THE NORTH FACE APEX FLEX GTX
OUR TAKE This superstretchy jacket has the feel of a traditional softshell, but with all the weatherproofing chops of a hardshell. Standard three-layer Gore-Tex provides protection, while a stretch-woven face fabric and a soft knit backer give it a cushy feel. The Apex Flex’s sweet spot is cold, wet, or windy weather, as it’s too hefty and warm for active use above the mid-30s: We reached for it nearly daily for a winter’s worth of Cascade Range hikes and soggy Seattle bike commutes.
THE DETAILS An extended hem, easily adjustable hood (but you’ll have to wear it under, not over, a helmet), and a cut that layers well over winter insulation boost its protection against nasty weather. Breathability, aided by pit zips, is good but not exceptional, and you also get two hand pockets and a chest pocket (women’s version has a lower sleeve pocket instead). Tradeoff: It's bulky to pack, but the Apex Flex is also the most affordable jacket here.
TRAIL CRED “Given its feel, I was surprised at how weatherproof this jacket is,” says a tester. “I could hike through heavy rain in cool temps and still stay dry without getting super-sweaty.”
$199; 1 lb. 8 oz.; m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL; thenorthface.com