User Review: The North Face Men's Apex Bionic Jacket
Price Paid: gift
this is my first soft shell top or bottom, a gift. as a hard shell lover, i was prepared to be disappointed in how this would perform. instead, i really like it.
the jacket is new, so it's too early to comment on long term durability. the workmanship looks good - no loose stitches or frayed edges anywhere. initially, the zipper was fussy about 1/8 of the way up, right at the bottom of the hand pockets. that went away after wearing it about a week. it has two large zippered pockets that open along each side seam, for your hands, and one good-sized zippered pocket at the left chest. the cuffs aren't elastic but close with a velcro tab. the hem has a shock cord that tightens by pulling the cord from inside each of the side pockets.
The fit is consistent with other North Face jackets I have worn or tried on; i'm a 46 regular in suit coats and size XL fits me well - the sleeves are a little long, and the fit is sufficiently roomy to layer a fleece or a sweater, plus a baselayer, underneath. the fabric definitely has more stretch or 'give' than a hard shell, which makes it a little more comfortable to wear in some situations, and more than most wind-blocking fleece I have worn.
wind resistance is pretty good. i could feel the wind on a series of cold day hikes, somewhat more than a hard shell, but it effectively stopped meaningful wind chill in 30 mph winds. my hard shells definitely stop the wind better than this, however. the same with water resistance. I walked through steady snowshowers and light drizzle already and was fine, no penetration. i can't speak to heavier rainfall, but i'm not sure this would be my choice for very rainy days.
breathability has been hard to determine. most of the times I have used the jacket, i was hiking or moving pretty quickly and working up a sweat. it certainly didn't feel like wearing a plastic bag, but my baselayers became somewhat damp - the same as they would wearing an eVent or gore tex hard shell or nylon windshirt. the inside of the jacket has felt a little damp after these hikes, again, same as any waterproof/breathable or highly wind-resistant hard shell. because this soft shell is backed by some fleece, it's definitely warmer than an uninsulated hard shell, so long as the wind isn't blowing extremely hard.
on a series of workouts, this jacket over a medium baselayer was too warm for me on 40 degree fahrenheit days, but it felt very good at 20 degrees with a heavy baselayer. i'm confident that it could go down to zero fahrenheit by adding a fleece vest or jacket and heavier hat/gloves, and up to 50 or so over a light short sleeve baselayer.
overall, the jacket is comfortable, simple but well-designed in terms of features, and capable of handling a fairly wide variety of weather conditions comfortably. it probably wouldn't be my choice for very cold or very wet conditions.
I would like to test the jacket for cold-weather cycling, where I think it might be great too. definitely a keeper, and a welcome addition to the arsenal.