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

Huddling in a pit toilet for a tea break during a snowy day in New Mexico. Plenty of cold weather to the Torrid APEX on the CDT. Photo courtesy of SpiceRack

  • 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.

Intended Use

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

Here I sit on the final morning of the CDT at the Southern Terminus. I saw some things, my jacket saw some things. Photo courtesy of SpiceRack

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

Check out the hand pockets and hood. Why wear shorts this short and a hood? To look good. Photo courtesy of SpiceRack

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

Save weight on the jacket so you can go big on the resupply. Photo courtesy of SpiceRack

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.

Durability

Dyneema tape covers small tears in the 10D nylon around the hand pocket. Fixed, easy peasy.

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.

More from Enlightened Equipment: read our review of the EE Enigma quilt.

Fit and Finish

Funky cuffs. The inner fabric (orange) followed my hand through the cuff.

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.

Sizing

Small jacket for a small dude. Photo courtesy of SpiceRack

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.

Pros

Well below freezing on a clear day in New Mexico. I learned to appreciate every bit of warmth on the CDT.

  • 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.

Cons

Between my large dome, hat, sunglasses, and other layers, the small hood on the Torrid APEX gets pretty full. Frozen on Mount Elbert with a questionable combination of sunglasses and headlamp.

  • 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.

Overall Value

Warm drinks, warm jacket at the Toaster House in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of SpiceRack

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.

Shop the EE Torrid Apex Here

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Comments 15

  • Andy K : Jun 1st

    I have had the EE Torrid Apex for about a year now and I like it so much better than my Ghost Whisperer jacket. Granted the Ghost Whisperer jacket compresses smaller, but the fact that EE Torrid Apex still keeps me warm when moist is a huge bonus. It is also warmer than my Ghost Whisperer jacket and cut longer, which is great if you happening to be tall like me (6’5″). I highly recommend the EE Torrid Apex if you can wait for the build.

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Jun 1st

      Oh man, I can only imagine that the longer cut of the Torrid APEX is clutch for tall folk such as yourself. Thanks for letting the people know how you feel about the jacket.

      Reply
  • Harris : Jun 22nd

    Thanks for the review. Those hikes seem Epic. Hope you got to try the Burritos in Bernalillo, NM… The Range Café.
    I live in Tucson and would drive there for the cuisine in a minute! Cheers.

    Reply
  • Ian Nostrant : Nov 23rd

    Great read! Am currently planning my CDT thru-hike (SOBO 2021) and a hooded insulating layer has been on my wish list, I think this post just pushed me over the line to get the torrid. I am really interested in the low weight and higher weather resistance in cold and wet climates as compared to down, and after you spoke so highly of the warmth that this jacket provides it seems like an even better option.

    Think I’m gonna go for the stock green rather than wait tell next year so I can get it by christmas!

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Nov 24th

      Go for it! I really think you’ll love the Torrid. The low weight makes it perfect for a thru-hike, and you’ll need all the warmth you can get going SOBO on the CDT. It’s so exposed, and SOBOs are out there late in the season. I just celebrated my CDT thru-hikeiversary on Nov. 21 and it blows my mind that I was still hiking this deep into November. But it sure is beautiful despite the cold!

      Have an awesome time on the CDT! You will have a blast. Happy trails!

      Reply
  • Turtle Man : Jan 1st

    Thanks for one of the better reviews i’ve seen on this jacket. “Spirited,” one might say.

    I’ve been scouting around for a synthetic, damp-weather alternative to the Ghost Whisperer (which is okay, but, i think, generally overrated, and not particularly warm, the low weight not withstanding).

    I have the Dead Bird Atom LT, which is also okay, but a tad short in the overall length on me (6 ft. 0.5 inch, longish torso), And it’s a little bulky when packed.

    I snagged an Altra hooded jacket on sale, which is pretty nice, but at the heavier end of the spectrum for this kind of jacket (~ 15 oz.), and it’s a little snug around the torso on me.

    This EE Torrid Apex sounds just about perfect, but for lack of a chest pocket (dang) which i find really helpful to keep certain things warm that benefit from being warm(er) in colder weather.

    Montbell — which seems to ride under many folks’ radar — appears to have some interesting options in their Thermawrap line. I have a couple of their products (rain jacket, umbrella) and they seem well designed and constructed.

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Jan 3rd

      “Spirited”, huh? I like that, thanks!

      And thanks for sharing some details on your search for a great synthetic jacket. The Thermawrap from Montbell does seem like a pretty sweet jacket. Lightweight, stretchy, has that internal chest pocket, good price. Their fancy synthetic insulation comparison graphs are cool too. I wonder if it’s legit.

      If the absence of a chest pocket is a deal-breaker for you, it might be worth reaching out to EE to see if they can add one on the Torrid APEX for you. That’s the beauty of custom gear. The customer can always get what they want (for a price).

      Let us know what you end up with and how you like it!

      Reply
      • Turtle Man : Jan 4th

        Thanks for your response! I took your suggestion and gave EE a call. At this point, given their production set up and the overall level of product demand they’re trying to meet, they can’t accommodate those kinds of modifications (outside of the ones they explicitly offer). Something they’d take under advisement for the future.

        Reply
        • Owen Eigenbrot : Jan 4th

          Makes sense, I guess. Thanks for letting us know how it went. Maybe if we all give them a call, EE will make that pocket an option.

          Reply
  • Al G : Feb 4th

    Great review. I’m trying to decide on hood or no hood. Plan is to do the Wonderland Trail around Mt Rainier (93 miles with lots of elevation). Conditions can be cold and wet even in Summer. I plan to have OR Echo hoody as base layer. Possibly this as a mid layer and cover with rain jacket if really starts raining hard. I have OR Realm as rain jacket that breathes well. Other thought is to get the Apex vest … choices.

    How well does the Apex breath out? wondering if it was still wet (with perspiration) when you used it for sleeping.

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Feb 5th

      You’re right, there are a lot of choices aren’t there! One of the problems with custom gear.

      My 2 cents regarding hood vs no hood vs vest: Go with the hood. It only adds an ounce over the no-hood option, but drastically increases its warmth potential. Double, or even triple, that sentiment when thinking about a full jacket versus the vest. I just don’t see the point in taking a warm, insulating layer then cutting its usefulness in half by removing the sleeves. If this is going to be you main insulating layer, make it as warm as possible.

      The Apex breaths pretty well for a insulated jacket. Some of that will depend on your fabric choice (7D, 10D, or 20D). Admittedly, I never got it too sweaty when I did hike in it because it was so freaking cold and I’m quick to remove layers when I warm up. My shirt and fleece bore the grunt of my grime, and mild dampness in all my layers, particularly on my back, didn’t bother me at night and always dried by the time I woke in the morning. I don’t recommend totally pitting out the APEX, but the fact that it’s synthetic insulation allows for plenty of wiggle room when it comes to moisture.

      Reply

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