Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Heat Elite: Columbia goes high tech

Several weeks ago 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 on the opportunity. My only requirements were to field test the product, and then provide feedback via a questionnaire. Writing this review was completely voluntary on my part.

Since receiving the Omni-Heat Elite I’ve had several opportunities to test the jacket under a variety of circumstances. Although none of them optimal, meaning I haven’t had the chance to test it in any extreme circumstances, I can already tell that the Omni-Heat Elite is a top quality jacket.

The Omni-Heat line of gear from Columbia Sportswear utilizes new technology that helps 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 just a little bit more bulk than my medium weight fleece.

Wind: I really haven’t had an opportunity to wear the jacket in a high wind situation. The worst weather conditions I’ve worn the jacket in was earlier this week when I hiked 3 miles in an 18-degree temperature; with winds of 14-20 MPH that created a wind chill of 5 degrees. I thought the jacket did a great job of keeping the icy winds out, thus keeping my core warm even during the strongest gusts.

For what it’s worth, a couple of weeks ago I used the constant wind generated from 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 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: A couple of weeks ago 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: In terms of getting a meaningful test this has been the most problematic. Thanks to the La Nina weather pattern we’ve been stuck in, temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s for the most part since owning the jacket. Fortunately I finally got a chance to test the jacket in a truly cold situation on Monday.

As mentioned above, on this day I wore the jacket on a three-mile hike at the local park in 18-degree temperatures, winds of 14-20 MPH, and a wind chill of 5 degrees. 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 and 40s, I had to unzip the front or the underarm vents in order to help regulate the heat. It appears that the jacket lives up to its main selling point, but I would like to test it in much colder weather before providing a final judgment.

The only complaint that I have so far 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 I own.

Columbia also uses the Omni-Heat technology in some of their new gloves, something that’s now on my Christmas wish list (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, is offering up to 21% off on some men's Elite Jacket colors and sizes, and up to 15% on women's colors and sizes. is also offering up to 14% off on some men's and women's colors and sizes as well.


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