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Review: Columbia OutDry Extreme Jacket

Written by Fiona

May 02 2016

Columbia’s new OutDry Extreme jacket is claimed as “the first waterproof, ultra-breathable jacket with an outer waterproof membrane for permanent water repellency and durability”. The outdoors brand reckons it will be a “game changer”.

Having tested kit for years, I am not so keen on these kinds of claims and so I put the jacket to the test with a fair amount of scepticism. It didn’t help that when I put the jacket on for the first time both Not-So-Little Miss and the G-Force squawked (well, laughed and talked at the same time): “What on earth is that you are wearing? It looks all shiny and plastic.”

I can’t say I was immediately taken by the look of the jacket. It is shiny and plastic looking. However, other friends have said they really like the look of it.

Pink and shiny looking!

Pink and shiny looking!

It is possibly a Marmite thing: “You love the look or you don’t.” I am still not sure. To me it looks a bit “office rain mac” rather than for hill walking.

The black and shiny jacket.

The black and shiny jacket.

Columbia has responded to criticisms about the look of the fabric: “We developed the OutDry Extreme technology to “look” especially waterproof so people quickly understand the level of protection in the collection.

“In fact, the light sheen reminded several of our early testers of the classic rainwear that commercial fisherman use to keep dry during squalls. But once they had a chance to test it in brutal weather, they understood the critical difference in breathability that OutDry Extreme offers over traditional jackets.”

What’s new with the Columbia OutDry Extreme jacket?

Columbia has made their own waterproof system. The traditional three-layer approach to waterproof breathable shells is to sandwich a thin waterproof membrane between a durable outer fabric treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) and lined with another fabric/print that is next to skin.

This is the method that Gore developed 45 years ago and it’s what many brands still use today.

However, this construction can be problematic in that the DWR coating on the outer layer breaks down and begins to wet-out. It can be washed back in but it is never as good as the first coating.

Light abrasions, dirt and even body oils can also degrade the DWR.

The other issue is that once wetted out the multilayered approach to rainwear can restrict breathability, which means you become damp and clammy in a jacket.

Instead Columbia has created a new two-layer OutDry Extreme technology. The waterproof membrane on the outside for permanent water repellency and durability.

Waterproofed seams.

Waterproofed seams.

Columbia claim: “By putting an abrasion-resistant membrane on the outside in contact with the rain, there is virtually no risk of the jacket wetting out like others do when their DWR wears off. This is a durable, permanent waterproof layer that actively repels moisture and rain.”

Aside from the jacket being a bit shiny and plastic looking, it also looks like it won’t breathe at all. In fact, because the jacket looks like those yellow boating jackets we had as kids I immediately thought about the amount of sweat that would pool on my skin inside the jacket.

However, Columbia says the breathability is “ultra good”. It states: “OutDry Extreme is ultra-breathable thanks to microscopic perforations in the membrane that allow moisture to escape while keeping rain at bay.

“The interior lining is a wicking textile that enables even more breathability and next-to-skin comfort, as opposed to a plastic feel next to skin.”

And further claims: “This patent-pending technology is an enormous jump forward in keeping dry and comfortable no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.”

But does it work?

On test: Columbia Platinum OutDry Ex jacket

There is a Diamond, Platinum and Gold version of the jacket. They are all badged with the Columbia Titanium logo because they are “the best of our best”.

The top of the range is the OutDry EX Diamond Shell for the “wettest, most challenging climates on the planet”. It costs £260 for male and female designed jackets. Meanwhile, the Platinum is £150.

Columbia Platinum OutDry Ex jacket features:

  • OutDRY™ waterproof/breathable fully seam sealed
  • External seam tape
  • Bonded visor, hem and cuffs
  • Adjustable storm hood
  • Underarm venting
  • PU centre zipper
  • Articulated elbows
  • Light Rail™ zippered chest and hand pockets
  • Adjustable contoured sleeve cuff
  • Drawcord adjustable hem
  • Drop tail
  • Male and female designs
  • RRP £150

The pricier Diamond jacket seems to have these extra details:

  • Omni-Wick EVAP™ advanced evaporation (whatever this might be!)
  • Two way zips at front and under arms
  • Abrasion resistant overlays
  • Silicone grippers at hem
  • RRP £260.

