The North Face Apex Flex GTX 3.0
Weight: 25.8 oz. (men's medium)
Waterproofing: 3L Gore-Tex
What we like: Impressive wind and water protection with a bit of stretch.
What we don’t: Heavy and doesn't pack down well.
See the Men's TNF Apex Flex GTX 3.0 See the Women's TNF Apex Flex GTX 3.0
The North Face Apex Flex GTX 3.0 is a versatile jacket that doesn’t fit perfectly into any one category. The 3-layer Gore-Tex build provides excellent waterproofing, although it certainly is heavy for a rain jacket and bulky for stuffing into a pack. At the same time, the softshell exterior does an impressive job at blocking wind and even creating a little extra warmth. Our take is that despite the clear lack of backcountry prowess, the Apex Flex is great for light adventuring and everyday use all the way into the winter months. Below we break down the jacket’s water and wind protection, breathability, warmth, weight and packability, durability, fit and sizing, and more. To see how the Apex Flex GTX 3.0 stacks up, see our articles on the best rain jackets and best softshells.
Water and Wind Protection
The North Face Apex Flex GTX 3.0 is built like a tank. The design features a softshell-like woven exterior with 3-layer Gore-Tex and a fantastic DWR coating, meaning that you get premium protection from the elements along with some thickness and stretch. The waterproof nature of the jacket along with how substantial it is makes it a really nice option for nasty days and even light snow. Whereas many rain jackets do little except keep you dry, the Apex Flex acts much more like a true shell/layering piece. We haven’t had a chance to subject the updated 3.0 to extreme weather yet, but the previous version—which featured nearly identical materials and construction—kept us warm and dry during extended periods in driving rain.
In terms of wind protection, the Apex Flex GTX 3.0 is an absolute standout. The over 25 ounces of material certainly helps in providing a solid barrier, which is one really nice characteristic of softshell jackets. When it’s windy and rainy but not too cold, you can throw this jacket over as little as a t-shirt and feel totally comfortable in the process. And when the temperature drops, we’ll add a light insulation piece underneath and let the jacket keep the rain and wind out. We’ll go as far as to say that when wearing the Apex Flex GTX, we’ve felt little to no impact from wind at all.
With a premium 3-layer Gore-Tex build, the The North Face Apex Flex GTX 3.0 is a solid breather overall. However, there are a couple of important factors worth considering. The first is the thickness of the jacket, including both the knit interior and softshell exterior. Despite the inherent temperature-regulating abilities of Gore-Tex, more fabric and weight does impact how much sweat you will work up and how hot the jacket will run. On the other hand, the jacket has substantial pit zips, which are a great way to dump heat quickly. We’ve worn the Apex Flex on rainy hikes into the 50s Fahrenheit without feeling hot, but we imagine that things will get swampier as the mercury rises. And as we cover below in the warmth section, the thick nature of the jacket does give it a nice boost in warmth for use in winter-like conditions.
We rarely include a separate “warmth” section in our rain jacket reviews, but given the versatility of the Apex Flex GTX 3.0, it felt worthwhile here. The jacket isn’t insulated in terms of added down or synthetic fill (or even a fleece backer), but its substantial lining, exterior softshell fabric, and wind-blocking ability do manage to add a noticeable amount of warmth. Accordingly, it’s the jacket we grab on particularly blustery days when a standard rain shell or water-resistant synthetic jacket won’t do the trick. You’ll also notice that a lot of people use the Apex Flex as a cold-weather piece—certainly not down to the depths of winter, but in chilly to moderate winter conditions. The fit allows for layering, and given the waterproofing and wind protection, it’s easy to add a lightweight down jacket or synthetic jacket underneath.
Weight and Packability
The Apex Flex 3.0 shaved almost 3 ounces from the previous model, but it still is a far cry from being a lightweight jacket that can be stuffed down neatly into the bottom of a pack. On our scale, the men’s medium weighed in at 25.8 ounces, making it the heaviest model in our rain jacket round-up by far. Even by softshell standards, it weighs a lot—a burly jacket like the Arc’teryx Gamma LT clocks in at just 19.2 ounces. Moreover, the Apex Flex is bulky and does not pack down particularly well. We like to roll the jacket into its hood, which ends up being roughly the size of an American football (albeit a heavy one) and can be gripped in one hand. But for forays into the backcountry where packed size matters, we recommend looking elsewhere.
As we will mention a few times in this article, we think of the Apex Flex GTX 3.0 as a really nice option for light adventuring and everyday use. To be sure, weight and packability are the jacket’s Achilles’ heel, and we wouldn’t even consider heading out for a long hike or overnight trip with this as our shell of choice. Instead, it’s great for those who live in cities and want to take walks in rainy and even cold weather, as well as for travel and hikes from the car where space and weight are not at a premium.
Build Quality and Durability
The Apex Flex GTX 3.0 is built extremely well from top to bottom. Because weight was not spared (ultralight jackets inherently use thin materials), we’ve noticed virtually no wear and tear on this jacket. The 75-denier softshell exterior is burly and can take a beating, and the interior lining is soft and comfortable yet has shown no vulnerability to tears. Unlike lighter-weight rain jackets, like the Arc’teryx Zeta FL, the zippers are heavy, waterproof (except the chest pocket), and have a smooth action. At $249 and without insulation, we would expect a premium build and the Apex Flex does not disappoint.
