The Columbia OutDry Ex ECO Rain Jacket is made with a new waterproof/breathable fabric called OutDry that beats the pants off of Gore-Tex. The stuff works. I’m impressed. However, I’m less impressed by the OutDry Ex ECO Rain Jacket for use as a hiking jacket and think it makes for a better casual jacket around town than for serious day hiking or backpacking.
What follows is a two-part review. First I explain how OutDry is different from Gore-tex. Then I provide a review of the OutDry Ex ECO Rain Jacket, one of many Columbia jackets that uses the OutDry waterproof/breathable layer.
OutDry vs Gore-tex
OutDry is Columbia’s new waterproof/breathable fabric that’s arguably better than rain jackets made using Gore-tex and other proprietary membranes which require an exterior DWR (Durable Water Resistant) chemical coating to make rain bead up and roll off of the exterior of your coat.
Most people don’t realize that the external fabric on their jackets isn’t made with Gore-tex. Instead, it’s bonded onto an external facing fabric coated with DWR or between two fabrics in so-called three layer jackets in order to protect the Gore-tex and keep its pores open so they can vent water vapor, i.e. sweat. If that DWR coating wears off, the external fabric gets soaked, effectively blocking the membrane’s pores so your sweat accumulates inside the jacket. Internal condensation may also occur, which is why you can get so wet inside a waterproof/breathable rain jacket when that exterior DWR coating wears off.
OutDry fabric is different because it doesn’t require an external DWR coating and the breathable layer is placed on the outside of the jacket, not buried under an external facing fabric. How doesn’t the OutDry work then? It hard to say. Columbia has been very vague about how OutDry can be waterproof and breathable at the same time.
The OutDry Ex ECO also solves a second problem with DWR layers which is only now becoming more widely known, the inclusion of flourocarbons or PFCs in most factory-applied DWR coatings which have been shown to be hormone disruptors, like BPA. These chemicals are persistent, and break down very slowly in the environment. They also bioaccumulate, meaning their concentration increases over time in the blood and organs when you eat foods that contains them. (see Why does DWR Suck?)
Columbia (like Nikwax) has been on a crusade to eliminate PFCs from the waterproof/breathable clothing. While the waterproof/breathable membranes in their OutDry Ex jackets only include trace amounts of PFCs in the membrane layer, the all-white OutDry Ex ECO rain jacket reviewed here contains none at all. That’s NOT a function of it’s being white though. Instead, Columbia chose not to dye it leaving it white, thereby using less water during the manufacturing process.
OutDry Ex ECO Jacket Performance Review
I’ve been using the Columbia OutDry Ex ECO Jacket for the past 4 months in temperatures ranging from 75 degrees down to 15 degrees fahrenheit, in rain and out. Weighing 17 ounces in a men’s XL, it’s cut large with two very big mesh-backed side pockets, velcro wrist cuffs, and elastic hem adjusters. The hood has a front brim (no wire), rear velcro volume adjuster, and two elastic cords on the jacket’s lapels to adjust the hood size opening. All of the jacket’s seams are taped on the outside of the jacket to prevent leaks.
I’m quite impressed by waterproofing and breathability and breathability of the Columbia OutDry Ex ECO jacket. I’ve never experienced wet-out wearing it like the wet out I’ve experienced with rain jackets made using Gore-tex or other proprietary breathable membranes that rely on an exterior DWR coating to work. The jacket is clearly wicking moisture away from my skin and venting water vapor when it is raining or when worn in dry conditions over a fleece or base layer. While there is a buildup of interior perspiration when the jacket is worn in temperatures over 45-50 degrees, because the fabric is heavy and thick, it works quite well in cooler temperatures in wet and dry conditions.
In fact, the entire experience of getting rained on in OutDry Ex ECO jacket is different from a DWR-coated jacket where water beads and rolls off the coat. When it rains, water adheres to the outer surface of the Ex ECO jacket and it looks wet.
But if you look very closely at the surface of the face fabric, it is dimpled, with tiny raised bumps. My guess is that these dimples break the surface tension of the water coating the outside of the jacket and act as portals that allow water vapor to escape from the interior of the coat. That’s just a guess, though. Columbia is very tight-lipped about how OutDry works.
While I’m convinced that the OutDry Extreme waterproof/breathability technology works, at least in the context of this jacket, I can’t recommend the Columbia OutDry Ex ECO as a general purpose hiking or backpacking rain jacket for the following reasons:
- Color: The color white is a terrible color for a hiking rain jacket if you hike in areas where hunters hunt deer. Be sure to wear plenty of blaze orange protective wear if you use this jacket during hunting season. (It’s also a terrible color for ski slopes because there no contrast against the snow and people can’t see you as they bomb downhill.)
- Warmth: The OutDry Ex ECO jacket is uncomfortably warm in temperatures above 45-50 degrees. You will overheat and perspire if you wear it while day hiking or backpacking when worn over a fleece or a baselayer, in rain or dry weather. This makes it difficult to layer with.
- Weight: At 17 ounces, the Ex ECO jacket is quite heavy compared to the other hiking and backpack rain jackets that weigh under 10 ounces or less. The jacket is heavy in part because it has a wicking liner, which also contributes to its warmth (above). I’d be much more inclined to use a lighter weight version of OutDry Ex ECO jacket that weighed 10 ounces or less, and was not as insulating.
- Hood: The hood volume is too large for comfortable use, even when used with a billed cap to prevent the brim from flopping down over your eyes.
While the Columbia OutDry Ex ECO Rain Jacket is a step in the right direction, at least in terms of true waterproof/breathability, it’s not a very good jacket for hiking and backpacking. The coat is simply too heavy, too bulky, and too warm, with a hood that’s sized for Godzilla or someone wearing a ski helmet, and not for hiker. While the white color is environmentally friendlier because it’s dye-free, I’d caution you against hiking with it in backcountry areas where hunters are likely to be present without suiting up in protective blaze orange clothing.
While I’ve found the OutDry Ex ECO jacket to be too warm to be used as a hiking rain jacket or exterior shell in temperatures above 45-50 degrees, I am convinced that OutDry works as a waterproof/breathable fabric and has promise. Columbia makes many OutDry Ex Jackets and I’d encourage you to look for one that isn’t white, has a smaller hood, is lighter weight and has pit zips to help you stay cooler when hiking.
Disclosure: Columbia provided the author with a OutDry Ex ECO jacket for this review.
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