I wasn’t planning on writing a review for the Columbia Softshell Jacket, but so many people have complemented me on it over the past few weeks, that I feel like it deserves a little recognition.
A Vapor Barrier Derivative
Columbia sent this jacket to me to test because it uses their new Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective lining. This is a silver foil liner like the stuff they make emergency blankets out of. The liner consists of lots of little foil dots with breathable fabric between them. Columbia claims that it makes the jacket 20% warmer than ordinary lining (whatever that is), but I have no intention of using it to replace my GoLite Roan Plateau 800 Fill Down Hooded Parka. Omni-Heat might be warmer than no Omni-Heat, but down is much more compressible, lighter weight, and feels a lot warmer to me.
Still, the Omni-Heat technology deserves some recognition, even if it’s just a marketing and branding treatment on a vapor barrier liner. If you’ve played with winter layers, you know that wearing a non-breathable layer can dramatically increase your warmth and reduce your perspiration level.
You stay warmer by creating a humid microclimate next to your skin that fools your body into thinking it’s warmer than it is and prevents perspiration, one of the main ways your body vents excessive heat. Perspiration and evaporation require a caloric expenditure from your body that would be otherwise be used to keep you warm. Stopping perspiration and evaporation is the principle behind vapor barrier clothing and sleeping bag liners.
The Columbia Omni-Heat layer is just a perforated vapor barrier liner disguised in silver foil so it looks cool and is comprehensible for the mass market. The truth is, they could have probably achieved the same effect with other fabrics, but everyone knows what an emergency blanket is, so they hijacked the concept. As an ex-marketing guy, I think the marketing spin is pretty awesome.
Jacket Features and Performance
I’m not really big on softshell clothing for hiking, and at 29.5 oz in an XL, the Thermodyanmic Jacket is way too constricting and heavy for me to use as an active layer for winter hiking, or at night in camp. Winter camp and summit coats really should have a parka style hood. However, the Columbia Thermodynamic jackets makes a perfectly good coat for walking and running errands around town when the weather is cold, and it’s become my defacto winter jacket for day-to-day use, which is an achievement since I’m such a snob.
I’m not a skier, but I suppose you could use it for this purpose. The Thermodynamic Jacket has pit zips, a shock cord around the waist to shut out cold drafts, velcro wrist cuffs, an external and an internal zippered chest pocket, two zippered side pockets, and pull tabs on all of the zippers to make them easy to open and close when wearing gloves.
While the jacket does not have a hood, it does have a high fleece lined collar which is comfortable when zipped up and helps retain your core heat. The jacket is also coated with a DWR layer which does a pretty good job at shedding light rain and persistent snow showers.
I’m honestly enjoying wearing this coat, but in town, and not on the trail.
Disclosure: Columbia sent sectionhiker.com a complementary version of the Columbia Thermodynamic Softshell Jacket for testing, however sectionhiker.com was under no obligation to test it or publish a product review of the jacket.
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