Lifestyle jackets can sometimes sacrifice performance in exchange for, well, good looks. The North Face has bucked this trend with their new Apex Flex GTX jacket, which combines the esthetics of a city jacket with the undeniable performance of a 3-layer Gore-Tex fabric.
The North Face Apex Flex GTX Jacket Features:
- Apex Flex combines Gore-Tex® protection with soft shell flexibility
- Waterproof, stretch GORE-TEX® 3L with knit back that eliminates the need for a liner
- Attached, adjustable hood
- Polyurethane (PU) center-front, hand and chest pocket zips
- Elasticated cuffs
- Adjustable hem
- Claimed weight: 22oz
- MSRP: $229
Look good, stay dry, and streeeeeeeetch:
I will begin by saying that the Apex Flex fits a niche that I didn’t even know I needed: a fully waterproof, 3L Gore-Tex jacket that stretches as well as a soft-shell. The ‘Flex’ in the product name is not exaggeration, as the base fabric features what feels like 4-way inherent stretch.
On the whole, the Apex Flex feels much more like a softshell than a hardshell. It moves with you really well, thanks in part to the thoughtful tailoring and additional fabric panels around the shoulders and arms. In addition to this, the fabric has a particularly soft handle. The Gore-Tex lining is completely protected on the inside by a knit soft-to-the-touch polyester/nylon blended fabric. On all of the color ways available for the Apex Flex, the liner fabric is also black – so you avoid the spacesuit-like appearance of many modern Gore-Tex jackets.
The overall comfort of the jacket is enhanced by the design of the cuffs. The design is a little unconventional – instead of a velcro tab or other adjustment, there opening is sort of puckered so that it creates a nice seal around your hand the moment you slide it through. It means that the jacket slide easily under gloves and forms a good seal, *unless* your wrist is slim enough that there’s not enough compression to form a seal. On the whole, it’s an unusual choice for a cuff design. I think it’s mostly a concession to esthetics and the drive to create a sleek, city-bred jacket. And there’s no doubt that the appearance of the cuffs is sleeker overall than a conventional velcro closure.
At the bottom of the jacket we find a far more conventional hem adjustment. It features two large push-button adjustments which are easy to use with gloves on. The Apex Flex also features a gentle drop hem, so there’s extra coverage for wet and windy days. I particularly appreciate the looks of modern drop hem garments, and the Apex Flex definitely looks sharp.
In terms of performance, the jacket can hold its own in wind and wet weather. It is completely windproof and provides a ton of protection that way. I was also very pleased with how waterproof the jacket was; it fended off all of the wet that a PNW February could throw at it and was un-phased. I was particularly pleased with how well the single hood adjustment helped control the hood in the wind.
Where I noticed the Apex Flex struggling, though, was in breathability. This particular Gore-Tex jacket is not particularly breathable. I blame this in part on the particular ‘level’ of Gore-Tex fabric that The North Face used, which seemed less breathable than something like, say, Gore-Tex Pro. This is to be expected, and I am not complaining about it. The other thing that contributed, though, was the knit lining. It seemed like that impeded the jacket’s breathability, and it wasn’t hard for me to saturate the lining with sweat in my underarms if I got too warm in the Apex Flex. The knit liner is great because it adds longevity and style to the Gore-Tex, but it does impair breathability to a degree. Additionally, the jacket is fully seam-taped.
The rest of the functional pieces of the jacket work flawlessly. The zipper runs smoothly along its track and I particularly like the zipper head, which was treated with a coating to feel less metallic. The zips on the two hand pockets, single chest pocket and main zip are all waterproof YKK zippers. There is no zipper garage on the main zipper, but the result is a cleaner look.
- Definitely a stylish, minimalist take
- Very weatherproof, with excellent performance in wind and rain
- All zippers and features work as they’re supposed to
- Pleasantly stretchy, and overall follows movement very nicely
- You may like the cuff design
- Knit lining impairs breathability
- You may not like the cuff design
The Bottom Line: Apex Flex GTX Jacket
If you are tired of wearing your technical shell around town, good. You should be. Those things should be saved for the mountains and cared for as such. The relatively affordable price point of the Apex Flex is a great alternative for a very weather-worthy jacket that also looks sharp.
Buy it now: Available from TheNorthFace.com
Could you compare AscentShell 3L and Goretex Active 3L?
That’s a great question. Without double-checking any tech specs, here’s my quick rundown.
In many regards, they are very similar fabrics. They’re each a full 3-layer laminate that protects the waterproof membrane well without sacrificing breathability. Generally, these are two of the most breathable waterproof laminates on the market. Polartec Neoshell might beat them out, but the last jacket I tested with that fabric had the lining fall apart after about a year.
In my experience, jackets with Ascentshell 3L have been very light (no more than 20D face fabric) and have excellent inherent stretch. Goretex Active 3L tends to be woven into slightly burlier face fabrics. Overall, I would say that Ascentshell wins when it comes to fabric handle (how soft it is) and how well it moves with you, but Outdoor Research’s jackets have used very light face fabrics so far. In contrast, you can find Goretex Active jackets that are bonded to more durable face fabrics.
So, in general, they are highly comparable fabrics in terms of how well they breathe and repel water. I don’t think anyone could make a big functional distinction there. If you want something a bit more durable than what Outdoor Research has to offer, then I think you’ll be satisfied with Goretex Active jackets (if you make sure to pick a jacket with a face fabric above 20D). But I currently have a new Ascentshell jacket from Outdoor Research and, I have to say, I really like it. Review coming soon.
Hope that helps!