When The North Face’s new ‘softshell rain jacket’ landed on my lap, a wry smile formed. Silky soft and glowing in a tongue moistening Tibetan Orange, I was eager to throw her on my torso and head for a test hike.
So I did – into New South Wales’ tropical rainforest.
Beyond its grin-inducing look and feel, once worn it’s really rather difficult to take off. The flex in the stretch-woven fabric is immediately noticeable under any gait, without the touch and sound of traditional rain jackets. It is fully windproof and the lining feels nice against bare skin when worn in warmer climates.
What makes this jacket so unique though is the combination of traditional softshell fabric with a Gore-Tex, fully waterproof membrane. There literally isn’t anything else quite like it on the market. It’s this Gore-Tex 3 layer system where the real science comes into this jacket, allowing for use across a wide range of weather conditions in a durable and breathable package.
I took the jacket on a two-day hike through sub-tropical rainforest in winter, and was unfortunate (in this test-case) not to get pissed on. That being said, I have no doubts that its reputable Gore-Tex construction, seam-sealing and DWR finish is 100% waterproof. However with conditions similar to an alpaca’s crotch, the rainforest was the perfect place to test the limits of the jacket’s breathability.
An essential requirement for most outdoor jackets is breathability, especially for active humans like you and I.
So how did the Apex GTX fare?
Pretty well I’d say. I got a little clammy once my heart rate was up but nothing too drastic, considering the thickness of the jacket. That said, for longer, sweatier treks this may be an issue. Of course, the zips in the arm-pits go some way in helping to reduce sweat, but the Apex Flex is begging to be used in the cold.
The only slight drawback however, is the weight. It’s rather heavy (680g) and bulky (given the fabrics) meaning the weight conscious gear junkies among you will probably hear alarm bells. Considering it does the job of a rain shell and a soft shell in one jacket, it might be worth comparing it to their combined weight if you’re all about counting grams.
Whilst ultra-lightweighters who consider full length tooth-brushes a waste of backpack space will likely avoid the Apex GTX, there is most certainly a deserving place for this in your adventure wardrobe. It’s heavy duty, almightily comfortable and very well cut and coloured. If you try this on in a shop the assistant will have to prize it off your back unless you decide to buy it. Realistically though, this would probably be your all round work-horse jacket for everyday adventure, not one that would hideaway in a small stuff sack on a multi-day hike or bike-packing mission (it probably won’t fit in).