Full disclosure: For those who don’t already know, I’m writing a blog for Columbia Europe called ColumbiaSnowFans.com. And while running a product review for a brand for whom I’m working may seem like a conflict of interest, ChamonixInsider readers can rest assured that I would never jeopardize the credibility of the Insider by spewing about some product I don’t fully believe in. And after testing some of the Columbia gear I’m blown away by how good it is and would feel like I was not upholding the mission of this blog if I didn’t tell you all about it.
So yeah, the Columbia crew in Geneva sent me out a new piece from their 2011/12 line and after skiing it for the past two months I am totally in love with it. The jacket is one of Columbia’s top-of-the-line Titanium series and features their Interchange system which pairs a lightweight, synthetic down inner with a lightweight, 2-layer, waterproof/breathable ripstop hardshell. Basically three jackets in one, which is nothing new but always surprising that more brands don’t do it.
There are a lot of reasons this jacket blows my hair back but first and foremost is this Omni-Heat story, which in this piece revolves around Thermal Reflective technology derived from the little silver dots in the lining of the insulating layer. These act in the same way as an emergency blanket which produces a phenomenal amount of warmth to weight by reflecting body heat. Columbia claim the technology is 20% warmer and after wearing it for the past few months I’m convinced that 20% warmer is on the conservative side. The insulating power of this stuff is amazing.
The Inner – I’ve been wearing the inner on its own quite a lot and have found that it’s not only lighter but also much warmer than the Patagonia Puffball I’ve worn for the past couple of years. It’s also more fitted than the Puffball yet retains its range of movement thanks to the stretch panels under the arms. Two zipped handwarmer pockets, an interior chest pocket and an over-sized mesh interior pocket, elastic drawcord at the waist, micro-fleece collar. Everything you need, nothing you don’t, very warm, great fit, I love the color, super lightweight. Perfect.
The Outer – Due to the warmth of the inner, the outer layer has spent more time in my pack than on my body, however as spring rolls around I’ll start wearing the outer without the inner as I did this past weekend at the Otavalo Telemark Festival when a warm wet snow was falling in Les Houches and everyone’s jackets were soaking wet except mine. I kid you not. It was warm enough that despite the snow I only wore the Columbia outer over a lightweight Helly-Hansen synthetic base layer and never felt cold throughout the day. In fact, throughout most of the day I had my pit zips either halfway or fully open. Like I said: warm, wet snow.
Columbia claims its Omni-Dry technology is more air-permeable than Gore-Tex but once again, that’s an easy claim to make these days. What I will say is that even after a full day testing telemark gear by doing laps on the Prarion lift, my jacket and base layer were both still dry at the end of the day. The outer was so dry in fact that when I got back to the car I just shook the water droplets off and pulled the insulated liner on over the outer. I’ve had well over 20 years experience with Gore-Tex in every condition imaginable and in the wet-snow/high-aerobic conditions at Les Houches that day the Omni-Dry technology performed at least as well, if not better, than any other waterproof/breathable product I’ve ever worn. And man, I’ve worn a lot.
The outer has a waterproof front zip, mesh lining, removable powder skirt, removable hood, pit zips, two hidden-zip handwarmer pockets, a hidden-zip chest pocket, interior chest pocket and a big mesh interior goggle pocket. The lightweight ripstop fabric is slightly brushed for a nice hand, although it’s a bit louder than what I’m used to but then again it’s been awhile since I wore a true hardshell so perhaps I’m just not used to it. There are rubberized reinforcement patches on the shoulders and at the bottom sides that clearly add to the weight but they will greatly prolong the life of the jacket. Years ago I received a 3-layer Gore-Tex Middle Triple jacket from The North Face, the weight and design of which was ground-breaking at the time. After the third day of wearing it I noticed that the edge of my snowboard had shredded the lightweight fabric exactly in the spot where Columbia has placed the reinforcement at the bottom of the sides. So while weight is important to me, it can’t come at the expense of functionality so, for me personally, I’ll gladly trade the few additional grams of reinforcement for increased longevity.
So there you have it. Bottom Line is that the Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective tehcnology is amazingly warm and Omni-Dry far exceeded my expectations for both waterproofness and breathability. When I find out what this jacket will retail for next autumn I’ll let you know but for now I’ll easily throw it two-handed overhead horns.