Even we nerds get outside sometimes. And when we do, we want to stay dry. We want to stay dry in the most high-tech way possible. And lo, The North Face's latest jacket is exactly that: a fully waterproof (like, dump a bucket of water on your head waterproof) jacket that's still soft and pliable and portable and comfortable.
The $450 Apex Flex GTX Gore-Tex (...wow) is a dry jacket from The North Face, available in navy or black or orange, that's not necessarily about keeping warm -- like you might expect from a The North Face jacket. It's about keeping dry, without getting in the way like most bulky outdoor jackets do. It's still a warm jacket, to clarify -- it has a very soft knitted interior lining -- but it can be worn mid-summer if needed thanks to accoutrements like sizeable underarm zips that vent off a huge amount of body heat if you want them to.
I've been wearing one over the last couple of months for my weekend hikes and night-time bike rides, and I also took it over to the US for a few days in Yosemite National Park in the sweltering heat and surprisingly chilly mornings of mid-June. And I'm really happy with it, because it hits the right compromise between an actual jacket -- y'know, something you'd wear to stay warm -- and a rain shell that you'd wear to keep yourself dry.
It's heavy, but it's not bulky: the three-layer jacket weighs just over a kilo but is quite thin, a few millimetres thick at most of its thickest point. The zippered section and all seams are sealed, but you're going to have to be in seriously driving rain or bad weather to actually test them, because water just beads up and rolls off the face of the Apex Flex whenever you're in drizzle. The jackets themselves run a little big: I'm on the broader side of medium, and I've still got plenty of room to move around in a zipped-up medium size of the Flex.
Most importantly, it's compact for an all-weather top layer. And that means you'll actually take it with you and have it when you need it. I've been carrying it to work and home every day, rolled up in the bottom of my really quite small Belkin backpack, and I have the peace of mind of knowing that if it starts to rain I can pop it on, or if it gets really chilly I can layer it on top of my go-to Nike hoodie.
It's also quiet, if that makes any sense. That might not sound like the most important thing, but every other rain jacket or snow jacket that I've owned has had that goddamn annoying rustle whenever I've worn it, whether it's from my backpack against the jacket or from the jacket's sleeves against its torso. The weatherproof Gore-Tex shell doesn't rustle or crinkle when you're walking along, and for me that means I'll actually wear it when I'm out walking on a trail or hiking. It's not a huge bonus, but it's a bonus nonetheless.
I have a few criticisms. The hood isn't quite big enough to brim perfectly over the top of my head when I'm wearing a hat (which I always do when I'm outdoors; the Sun and I do not get along), and its stiffened brim isn't quite stiff enough to replace a hat in the first place. It's also pretty damn expensive in Australia at $450, just like the Access Pack that I also really like. You're paying for quality, though.
If you're buying something like this, you're investing in something that should and will last you a long time -- so you just have to justify it to yourself beforehand. I can.