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Gear Review: North Face Apex Bionic Soft Shell

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
So here's the review on my first experience with the the new soft shell technology. Since I mostly have North Face gear I decided to give the Apex Bionic, their basic soft shell, a try. I also managed to score this for $ 99 at Campmor which didn't hurt since (as many of you know) my motto is never pay retail. (Unfortunately Mammut/Schoeller never seems to go on sale in my size since I am an extra big guy. It must have something to do with Euroweenies being generally smaller since I have to go 2xl over there as opposed to just 1xl here, and there never seem to be any 2xl's left.)

For those of you not familiar with the Apex Bionic, the basic jacket is a rubbery four way outer stretch shell bonded to a light fleece lining. There are two hand warmer pockets and a small chest pocket big enough for a cell phone. The fit is fairly tight and there are no pit zips.

This is a superb garment. I tested it under a variety of conditions, with a variety of under layers and over layers, and it worked well every time. As an outerlayer, over a wicking base layer and a 200 weight or 300 weight fleece, I was mostly warm and functional in 10 F with a minus 10 F windchill, although I did have to stop to warm a little more often than I would have with my mountain parka over a similar fleece. The apex also worked well as a midlayer, especially on windy days, providing more than enough insulation for most conditions under the moutain parka. Due to the stretch factor I actually had the impression that the Apex was better as an outer layer when I was skiing faster, ie at 35 mph plus. It is a good compromise between a racing suit and something more voluminous for those who like to ski fast. While I did not get the chance to test the Apex under entirely spring-like conditions, it would seem that this would be where the jacket would really excell. I did have it out in 35 degrees and bright sun, but the wind was blowing hard so I had to use a thicker base layer. While I will want to experiment more, the Apex has the potential to greatly reduce what I take in my gear bag, especially for shorter trips.

If I have one complaint it is perhaps that it does not breathe as well as I might have hoped, since I did note a fair amount of condensation on the shell, probably due to the rubbery surface. Since I was usually using the Apex as an outer layer this was not a big rpoblem, and even on the days when I used it as an insulating layer I did not get cold, so I am not sure this is really a serious issue. After all, the outer layer is generally where you want the wet to end up. I do want to retest under spring conditions just to be sure this is not an issue. Also, a minor gripe, but a few more pockets would be nice.

In short I was very impressed with the Apex, to the point where I might consider leaving the mountain parka behind for shorter trips especially if taking a choice of midlayers to put underneath it.
post #2 of 16
Soft shell technology is great! I find that I wear my soft shells not just for skiing, but for walking the dog in the chilly AM, and other times when it's cool out. It is definitely the best for spring skiing too! The only drawback I've noticed is that it's not enormously waterproof. It will repel snow, but not rain (which hopefully you won't run into while skiing!) Although the one Viking tested had no pit zips, there are several models that do have pit zips, more pockets, and hoods.
post #3 of 16
After looking at the Apex Bionic, I ended up getting this soft shell from LLBean:

http://www.llbean.com/webapp/wcs/sto...a t=ssdpb1008

(I got blue/gray; apparently they're sold out of everything but orange at the moment. There is also a women's version in other colors).

This has pit zips, 4 external zip pockets, and one internal zip pocket. It is great for skiing in warmer weather. My main gripe is that the zipper pulls are super small. Also of note, the fit is very tight, like many softshells. I ended up with a XXL where I normally would buy XL in everything else.
post #4 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by viking kaj
So here's the review on my first experience with the the new soft shell technology. Since I mostly have North Face gear I decided to give the Apex Bionic, their basic soft shell, a try. I also managed to score this for $ 99 at Campmor which didn't hurt since (as many of you know) my motto is never pay retail. (Unfortunately Mammut/Schoeller never seems to go on sale in my size since I am an extra big guy. It must have something to do with Euroweenies being generally smaller since I have to go 2xl over there as opposed to just 1xl here, and there never seem to be any 2xl's left.)

For those of you not familiar with the Apex Bionic, the basic jacket is a rubbery four way outer stretch shell bonded to a light fleece lining. There are two hand warmer pockets and a small chest pocket big enough for a cell phone. The fit is fairly tight and there are no pit zips.

