Despite high hopes about The North Face Apex Flex GTX, we wound up pretty disappointed. This shell is a rain jacket/softshell hybrid and, as tends to happen frequently with hybrids, it didn't do either of its purported specialties particularly well. The material on the color we tested was overly stiff and heavy which impeded mobility and caused the back hem to ride up. And despite a few great features such as pit zips and hems that are adjustable from within the pockets, overall we found this jacket to be more ill-fitted than awesome.
The Apex Flex sounded great in theory, but out in the field it simply came up short.
The Apex Flex was a little bit of mixed bag in this department. It was one of only two fully windproof jackets in our review, and the only one also considered waterproof. And while the burly Gore-tex exterior did indeed keep the wind out, the small hood coupled with the tendency for the back hem to ride up (especially when cinched) allowed the elements to sneak in unpleasantly. During our water test, the torso kept water out effectively, but the inside of the arms became distinctly damp - not what we had expected from something claiming to be a rain jacket. We found better weather protection from our Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody, as well as our Top Pick for Warmth, the Ascendant Hoody. Both the Rab Upslope and the Patagonia Adze Hoody were also impressive in this category.
To practice self-arrest techniques, we cinched the bottom of the Apex Flex. This stiff Gore-tex shell was indeed protective, but if you look closely here you can see how much the bottom of the jacket rode up when our arms were extended. This even happened when just wearing a backpack with the waist belt secured.
Breathability for the Apex Flex was just so-so. It breathed better than a few other models, but we could also feel the windproof exterior blocking off a decent amount of airflow. This was the only jacket in our review with pit zips and those helped with ventilation, but not as we had hoped. Even with them open, our chest and core felt stifled when our heart rate was up.
We had a lot of great contenders for breathability in our review, depending on your needs. If you want a thin jacket for warm temps and high exertion, check out our Top Pick for Climbing, the Arc'teryx Gamma LT Hoody or the thin yet durable Ferrosi Crosstown Hoody. For more weather protection while still retaining breathability, the Ascendant Hoody and Gamma MX Hoody are both stellar options, as is the very stretchy Black Diamond Dawn Patrol.
The Apex Flex was a great barrier in the wind and snow, but as soon as we got too aerobic it felt stifling, even with the pit zips open.
Mobility is where the Apex Flex lost the most points. The stiff fabric was very cumbersome, the back hem rode up as soon as we were active, the hood was small, and the neck tight and constricting. The fabric may very well soften up with extended use, but in our time with this jacket, it was not enjoyable. Also, as mentioned above, these issues may be less pronounced with a solid color as opposed to a heathered one, as the two are made from different ratios of materials. But we only know our experience with a heather color, which was stiff and awkward. For the best mobility in our test suite, be sure to read about the impressively stretchy Black Diamond Dawn Patrol. We also loved both Arc'teryx and both Outdoor Research jackets.
Even though the Apex Flex hae a drop tail hem it would ride up every time we were active. This picture shows how bunched up it got after hiking with a pack.
At 24.7 ounces, the Apex Flex GTX was the second heaviest jacket in our review, outweighed only by the Patagonia Adze Hoody at 25.3 ounces. While some of the heavier jackets in our review didn't feel heavy on the body (like the wonderfully stretchy 20.2 ounce Black Diamond Dawn Patrol and the well-featured 22.3 ounce Rab Upslope), the Apex Flex felt noticeably heavy and bulky. The manufacturer's website says the average weight for this jacket is 14.4 ounces, which is a far cry from the actual weight we measured on a size medium. Once again, we fear this may be due to the different fabric blends in the solid and heather colors, but can't be sure.
The lightest jacket in our review was the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Crosstown at a featherweight 10.9 ounces, but it was also one of the least weather protective. The most impressive coupling of weight and protection was the 11.5 ounce Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody, our Top Pick for Warmth. It was a far more comfortable jacket than the Apex and weighed less than half as much.
The Apex Flex is a feature-rich jacket, but we didn't feel it was executed particularly well. The manufacturer's website says this shell is designed for climbing, with an active fit and a stretch-woven exterior for extra mobility, but this wasn't our direct experience at all. On top of feeling very stiff, the hood on this jacket did not fit a helmet, so for us, that means we would not recommend it for climbing.
Additional features included velcro-adjustable cuffs, a slight drop tail hem for coverage (which rode up regardless), waterproof polyurethane front zipper (which we found very sticky and hard to use), a zippered forearm pocket, pit zips, a cinch-cord at the hem that's adjustable from inside the hand pockets, and water and windproof material.
The hood on the Apex cinched down nicely, but it was small and not helmet-compatible. We also found it would slide back on our heads if it wasn't fully tightened. The hem could be cinched from within the hand pockets, which we liked, but this would also cause the waist to ride up as soon as we were active.
For some of our favorite and most well-executed features, check out the six-pocketed Rab Upslope, the highly mobile Dawn Patrol, or the exceptionally well put-together Gamma MX Hoody, our two-time Editors' Choice winner.
This jacket has a slightly technical but classic appeal that we enjoyed. We thought the dark grey heather color was stylish, but unfortunately, the stiffness of the material took away from our enjoyment. For some of our favorite styles, check out the excellent tailoring of both Arc'teryx models and the fun casual sweatshirt-look of the Ferrosi Crosstown.
The Apex Flex was a nice looking jacket, though moderately technical. We just wish we liked the way it felt as much as how it looked.
The Apex Flex GTX is, in theory, great for high winds, cold temps, and moderate moisture. But in reality, we didn't enjoy it for much except keeping the wind out. If we got too active it didn't breathe or move well, and it didn't handle water as well as we expected for a waterproof jacket.
If the Apex Flex delivered on everything it promised, then $229 would be a reasonable deal. But, sadly, we were more frustrated than content while wearing it and feel you can get a much better jacket, like the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol, for $20 less. And for even a bit cheaper the Marmot Moblis, our Best Buy winner is a solid choice for a more comfortable fit.
We felt that the Apex Flex GTX promised a lot more than it was able to deliver. Our hypothesis is that the soft, flexible, and lightweight jacket described on the manufacturer's website and in many reviews online is specifically for this jacket in a solid color, not a heathered one. The solid colors have much more polyester and a little more elastane, while the heathers have less polyester and a substantial amount of nylon. Looking at pictures of the solid colored jackets, they look noticeably different. With such an apparent difference between the two, we feel that The North Face should separate these two jackets and name them as different products with different descriptions.
Bottom line, our experience with the version we got was disappointing: the material was stiff and heavy, disallowing the kind of mobility and breathability we expect in a technical softshell for this price. While the wind resistance was quite excellent, the water resistance was lacking, and many of the features didn't function as well as we feel they should have.
The Apex Flex did keep the wind and cold out decently, but with improperly executed features and a less-than-ideal fit it ended up toward the bottom of our review.