The jacket does look very shiny. Most waterproof jackets these days feel far softer and more flexible.

The jacket fabric is also noisy. I am every aware of this because most modern outdoor clothing is “quiet” to wear. It doesn’t rustle but this jacket does rustle.

In response, Columbia state: All fabrics in the rainwear category are different and we encourage people to compare our jackets with others in the market. Some are louder, some are quieter. But none of them will keep you as dry as ours.”

The waterproofing claim is true. The jacket is very, very waterproof. I have deliberately worn it in torrential rain and no water gets through at all. Many modern jackets treated with DWR are the same, however. When they are new they are very waterproof.

The fabric doesn't allow any water through.

The fabric doesn’t allow any water through.

But as Columbia point out, this DWR does break down and needs to be re-applied. I have found that jackets do wear out quite quickly. For example, after a year of wearing many expensive Gore-Tex jackets they need to be continually re-treated with wash-in DWR. This is ok because they do still work but it would be better if they didn’t wear out quite as quickly.

The G-Force complains, too, that one or two of his waterproof jackets have started to leak due to small abrasions and cuts in the fabric.

The Columbia OutDry Extreme fabric, on the other hand, feels super-duper robust. “Plasticky” robust, in fact!

The fabric is also very good at keeping out the wind.

However, I doubted the jacket would be very breathable. It just doesn’t look breathable! When testing I found there is a strange thing that happens with this jacket.

When wearing the jacket on a fast-ish walk in wet but quite warm conditions I did sweat. However, it wasn’t a sweat down the back type of wetness but more of an all over slightly damp and clammy feeling. Then, within minutes of feeling this dampness it pretty much went away. I did not end up feeling completely dry  super dry like I normally would in a brand-new Gore-Tex fabric jacket but I was surprised that the sweat was able to vapourise so quickly.

In fact, Columbia claims a water vapour transmission rate (WVTR) that is faster compared to other products, such as Hyvent (up to 70% faster) and roughly 15% faster than Gore-Tex Paclite. So although I did feel damp from sweat it didn’t last long, not even as long as it could in a new Gore-tex jacket.

The jacket also allows has pit zips so when you start to feel too hot you can let some air inside.

Where this jacket might prove to be a winner over others, including Gore-tex, is that it is likely to be far more hard-wearing and durable. As I have said, when other fabrics get a bit older and lose their DWR coating they tend to wet out. And when they wet out they do not breath very well. I haven’t tested this jacket for long enough to prove this but it’s my hunch that it will continue to do what it says on the label, keeping you dry inside and out, for a very long time.

The fit of the women’s small is not hugely flattering but it’s fine if you want to add a few layers underneath. The hood could be a better style/fit. I’d like to see a wire peak to stop the rain getting on to my face from above.

There are super waterproof zipped hand pockets and one chest pocket. The venting zips under the arms are useful. I found the zips quite stiff because of the fabric. Indeed, the jacket feels generally stiff to wear and non-stretchy.

The width of the arms hems at the wrist is good. I like them to be wide enough to fit thick gloves underneath. Otherwise the water drips off the arms of the jacket and inside gloves. The arm length is good, as is the back hem of the jackets.

I am not a fan of the cold, stiff fabric on my bare skin although it’s not too offensive. I think you would get used to it. I usually wear a long-sleeved baselayer when walking anyway.

The colour choice is odd. White (very impractical), black (boring) and pink (too girlie). It would be good to see a bright blue, green or purple for women but it’s a small criticism. The men’s collection has nicer colours in my opinion.

Conclusion: If you need a jacket that will keep you super dry and you don’t mind it being a bit noisy and plastic looking it could be a good investment. The price tag of £150 is pretty good actually although £260 for the Diamond jacket seems like quote a hike in cost. I would suggest the jacket is better suited to wet day walking to the office, trail and dog walking rather than highly energetic hikes into the mountains. But that is just how I would choose to wear it.

See Columbia.

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