This is a superb garment. I tested it under a variety of conditions, with a variety of under layers and over layers, and it worked well every time. As an outerlayer, over a wicking base layer and a 200 weight or 300 weight fleece, I was mostly warm and functional in 10 F with a minus 10 F windchill, although I did have to stop to warm a little more often than I would have with my mountain parka over a similar fleece. The apex also worked well as a midlayer, especially on windy days, providing more than enough insulation for most conditions under the moutain parka. Due to the stretch factor I actually had the impression that the Apex was better as an outer layer when I was skiing faster, ie at 35 mph plus. It is a good compromise between a racing suit and something more voluminous for those who like to ski fast. While I did not get the chance to test the Apex under entirely spring-like conditions, it would seem that this would be where the jacket would really excell. I did have it out in 35 degrees and bright sun, but the wind was blowing hard so I had to use a thicker base layer. While I will want to experiment more, the Apex has the potential to greatly reduce what I take in my gear bag, especially for shorter trips.

If I have one complaint it is perhaps that it does not breathe as well as I might have hoped, since I did note a fair amount of condensation on the shell, probably due to the rubbery surface. Since I was usually using the Apex as an outer layer this was not a big rpoblem, and even on the days when I used it as an insulating layer I did not get cold, so I am not sure this is really a serious issue. After all, the outer layer is generally where you want the wet to end up. I do want to retest under spring conditions just to be sure this is not an issue. Also, a minor gripe, but a few more pockets would be nice.

In short I was very impressed with the Apex, to the point where I might consider leaving the mountain parka behind for shorter trips especially if taking a choice of midlayers to put underneath it.
The softshell should only be used as an outer layer. The Apex is a proprietary material. I was interested in their softshells. I ended up buying something else. The Bionic jacket uses the Apex w/ membrain. This improves the wind resistance but reduces the breathability. I guess thenorthface wanted to make it more wind and water resistant.

I prefer a softshell w/o a membrain.
post #5 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sywsyw
The softshell should only be used as an outer layer. The Apex is a proprietary material. I was interested in their softshells. I ended up buying something else. The Bionic jacket uses the Apex w/ membrain. This improves the wind resistance but reduces the breathability. I guess thenorthface wanted to make it more wind and water resistant.

I prefer a softshell w/o a membrain.
I've taken a closer look at the Schoeller fabric since my original post and can see that it is quite different. My guess is that it will do a better job of allowing evaporation, but would probably not work as well as the apex at shedding wind as sywsyw notes above. Considering the fact that you are usually dealing with significant wind effect both on the chair and going down the mountain would lead me to think that the Apex would generally work better for skiing than the Schoeller in all but the warmest conditions.

I also note that North Face does not specifically say that the Apex should be used as a mid layer, but it also doesn't say that you shouldn't use it as a mid layer. I was generally happy with it's performance in this role, it was almost as good as a 200 weight polartec, and again the combination of the mountain parka and apex did a better job of shedding wind when things were really blowing. With a good wicking base layer and a 100 weight microfleece underneath everything, I would expect this to be a very good combination for all but the most extreme cold and wind.
post #6 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by viking kaj
I've taken a closer look at the Schoeller fabric since my original post and can see that it is quite different. My guess is that it will do a better job of allowing evaporation, but would probably not work as well as the apex at shedding wind as sywsyw notes above. Considering the fact that you are usually dealing with significant wind effect both on the chair and going down the mountain would lead me to think that the Apex would generally work better for skiing than the Schoeller in all but the warmest conditions.
Theoretically, the Apex would be more wind (and water) resistant.

I used my soft shell on the glacier and i have to say that it was perfect. I bought it so tight fitting that i can only wear a base layer. The Apex has an advantage (the wind and water resistance) and a disadvantage (does not breath as well as the Schoeller fabric).
post #7 of 16
Thread Starter 
Finally got a chance to use the Apex in warmer conditions at Taos last weekend and though I would report back. Daytime temps were running 35-40 with bright sun, we had 20 miles an hour of wind. Under these conditions with a fleece vest and wicking layer underneath, the Apex was superb. I was warm, but not too warm, and the Apex shedded the wind admirably. This is a great skiing garment, very flexible with good water and wind resistance. I've also picke up a lighter helly hansen soft shell without the membrane and am looking forward to giving this a try over the next several weeks out west.
post #8 of 16
I own the same shell. So i figured I chime in. Very flexiable, warm for its size, and wind proof. I have warn it with a light fleece underneath to about 10 degree above zero. Not all that breathable in fact worst soft shell in this respect I have worn.(still better than a Hard shell) I have warn it in the rain, it will kepp you dry but as soon as you stop it asorbs a tons of the water. IN snow nothing gets through.

