the elements around town without looking like you're ready for a hurricane.
At $130 this jacket isn't a very good value considering that you could buy the Fairing jacket that scored higher but was $10 cheaper. The Fairing was more comfortable, more mobile, and we liked the wrist cuff design better. That said, the Bionic has been around for a while so there is a pretty good chance you can find one on sale. Use our price comparison tool at the top of this page to find the best deal on this jacket.
The Apex Bionic has been a top-selling softshell jacket for years and embodies the thick, comfortable, and durable design that many expect when searching for such a jacket. It wasn't our favorite for rigorous mountain uses, but it works great close to town and at the ski resort. It blocks wind and is a stylish piece for your wardrobe.
The North Face makes a hooded version of this jacket (the Apex Bionic Hoodie) that retails for $170. A $40 upgrade for a hood is a relatively cheap price to pay for the increase in comfort it provides.
— Jeremy Bauman
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 21, 2015
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