Last year Columbia Sportswear approached me to see if I would be interested in field testing one of their new Omni-Heat Elite Jackets.
Of course I jumped at the opportunity. My only requirement was to field test the product, and then provide feedback via a questionnaire. Writing this review is completely voluntary on my part.
Columbia sent me the jacket in late October and I provided my feedback in early December. Unfortunately we had a relatively warm late fall, so I really didn't get a chance to provide Columbia with my thoughts on how the jacket performed in the conditions it was meant to be used in. Thus, the following is my review after wearing the jacket through a full winter that turned out to be one of the coldest in several years.
First and foremost, the Omni-Heat Elite is a top quality jacket for outdoor usage, especially hiking.
The Omni-Heat line of gear from Columbia Sportswear utilizes new technology that helps to maintain warmth and prevent heat loss in cold weather. The secret is a new thermal reflective technology that helps regulate your temperature by reflecting and retaining the warmth your body generates. Additionally, a breathable membrane helps to dissipate moisture and excess heat to keep you comfortable. Columbia claims that, on average, the jacket boosts heat retention by 20%.
Two other important features that Columbia touts are that the jacket is waterproof and windproof. Essentially, the Omni-Heat Elite Jacket is billed as a lightweight fleece that offers the protection of a parka without the bulk.
So, for me, the jacket has to pass four tests: comfort, wind resistance, rain resistance and warmth.
Comfort was the easiest to assess. The jacket passed with flying colors. Although it has a relatively snug fit, there’s still plenty of room for a heavy base layer without feeling any restriction in movement. I particularly liked the neck which fit just right from the back of the neck to the bottom of my chin. This prevented wind and rain from making its way into my core area. Also, the jacket has only a little more bulk than my medium weight fleece.
Wind: Over the course of the winter months last year, we had a few (relative) high wind events. During one of the worst weather conditions that I had a chance to wear the jacket occurred while hiking in an 18-degree temperature, with winds of 15-20 MPH and a wind chill of 5 degrees. I thought the jacket did an outstanding job of keeping the icy winds out, thus keeping my core warm even during the strongest gusts.
For what it’s worth, on one occasion I used the constant wind generated during a bike ride to test the wind resistance of the jacket. Most road cyclists would probably tell you that it starts to get uncomfortable on a bike when temps start falling below the mid-to-upper 50s. On this day the temperature held steady at 47 degrees, with overcast skies, while riding for an hour at an average speed of just over 16 MPH. Again, I thought the jacket did an excellent job of keeping the wind out. This is in comparison to what I normally would wear under similar conditions: a long sleeve wicking shirt, a heavy long sleeve jersey and a wind breaker. During the last half of the ride I was warm enough that I had to partially unzip the jacket. Afterwards, although my face, hands and feet were cold, my core felt completely warm.
Rain: On one occassion I decided to take a walk in the rain to see how effective the Heat Elite would be at keeping me dry. On this day I walked for almost 45 minutes in a light-to-steady rain, with a temperature hovering around 37 degrees. Although you could make the argument that this wasn’t a monsoon or hurricane, the jacket still kept me completely dry and warm that day. As mentioned above, the snug collar prevented rain from seeping down my neck.
Warmth: As mentioned above, on the day that I wore the jacket while hiking in 18-degree temperatures, winds of 15-20 MPH, and a wind chill of 5 degrees, was likely the worst conditions in which I had a chance to test the Heat Elite. With only a long-sleeve wicking shirt underneath, I still felt completely warm during the entire hike, as I have on each of the other occasions I’ve worn the jacket. In fact, when temperatures were in the 30s, there were many times I had to unzip the front or the underarm vents in order to help regulate the heat I was generating. As far as I'm concerned, the jacket lives up to its main selling point.
The only complaint that I have is with the adjustable cuffs. When tightened, they tend to bunch-up on the wrist. If I had my choice, I would prefer the elastic type wrist I have on the two fleece jackets that I own.
Columbia also uses the Omni-Heat technology in some of their new gloves, something that will be on my Christmas wish list this year (Kathy, are you reading this?).
Overall I think the Omni-Heat Elite is an outstanding jacket and would have no problem purchasing it for myself. I like that this jacket will keep me warm and comfortable in colder weather. Most of all I like the fact that the jacket offers protection against multiple weather conditions, making it much easier to choose what to wear when heading out to the great outdoors.
Right now Altrec.com is offering 15% off on some men's colors and sizes.
However, Backcountry.com may have the best deal. They're offering the jacket at 30% off on men's jackets, for a sale price of only $125.96.
Hiking in Glacier.com