I have worn my as a mid layer to, underneath my ski school jacket that I had to wear but doesnt have any water proofing at all. This kept me dry as the next layer down.
post #9 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by BushwackerinPA
I own the same shell. So i figured I chime in. Very flexiable, warm for its size, and wind proof. I have warn it with a light fleece underneath to about 10 degree above zero. Not all that breathable in fact worst soft shell in this respect I have worn.(still better than a Hard shell) I have warn it in the rain, it will kepp you dry but as soon as you stop it asorbs a tons of the water. IN snow nothing gets through.

I have worn my as a mid layer to, underneath my ski school jacket that I had to wear but doesnt have any water proofing at all. This kept me dry as the next layer down.
That was interesting. What other softshells did you use and which was the most breathable?

Jamie
post #10 of 16
Softshells are great. I've been skiing this year with a Marmot Adamant jacket that is a combination of Scholler and boiled wool with a Coolmax lining. Extremely breathable, windproof, and highly water resistant. It wouldn't work well in the rain but I use it only for skiing in the Rocky Mountains and it is completely waterproof with snow. And Marmot quality ranks with the best out there. Best of all I got it off the clearance rack at REI for about $100 off.
post #11 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by MJB
Softshells are great. I've been skiing this year with a Marmot Adamant jacket that is a combination of Scholler and boiled wool with a Coolmax lining. Extremely breathable, windproof, and highly water resistant. It wouldn't work well in the rain but I use it only for skiing in the Rocky Mountains and it is completely waterproof with snow. And Marmot quality ranks with the best out there. Best of all I got it off the clearance rack at REI for about $100 off.
Very interesting construction. A wool shell is quite warm i think. It has Windstopper membrane according to the website. That's why it is windproof. I like the Coolmax lining.
post #12 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sywsyw
That was interesting. What other softshells did you use and which was the most breathable?

Jamie
The other one I have in my closet waiting to try is a helly hansen rapide. This is really a very basic stretch layer, so I am not expecting a lot of wind or water resistance from this. I think it will will work nicely as a counterpoint to the apex for spring skiing. I got the pants to go with it so I will be testing these as well.
post #13 of 16
This is probably a stupid question, but what is a membrane? Is it just something that prevents wind and water from coming through a fleece? I need a soft-shell, (I think) that will be used mostly as a mid-layer under my shell, but that can also be used on top on warmer days and still block wind and water. Will I need a membrane and does the North face Apex soft shell sound like a good choice?
post #14 of 16
i looked at that apex at sports auth, but it felt quite rubbery, like it may not breath real well. they also had the columbia titnanium soft shell on clearance for about $80, anyone familiar with that one?
post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dubdub57
This is probably a stupid question, but what is a membrane? Is it just something that prevents wind and water from coming through a fleece? I need a soft-shell, (I think) that will be used mostly as a mid-layer under my shell, but that can also be used on top on warmer days and still block wind and water. Will I need a membrane and does the North face Apex soft shell sound like a good choice?
Membrane is a layer like Gore-tex which has tiny holes in it to let perspiration through. However, the holes in the membrane are so small that unless you immerse the garment it is not supposed to get wet from the outside. This is to be contrasted with a urethane coating, found in less expensive backpacking rain gear, which does not breathe and will let nothing in (or out).

The apex, because of the membrane, does not breathe as well as some other soft shells. So on a really warm day, you could end up getting wet from the inside a little. On the other hand, the apex is much better on slightly colder days where wind or snow are issues. So you probably need to figure out for what purpose you plan to use the shell.

As noted above, I was comfortable in the apex with a 200 weight fleece underneath in 10 degree weather with a minus 5 windchill. But I was more comfortable this past weekend in the warmer temps with the wind. And for a really warm day I would want something lighter.
post #16 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by viking kaj
Membrane is a layer like Gore-tex which has tiny holes in it to let perspiration through. However, the holes in the membrane are so small that unless you immerse the garment it is not supposed to get wet from the outside.
Yeah, you won't get wet from the outside but you WILL get wet from the INSIDE
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