Gear Review: Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX Jacket
The Torrid APEX Jacket is an insulated mid-layer offered by Enlightened Equipment (EE), a Minnesota-based backpacking gear company that specializes in custom items made to order. The jacket uses synthetic insulation, which allows it to handle a bit more abuse than a similar down jacket, and will be appreciated by those looking for animal-free products. While it is basic, including just the bare essentials feature-wise to keep weight down, this jacket is ultimately functional. And with a crapload of fabric colors to choose from (inside and out), the Torrid APEX is begging to help your personality show, for better or worse.
I bought mine specifically for my SOBO attempt of the CDT even though I already owned a different jacket seemingly suited to the task. This felt like an out-of-character splurge for me, but it proved to be absolutely the right decision. Two factors convinced me to take the plunge: the ridiculously low weight (7.25 ounces, variable), and the warmth. Custom color options were a big-time bonus.
EE Torrid APEX At-a-Glance
- Model: Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX Jacket Custom
- Price: $180*
- Material: Ultralight nylon with DWR finish
- Insulation: Synthetic Climashield APEX
- Hood: Optional
- Weight: 7.25 ounces * (size S, hood)
- Lead time: 8-10 weeks for a custom jacket
* Price and weight will vary with size and custom options.
The Torrid APEX is best suited to hikers in the market for an insulated jacket who are looking to minimize weight without sacrificing warmth. This obviously includes the thru-hiker crowd, but any hiker or backpacker will benefit from lightening their load. The jacket falls firmly in the mid-layer category of insulation, which means that it is warm enough for most three season hiking endeavors, but would probably be outmatched in winter or on Everest. Just a hunch.
Circumstances of Review
I bought my Torrid APEX for the CDT. It was a reliable companion for the duration, 2,721 miles in 150 days. The trail threw a lot of different conditions my way. I asked my jacket to keep me warm during damp and dreary days in Montana, long traverses at altitude blasted by polar wind in Colorado, and unexpected snowy cold snaps in New Mexico. The coldest temperature was -2F° near Grants, NM. Lows below freezing were the norm during the latter half of the hike, often significantly less. I wore my jacket for lounging, hiking, sleeping, and just about everything else at different points. It did not always perform alone though. On the coldest days, I layered it with my hiking shirt, hooded fleece, and sometimes my rain jacket.
Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX Features
Pockets: The two zippered hand pockets are pretty standard, and come in handy for storing important items in camp or town. They’re also good for keeping hands warm on cold days, even while wearing a hip belt.
Zipper: A full-length zipper does the trick of keeping in the warmth when you want it and venting excess when things get steamy. It’s the tiniest zipper I’ve seen on a jacket, but it experienced zero issues on the CDT.
Cuffs: Non-adjustable elastic. Basic, but they do the job.
Hem: More of that non-adjustable elastic.
Hood: This is optional on a custom jacket. It’s not my favorite hood, but the added versatility for only .75 ounces is worth it in my book.
Insulation: 2oz/yd² Climashield™ APEX synthetic insulation retains warmth even when damp.
Fabric: Customers building a custom jacket have three weights of DWR treated nylon fabric to choose from—7D, 10D, 20D. Inner and outer fabrics can be different.
Colors: With 16 outside and 12 inside fabrics to choose from, there is no excuse not to look your best.
Balancing Weight and Warmth
As far as I’m concerned, insulated jackets are defined by their ability to balance two important values: weight and warmth. In the field of mid-weight insulation, the Torrid APEX is a strong contender in both categories. And when it comes to weight, it’s kind of embarrassing how much lighter it is than the others. Despite measuring almost half the weight of my Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody (12.8 ounces), the Torrid APEX is noticeably warmer. I appreciated the low weight of the jacket when it was in my backpack, and I was a huge fan of the warmth when the temperature was well below freezing. The CDT forced me to treasure every shred of warmth that I could swaddle close.
In the name of cutting ounces, durability is often sacrificed. I really try to baby my insulating layers, and upon receiving my Torrid APEX in the mail it was apparent that I would need to take my coddling to the next level if I wanted to have a functioning jacket by the end of the CDT. To achieve the super low weight, compromises must be made, and the durability of the nylon fabric appeared to be a big one. EE offers three different fabric weights—7D, 10D, 20D—in order of increasing weight and strength. I went with 10D on the outside, and 7D on the inside.
