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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Apex Bionic 2 Review
Cons: Boxy fit, not very mobile, wrist closures are not adjustable
Bottom line: This is a heavy-duty casual jacket that is durable and robust, though not meant for technical trips or athletic movement.
The North Face Apex Bionic 2 jacket is a favorite softshell jacket for the general public for its weather resistance, durability, and casual styling. It is an excellent choice for those who do not need the extra protection of a hood, and just want a decent looking coat that can handle cold and stormy trips around town. With a boxier cut than most jackets we reviewed, and a stiff fabric, the Apex Bionic 2 is not the coat we would recommend for athletic activity or trips into the mountains. For these types of trips, we would suggest a more versatile layer like the Arcteryx Gamma MX or the Patagonia Adze Hoody, two jackets that do a better job of bridging the gap between technical and casual.
RELATED REVIEW: The 11 Best Softshell Jackets for Men
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The North Face Apex Bionic 2 jacket is a cozy, thick softshell jacket that is warm and provides decent protection from the elements. It is a coat best suited for trips that are non-technical, as there was no competition between the top performing climbing and skiing- specific jackets and this one. For those needing a relatively inexpensive model for use around town, though, the Apex Bionic 2 is a good looking option.
The Apex Bionic 2 uses the company's proprietary Apex WindWall 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 kicks up, you can feel it a little through the non-water resistant front zipper, despite the zipper flap. When it comes to warmth, this is the warmest of the casual jacket, though is not as warm as the Mountain Hardwear Dragon or the insulated Outdoor Research Ascendent Hoody.
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 2, 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 about $20 over the hooded version. Overall, this jacket is pretty weather resistant and will undoubtedly 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 incredibly 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 Marmot ROM. 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 is another category in which the Apex Bionic performed poorly. Like the Columbia Ascender, the cut of this jacket causes the hem to rise, and the wrists cuffs to fall when reaching up. We noticed this more while wearing the Apex Bionic 2 due to its lack of wrist closures. 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.
The Apex Bionic 2 concedes to the Ascender in mobility, but the WindWall fabric means that the Bionic is much warmer and windproof. Before you write-off the Apex Bionic, ask yourself if supreme versatility is 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 Arcteryx Psiphon FL. Overall, the Apex fits true-to-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 2 jacket scored a 4/10 in this category. The reason it's heavier than other pieces is that it features a thicker softshell fabric bonded to a fleece liner. The two jackets that weighed more than the Bionic 2 have hoods; accounting for that, this coat feels the heaviest while wearing it. 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 the warmest casual jacket 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 Arcteryx Gamma MX; it's slightly less warm but packs down far smaller.
Although the Apex scored poorly in weight and packed size, if you don't plan on throwing this jacket into your backpack, you may value the increase in warmth and comfort over packability.
One chest pocket, two handwarmer pockets, and hem adjustments located in the pockets sum up the Bionic's features. The cozy pockets were our favorite when strolling around town. The non-adjustable wrist cuffs were our least favorite feature. They felt are wider than the other non-adjustable cuffs found on the OR Ferrosi and Arc'teryx Gamma MX jackets and easily slip up the wrist.
As of the time of this writing, the North Face makes this jacket in seven colors, ranging from a vibrant red/black to softer tones like heather and golden brown. 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 6/10 when it comes to style, due to its boxy fit. It's easy to draw comparisons with the around town appeal of this jacket, the Adze Hoody and Ascender. All three look great for casual wear but can still function outdoors when necessary.
The 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 $145, this jacket isn't a very good value considering that you could buy the Columbia Ascender, which scored higher but was $30 cheaper. The Ascender 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 North Face Apex Bionic 2 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.
— Ryan Huetter
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