Think about your best waterproof, breathable jacket. Is it made of Gore-Tex? eVent? Neoshell? Well, we have some good news and some bad. First, the bad: your jacket is obsolete. Second, the good: you can replace it with something new and better come Spring of 2016. Columbia Outdry Extreme is going to turn the technical shell industry inside-out.
(Our long term review of Outdry Extreme is available here.)
We mean that quite literally. Unlike other waterproof/breathable fabrics, Outdry Extreme puts the membrane on the outside of the jacket instead of the inside. Normal waterproof jackets have three layers – face fabric, membrane, and liner. The main failure point of shell fabric is the durable water-repellant coating, or DWR. DWR is what makes the water bead up on the outside face fabric of your shell. As long as water beads, your jacket will breathe. But, DWRs are relatively fragile. Rubbing from a backpack strap, a scratch from a branch, or even long exposure to plain old water will wear it out. Once the DWR fails, your face fabric wets out, meaning it starts soaking up water instead of repelling it. The water never gets through the membrane, but soaked face fabric prevents the jacket from breathing. That means your sweat no longer moves through the jacket and you get wet from the inside.
So what does this mean for Outdry Extreme? Because the membrane is the outer layer, there is no DWR to fail, which means no wetting out. Outdry Extreme breathes no matter what conditions you put it through (in theory!). Crazy right?
With no DWR, how well could it bead up water? Turns out, really well! I am a freak for testing out waterproof breathable technologies and this jacket was put through the ringer. And another ringer. And a shower. And then another ringer because I could not get it to wet out.
I wore the jacket in many rain storms, thunderstorms, and even hail storms. Nothing phased it. So I took it into the shower. For 20 minutes! Not one drop came through. Even on the zippers. Columbia really nailed it on the waterproofing.
How does it perform in the field? I took it on a dozen camping trips, never cleaned it, threw it in the back of my truck, got it dirty, spilled beer on it, and still it performed admirably.
How about breathability? Columbia says it’s the most breathable membrane yet. So I hiked in it. Check. I wore it while fly fishing. Check. Heck, I even did a kettlebell workout in it to see how well it breathes. Still great. A bit extreme? Yes, but that’s how we do it here at Engearment.
Our tester, Columbia’s Platinum EX jacket, is not meant to be an ultralight jacket. It’s more of a heavy duty technical shell that can be used for skiing and snowboarding or outdoor pursuits that require more durability. I will be testing it on my Splitboard once we get back to snow season. The jacket itself is super bomber. Columbia did not incorporate stretch, at all.
The Platinum EX Outdry Extreme jacket will retail for $400 and weighs 1.1 lbs in XL. The hood is helmet-compatible and features dual adjustability. Columbia includes four pockets – two hand-warmer and two chest that should be accessible even with a pack on. There are nice underarm vents to dump heat and the pockets also offer a source of venting. The collar is nice and high and covers the chin nicely. External seam tape gives the jacket a futuristic look that you’ll either dig or hate.
Sizing follows Columbia’s usual tendency toward generous cuts. There’s plenty of room under the XL for extra layers.
The entire Columbia Outdry Extreme lineup will feature 19 pieces, both men’s and women’s, and range from burly technical shells like our Platinum EX to lighter weight rain shells. We’re excited to see how the industry reacts to being turned inside out!