My durability concerns turned out to be unwarranted. Even though the cold weather on the CDT kept me huddled in this jacket for literally days at a time, either hiking, sleeping, eating, pooping, it made it to the end in good shape. I was careful not to wear it while pushing through overgrown brush, and a few small tears at the tops of the hand pockets and a nasty funk are the only enduring signs of the adventure. I’ve never worn an insulated jacket harder by a long shot, even on the PCT, and the Torrid APEX handled it all, leaving me impressed and grateful. The rips in the nylon were easy to repair with Dyneema tape. The largest was caused by catching a pocket on a cattle fence in New Mexico.
Fit and Finish
The fit and finish of the Torrid APEX is where this jacket falls behind the competition. Generally speaking, it is not form fitting at all. This is good for layering underneath, but the design is basic. The hood on the Torrid APEX has room for improvement. I found myself wishing it were bigger to fit around my warm hat or other hood layers. I suppose that a small hood helps keep the total weight down, so at least there’s that. This hood is definitely not helmet compatible.
There was also some funkiness with the cuffs. The inner sleeve fabric always followed my hands beyond the elastic, which was annoying and unstylish without affecting function. Minor, but worth mentioning. So summing up, this jacket is a (tremendously) functional layer, not one to wear to a hipster brewery with a Patagucci crowd.
Women’s version: It is best suited to narrow-hipped, short-torso bodies. My partner wished for more flare at the hem and a longer jacket body, which was curiously shorter than on the men’s version. She even recommended that women buy the men’s version of this jacket to reduce draftiness.
The Torrid APEX’s sizing is consistent with other brands that I have used. I am 5 feet, 7 inches, 140 pounds on a good day, and the small fit great. As mentioned above, the jacket is on the roomier side, which was beneficial for layering up on cold days.
- Lightweight: 7.25 ounces only. That is way low when compared with similar jackets. Like half the weight. It’s lighter than my hiking shirt by a touch. Weight will vary based on custom option choices.
- Warm: I noticed poofier insulation in this jacket when compared with others, especially in the sleeves. My opinion is subjective, but this jacket is warmer.
- Custom features: Subtract the hood to save ¾ of an ounce. Choose your fabric weight inside and out to tailor the durability vs. weight balance to your needs.
- Color choice: 16 outer fabric color choices, 12 inner choices. That’s a crapload. No excuse not to look your best on trail. Caveat: besides orange, each color is only offered in one of the three fabric weights.
- Long: I know I bagged on the fit earlier, but the torso of the jacket is cozily long. I could pull mine over my butt if I was just standing around. No fear of a cold belly button. Caveat: this does not apply to the women’s version as mentioned earlier.
- Synthetic insulation: More versatile than down for a layer that needs to be. It will still keep you warm if it gets damp. No animal products and cruelty free.
- Made in USA: Support a small company. No need to worry about the dubious ethics of foreign labor.
- Lead time: A custom jacket ships in 8-10 weeks. EE sometimes has jackets in stock that ship in 1-2 days, but you can’t customize the color
- Sleeve cuffs: The inner sleeve material follows the hands beyond the cuffs. Annoying to tuck back in.
- Small hood: The hood is noticeably smaller on the Torrid APEX than those on comparable jackets. This makes it uncomfortable around the chin with the jacket zipped to the top when wearing a beanie or other hood underneath.
- Durability: I think it’s only right to count durability as a con. Not a deal breaker for sure, but this jacket has below average durability relative to similar jackets based on the materials used alone, though that is partially decided by the customer. That said, mine has plenty of life left after the CDT.
- Simple construction: This is hard to describe, but the jacket does not have any stitching added for the sole purpose of holding layers together. This makes it different from all my other jackets. On the large back panel, the inner, outer, and insulation layers can be pulled far apart. It doesn’t matter there, but I have a hunch that it is the same phenomenon that allows the inner sleeve material to migrate through the cuffs.
The weight of this jacket speaks for itself. And while an insulated layer will always be a large investment, the Torrid APEX is competitively priced, costing significantly less than some category leaders. There are a few small things I would change, but I really believe that this is the best mid-layer jacket on the market for thru-hikers, or anyone, to whom weight and warmth matter above everything else. The custom colors and options also make throwing down cold, hard cash way more fun than it should ever be. Though I should burn mine for how bad it smells after the CDT, it has a lot of life left and I can’t wait to find how much stinkier it can get.
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