I test a lot of outerwear, and especially shell jackets. And while most jackets are simply variations on a theme, Columbia’s to-be-released A-Basin Ripper is a premium and well-executed design at a price that won’t make your eyes water. The jacket is a part of Columbia’s re-launched Titanium line, which comes to market later this year.
I’ve worn this waterproof/breathable, backcountry-oriented model for about a month — skiing and hiking on a powder day at Crested Butte, getting blasted by 70mph wind at Arapahoe Basin, snowshoeing, fat biking, and even ice skating across a wind-scoured lake in Sweden — and I have been overwhelmingly pleased with the small details built into the to-be-released design.
The companion for the jacket is the Jump Off Pant ($250). These are solid and warrant their own review, coming soon.
The Gear: Columbia Sportswear A-Basin Ripper Hardshell Jacket ($350)
Available: Fall 2015
First Impressions: The jacket has an athletic cut, meaning a close, tailored fit, when I first put it on. I immediately fell in love with the collar and detached hood — it is easy to zip the collar all the way to the top without lots of extra fabric bunched around your face.
A waterproof front zipper is stout and seems durable, but is two-way (meaning you can open the bottom with the top closed), which can make it tricky to get started. But the two-way feature is nice for venting and while wearing with a harness.
The detached hood easily clears a helmet and snugs down well around a bare head. Two waterproof zipper pockets are big enough to hold lunch and a full 1-liter water bladder while skiing.
The jacket is minimal, with no powder skirt or insulation. The material is slightly stretchy, which allows great mobility for the wearer. It’s also not as “crinkly” as many hardshells, a nice bonus.
Where To Test It: This versatile shell is at home from high winter mountains to cool spring and fall hikes. So far, I’ve used it mostly as a shell in weather below freezing, where it blocks wind and water. While it can function as a summer rain jacket, you can expect condensation inside in warm weather similar to any waterproof-breathable shell.
In The Field: In snowy weather, the proprietary Omni-Dry fabric was sufficient to keep outside moisture at bay. The jacket is quite breathable (Columbia does not release specs on this; see below), but as condensation tends to form inside any waterproof/breathable shell during exertion in cold weather, it is hard to judge. Personal physiology and perception make a lot of difference here, too, but the A-Basin has standard breathability you’d expect in a winter-weight jacket.
I put the jacket to a short overheating test, fat biking for about an hour. I did overheat and had some good sweat flowing, but my synthetic mid-layers never got particularly damp, a sign that the system was up to the task.
I stopped pedaling but remained outside for at least another hour, and by the time I got indoors the inside of the shell and base- and mid-layers were almost dry. I’m sure the breathability could be overwhelmed by long exertion, and again, much of this is personal, but for short stints of activity, the shell kept up with my sweat.
Chest Vents: I suspect these contributed to my comfort while biking. The vents on the front of the jacket worked well to let in air when moving forward. They were also easy to open one-handed while riding a bike, which is quite a feat.
Durability: I took a tumble down a gravel-filled gully, sliding about 25 feet over rock-covered ice. I expected to find holes or at least abrasion, but the jacket was no worse for the wear.
Who’s It For: While specifically designed for downhill and backcountry skiers, the jacket will excel in many cool to cold weather situations. People who ski but would like the jacket to serve double-duty for mountaineering, camping, even rainy fishing and hiking, will be well served.
Materials: Omni-Dry waterproof/breathable fabric, seam-sealed. Columbia does not release data surrounding its membrane. A spokesman explained “there are so many different tests in the industry that we’d prefer to keep it more straightforward. We simply state Omni-Dry’s performance guarantees it to be waterproof and with an excellent degree of air-permeability.”
Important Specs: Weight is 21.7 ounces; ski pass pocket; waterproof zippered pockets; drawcord hem.
Made In: Vietnam
Awesome! Because the hood is detached from the collar, this jacket is wonderful when riding windy ski lifts or other times when you just want some face coverage. It allows the hood to be easily raised without messing with zippers. I love the design, which only results in a slight weight penalty due to extra fabric in production. Why more jackets don’t use this kind of hood I do not know.
At $350, this jacket wears like models that cost a hundred dollars more.
Flaw: While the YKK two-way zippers are nice in some very specific situations, more often they result in fiddling to get them all the way shut. The zipper on this jacket is high quality but can be tricky to get started.
Who Should Buy It: Winter athletes looking for a good, versatile shell for downhill and backcountry skiing that will also work for other sports.
Contact Brand/More Beta: Columbia
—Sean McCoy is managing editor. Our “First Look” column highlights new gear arrivals at GearJunkie.com. Photos © Monopoint Media LLC