Gear Review: Enlightened Equipment Torrid APEX Jacket ($180)
Here you go, Swamp.
What is it?
The Torrid APEX Jacket is an insulated jacket offered by Enlightened Equipment (EE), a Minnesota based backpacking gear company that specializes in custom items made to order. I bought mine specifically for 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 (7.25oz), and the warmth. Custom color options were the cherry on top. Here, take my money!
The Torrid APEX uses synthetic insulation, which allows it to handle a bit more abuse than a similar down jacket, and I appreciate it for being animal-free. The jacket is basic and includes just the bare essentials feature-wise to keep weight down. Two zippered hand pockets, full-length zipper, non-adjustable elastic around the waist and wrist cuffs. A hood is optional, though I highly recommend it. So it’s basic, but 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 my Torrid APEX new for my SOBO attempt of the CDT. It was a reliable companion for the duration, 2,721 miles in 150 days. The CDT threw a lot of different conditions our way, providing plenty of opportunity to put all of our gear to the test. Relevant to the jacket specifically, I asked it 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 less than 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 anything else at some point. 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.
How’d it do?
It did great. As far as I am 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 (12.8oz), the Torrid APEX is noticeably warmer. I was lucky to have SpiceRack’s to try before buying my own, and a squeeze of the sleeves was enough to convince me that it had thicker insulation covering the extremities. Although I’m not going to claim that I would have died wearing the Arc’teryx, I will say that the CDT forced me to treasure every shred of warmth that I could swaddle close. 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 jacket’s durability was a pleasant surprise as well. When it comes to my insulating layers, I really try to baby them because they are expensive and vital to my comfort/survival. 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 (my guess is that “D” stands for denier), in order of increasing weight and strength. I went with 10D on the outside, and 7D on the inside. For comparison, the Atom LT is constructed with 20 denier nylon.
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, but 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.
The fit and finish of the Torrid APEX are not in the same league as other jackets like the Atom LT. 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 Patagonia crowd.
There is even more funkiness regarding fit with the women’s version of this jacket. I’ll let Spice’s words speak for themselves after being told that “curvy” is not a good adjective to use when describing women:
“Spice here. My relationship with this jacket is bittersweet. While it is feathery light and feels almost like a heating blanket of warmth and joy and puppies when putting it on, the women’s version leaves no room for bodies outside of a tiny ‘normal’ window. This jacket fits best on a narrow hipped and short torso body. Very little room for any pear shaped or hourglass shaped gals. Options to flare at the hips needs some attention. The length also needs attention. While Owen’s men’s jacket was long enough to cover my butt (we are comparably sized when it comes to jackets) and stayed put there, I was never lucky enough to keep my women’s jacket from constantly riding up to sit at my narrowest point, my waist. This left my midsection exposed and chilly.
I would rate the Torrid APEX much higher in warmth and uniqueness for the custom color pairing, but much lower in fit when compared to the big name brand synthetic puffy offerings like the Atom LT, North Face Thermoball, and Patagonia Nano Puff. The women’s fit just needs a little more tweaking by EE before it’s the reigning winner for a comfy, vegan thru-hiking jacket. In the meantime, I would still recommend supporting a cottage company and enjoying the long and lofty men’s jackets until EE works on a new and improved women’s version. Then write EE a message saying, ‘Hey, I’m a woman. I want to be warm and I want my hips shown some love. Make ‘em longer and give ‘em a little flare please.’ EE is great.”
Break it Down
- Lightweight: 7.25oz 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: The insulation is poofier when compared with other jackets I’ve owned. This was confirmed by my super scientific squeeze test. 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. 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.
- Price: It’s not the cheapest jacket out there and $180 is a lot of monet, but other top choices cost significantly more ($260 Atom LT, $250 Nano Puff).
- Lead time: A custom jacket ships in 8-10 weeks. EE sometimes has jackets in stock that ship in 1-2 days, but they’re boring.
- 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 the ones 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 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.
Would I recommend it?
Of course, I love this jacket. There are a few small things I would change, but I really believe that this is the best insulated jacket on the market for thru-hikers, or anyone, to whom weight and warmth matter above everything else. And the custom colors help it to feel like ‘me’. I should burn mine for how bad it smells after the CDT, but that’ll never happen.
I’ll add that EE is a good company that I am glad to support. The Torrid APEX is the only product of theirs that I have used, but I would recommend them for custom quilts and insulated pants as well. Vegan bonus points for offering synthetic options for just about everything. The pants saved Spice’s life a few times and she has used EE quilts for years, including on the PCT and CDT. EE has a good website that makes it easy to see different color combinations and weight differences. Just watch out for that custom gear lead time.
That’s it and that’s all.