Features: Hood, Storage, and Pit Zips
The Apex Flex GTX 3.0 is a feature-packed jacket. Starting with the hood, you get a medium fit with cinches both in front and around back. The rear cinch in particular does a good job securing the hood around the sides of the head. It’s not big enough to be considered helmet-compatible, but given the jacket’s casual slant, that’s likely not a big downside for most people. The good news is the hood has a substantial bill, provides solid coverage overall, and is easy to button down in the wind.
In terms of storage, the jacket has three pockets: the two generously sized hand pockets have interior waist cinches on both sides, along with a useful interior chest pocket that just barely holds an iPhone XS in a low-profile case. As mentioned above, the Apex Flex GTX 3.0 has large pit zips that are perfect for dumping heat quickly (if you’ve ever tried hiking in warm conditions, you know how important they can be). In addition, the Velcro cuffs on the wrist allow you to customize fit and tightness there, which is particularly important given the slightly long length (more on fit below). All in all, the Apex Flex has just about all of the features that we like in a rain jacket in terms of adjustability and storage.
Fit and Sizing
The Apex Flex GTX 3.0 is listed as having a “slim” fit, which we partially agree with aside from a few caveats. First, the jacket definitely is capable of layering underneath, which can make it run slightly large when wearing only a t-shirt or baselayer. However, we appreciate the versatility as it allows for cold-weather use. Second, the arms are just a tad on the long side, extending to the base of our knuckles with our hands by our side. Tightening up the Velcro straps easily solves this issue, but it may pose problems for some. Finally, with our arms outstretched in front of us (similar to giving someone a hug), the chest area has a noticeable bulge. While this posed no problems for casual use, active wearers may find this restricting. Other than those three things, we ordered our usual men’s medium and the jacket fits true to size.
Women's Version of The North Face Apex Flex GTX 3.0
We put the men's Apex Flex GTX 3.0 through its paces for this review, and The North Face offers the same jacket in a women's-specific version. The women's Apex Flex GTX 3.0 also retails for $249 and shares an identical feature set including a weatherproof 3-layer Gore-Tex build, adjustable hood, pit zips for ventilation, and three total pockets. The women's model is slightly lighter at 22.4 ounces, although it's still heavy compared to most of the rain jacket competition. We haven't had a chance to test the women's Apex Flex GTX 3.0 yet, but we imagine it warrants similar praise regarding the soft and comfortable construction, impressive protection, and great overall build quality.
What We Like
- Premium waterproofing and wind protection.
- Impressive build quality, including the soft and comfortable interior knit lining.
- Smart looks and subtle branding make it a nice crossover outdoor/urban piece.
What We Don’t
- Heavy and bulky for a rain jacket. This certainly is not a backcountry piece.
- Long arms and baggy chest make for a slightly awkward fit during athletic endeavors.
- Expensive with its recent price increase to $249, especially for an everyday/casual jacket.
|The North Face Apex Flex 3.0||$249||25.6 oz.||Hiking/daily use||3L Gore-Tex||Yes||No|
|Marmot Minimalist||$189||14.9 oz.||Hiking/daily use||2.5L Gore-Tex||Yes||No|
|REI Co-op Drypoint GTX||$249||10.5 oz.||Performance/daily use||3L Gore-Tex||No (vents)||No|
|Patagonia Adze||$149||23.5 oz.||Hiking/daily use||No||No||No|
As discussed throughout this review, The North Face Apex Flex GTX 3.0 doesn’t fit perfectly into any one jacket category. The 3-layer Gore-Tex design makes it a rain jacket with full waterproofing capabilities, albeit a very heavy one at over 25 ounces. At the same time, it has a thick, stretch-woven exterior, and therefore we’ve included it on our softshell round-up as well.
In terms of rain jackets, our top overall pick for 2019 is the Marmot Minimalist, which has a 2.5-layer design, weighs considerably less than the Apex Flex GTX 3.0 at 14.9 ounces, and is cheaper at $189. To be sure, many rain jackets are lighter and more minimalist in nature than either of these models—the REI Co-op Drypoint GTX below has a 3-layer build but weighs only 10.5 ounces, for example—but the crossover appeal is what makes them so popular. Similar to the Apex Flex, the Minimalist works well for light hiking but also looks the part for everyday use. In terms of performance, the Marmot is less breathable but much more compressible and just over half the weight. Both jackets have pit zips, ample adjustability, and all of the features you’ll need outdoors.
For a more streamlined backcountry piece, the aforementioned REI Co-op Drypoint GTX is one of our favorite shells. At $249, it’s the same price as the Apex Flex GTX 3.0 but offers a 3-layer Gore-Tex design at less than half the weight. Where the Drypoint falls short is durability and features: the shell is only 20-denier in terms of thickness (vs. 75D on the Apex Flex), which means that you’ll have to be more careful to avoid tears. Further, you don’t get pit zips, although the jacket is quite breathable with its Gore-Tex Active design (you can also dump heat by opening the mesh-lined hand pockets). But if you’re shopping for a premium hiking shell in the sub-$250 price range with more of a performance slant, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value.
Stepping over to the softshell side of the aisle, Patagonia’s Adze jacket has been a mainstay for years. For 2019-2020, it has only been released in a non-hooded version thus far, but that Adze weighs 23.5 ounces, features a 2-layer softshell fabric that is water-resistant but not waterproof, and costs $149. At the end of the day, both provide excellent wind protection and are burly enough to withstand plenty of tough use, but that is where the similarities stop. The Apex Flex GTX 3.0 is waterproof, has a hood (hopefully Patagonia brings back the hooded Adze), and can truly function as a rain shell when the going gets tough.
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