Columbia Thermodynamic Softshell Jacket

Columbia Thermodynamic Softshell Jacket

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.

Omni-Heat Insulation from Columbia

Omni-Heat Insulation from Columbia

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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6 Responses to Columbia Thermodynamic Softshell Jacket

  1. eric Chan December 17, 2010 at 12:18 am #

    credible folks on BPL indicate that omniheat increases the clo by ~20%+ but decreases the breathability by the same amount

    no free lunch i guess

  2. Diane Mancino December 17, 2010 at 4:23 am #

    I have been testing a jacket also- nice but also have been enjoying it around town. I'd have it for car camping, but like you, I have other favorites for the back country. I'll test it out on some day hikes after the newness wears off- its a smart looking woman's jacket-true to size

  3. lostalot December 17, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    Seems a whole lot of companies are hyping a shiny new silver layer on their old stuff, giving a half-baked version of heat transfer theory for justification and absolutely no experimental data. Columbia loses my trust for jumping on that bs bandwagon.

  4. Earlylite December 17, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    It's a fad. These jackets are already being sold at outlets.

  5. Amir Findling December 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    I got one from Amazon. Tried it on and the sleeves caught on my shirt when I was putting the jacket on. Tried it on some soft fleece and got the same result. I was looking for a lightweight but warm jacket for errands in and out of my car, where I need to be really comfy in my jacket. Returned the item. That cloud has no silver lining!

    Amir K9CHP

  6. grant December 22, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    from a distance that looks a lot like The North Face Denali Jacket

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