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Columbia OutDry Ex ECO Rain Jacket Review

White is a terrible color for hiking because you'll look like a white-tailed deer. I make a point of wearing blaze orange clothing whenever I wear the Columbia OutDry Extreme Eco Rain Jacket which is only available in white.
I make a point of wearing blaze orange clothing whenever I wear the Columbia OutDry Ex ECO Rain Jacket which is only available in white.

Columbia Outdry ECO EX Rain Jacket

Water Resistance
Breathability
Comfort & Mobility
Hood Adjustability
Weight
Durability
Packed Size

Good

While the Columbia Outdry ECO Ex Rain Jacket is more breathable and waterproof than comparable Gore-Tex jackets, it's oversized hood and white color make it better for urban wear than in the backcountry.

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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.

While you can attempt to restore the DWR coating using Nikwax TX-Direct or Gear-Aid ReviveX, it’s never as good as the factory DWR coating, and still wears off.

Evolution of PFC free waterproof/breathable outerwear
Evolution of PFC free waterproof/breathable outerwear – Graphic courtesy of Columbia

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.

The Columbia OutDry Extreme Eco Jacket Hood is oversized even when the volume adjuster is used. I have to wear it with a billed cap to keep the brim from flopping down over my eyes.
The Columbia OutDry Ex ECO Jacket Hood is oversized even when the volume adjuster is used.

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.

Pros

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.

Close up of the Columbia Extreme Eco Rain Shell outer face fabric.
Close up of the Columbia Ex ECO Rain Shell outer face fabric. Note the dimpled surface.

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.

Cons

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.
Fording the Wild River in the Columba OutDry Extreme Eco Jacket
Fording the Wild River in the Columba OutDry Ex ECO Jacket

Assessment

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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18 comments

  1. “Heavy but bomber” is kind of Columbia’s stock in trade, so I can’t say I’m surprised by those cons.Still, a pound+ is a lot. I was hoping it came in around 12 oz. I don’t really care about the color because I have a selection of blaze overclothes already.

    • I found that draping a blaze orange vest over the jacket really screws with the breathability. But regardless, it’s heavy and the fabric doesn’t really soften up after extensive folding, stuffing, and use.

      • I have a blaze orange vest made out of mesh. One size fits all. All it is is panels of mesh held together by velcro. I got it at one of the hunting outfitter superstores (Bass Pro/Cabelas) for about 6 dollars. Plenty bright, fits in pocket, very cool over a shirt, visible over heavier clothing.

  2. “Most people don’t realize that Gore-tex and other proprietary membranes in rain jackets aren’t waterproof without the external DWR coating”

    Isn’t it more accurate to say the fabric remains waterproof without the DWR coating, but it might as well not be because all the moisture perspiring off one’s body remains trapped inside since it can’t pass through the wetted-out membrane? The fabric is still waterproof, right, or does the membrane previously too fine to allow water molecules through (but let air molecules pass) suddenly begin allowing water through as well? I’ve always been confused on this point.

    • I think you’re focusing on the inside of the jacket when I’m talking about the outside. On most Gore-tex jackets and those using proprietary membranes, the breathable membrane is bonded to an exterior facing nylon fabric that is coated with DWR. Wet out occurs when the DWR on that exterior fabric wears off and water no longer rolls off it. It stops being waterproof at that point, water soaks into the exterior fabric, and into the inner layers of the coat until it reaches you and makes you wet. Any water vapor trapped in the coat stays trapped because the exterior fabric has ceased to vent anything, it being saturated with water. Imagine you’re wearing a bathrobe. When it’s dry, it will absorb your sweat and eventually dry in warm sun. But if someone hoses you and the bathrobe down, that sweat stays in the bathrobe until it dries.

      • No, that is just not true. It is physically impossible for water (or a liquid portion of water molecules, if you want) to penetrate the Gore Tex membrane (either way!).
        You keep getting that point wrong, Philip.

        Which does nothing to your overall argument that at the point the outer fabric (the one with the sole purpose of protecting the membrane) wets out the material becomes borderline non-breathable. That argument is still valid and sound.

      • I think I cleared up the confusion in my comment, but my original point could be started more clearly (and I’ll edit it) that if the exterior fabric is wet (which happens when the DWR wears off), the membrane can’t function.

    • Technically, the membrane does not wet out – the fabric one level above it does. Which to the membrane makes the world a horrible place: one with 100 % humidity on the outer side. Pushing against that by the temperature gradient is the only way the membrane can work, and it’s a hard-a** bit of work. Which is to say, it works to a degree that is negligible.

  3. I looked at several jackets made with that material. REI has some decent prices on one but the reviewers didn’t like the hood. The jacket with the good hood design was twice as much. I hope Columbia applies their better hood design to the more affordable jackets in the future. For me, hood design is high up the list of importance. I’ve had shells with great hoods and others I couldn’t stand because the hood either dropped over my eyes or didn’t turn with my head.

    • That seems to be their marketing tactic. The jackets with pit zips also cost more.

      • I can’t see why they don’t change the design. It doesn’t cost them twice as much to use the better hood they’ve already come up with that actually works. If the lower priced one will cost twenty or thirty dollars more because it has a functional hood and pit zips, that’s adding value for the price. To push a trashy design onto their customers who won’t know better until they’ve used it and likely can no longer return it and then tell them they should have paid twice as much for the same thing with just a couple design tweaks is just plain wrong.

  4. I still think this is mostly marketing gimmick. It’s a membrane with no face fabric to make it cheaper (& presumably lighter, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.).

    The face fabric is there to protect the membrane first and foremost. The DWR prevents the face fabric from becoming waterlogged and trapping perspiration as you suggest. I would be interested in seeing how these hold up over time.

    Tbe white color is terrible. It looks like a tyvek hazmat suit (or, “poopy suit” as we used to say in the Navy)

  5. Have you washed it? I have three pair of Mtn. Hdw. OutDry gloves and I like them a lot, but when I worked at REI I saw many pairs returned because they leaked after laundering, even with appropriate products.
    The funniest returns were those who complained of leakage when they admitted they’d tucked their rain jacket sleeves into the glove cuff. Oh well

  6. No thank you I saw the Price First an well was immediately turned off.l,,, not from my pocket to theirs ,, not going to happen… I’ll give it a year so before I would look at it again… Let someone else spend the money to find out not me…

  7. Since this review, have they come out with something more suitable for warmer weather and lighter? Great review by the way!

  8. Great review. I was looking at this jacket in a sale and i was happy to seeva Phillip Werner review.
    I am sanguine about the weight if performance is good but the warmth and dodgy hood is a definite dealbreaker for me.
    Thanks for an honest real world summary.

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