New-School Warmth: Waterproof Columbia ‘Puffy’ Coming 2016

Waterproof materials for outerwear are changing. A to-be-released insulated jacket from Columbia Sportswear, the OutDry Ex Diamond Down Insulated Jacket, puts new technology to work. For the past two weeks, GearJunkie had an exclusive test to review a puffy jacket unlike anything we’ve seen.

Columbia OutDry Insulated (2)

Water is among the greatest enemies of winter warmth. With sweat and precipitation, insulators lose efficiency, which leads to cold and discomfort, or worse. Columbia Sportswear’s latest entry into the world of cold weather apparel takes a two-pronged approach to keeping the wearer warm in cold weather.

Made from OutDry Extreme, a breathable fabric that puts its membrane and a waterproof “face” directly against the elements, the OutDry Ex Diamond Down Insulated Jacket is fully watertight from the outermost layer. It has taped seams (on the outside) and waterproof zippers.

Columbia OutDry Diamond Insulated Jacket

Unlike most waterproof jackets, the exterior fabric has no underlying membrane — its shiny, rubbery face is the membrane, exposed and acting as a shell. It’s smooth to the touch, and it provides a durable “permanent beading surface” barrier to the elements. Inside the shell, Columbia includes baffles stuffed with insulating 800-fill down.

The result is a highly insulated (read: warm), waterproof and breathable jacket. This combination in a performance piece is a rare occurrence and a new direction for Columbia.

Outry Ex Diamond Down Insulated Jacket Review

At $500, it’s an expensive jacket with unproven new technology. For this review, I did my best to test it in various conditions and activity levels over a cold and snowy December in Colorado.

Columbia OutDry Ex Diamond Insulated
The author testing the Columbia OutDry Ex Diamond jacket in 0º howling winds

I wore it during six outings in the Rocky Mountains over the course of two weeks:

  • A low exertion day walking and standing in a 20º F snowfall during an avalanche course in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • A high-aerobic skin up Loveland Ski Area in the dark of the night during a bitter cold (0º) snowstorm.
  • An early morning, 25º skin up about 600 feet near Breckenridge.
  • A day skiing in high wind, 10º sunshine at Copper Mountain.
  • A day skiing during optimal calm, 30º weather.
  • A day skiing during heavy snow at 20º.

In all these conditions, the jacket worked as promised, and in some ways it shined beyond my expectations for a ski parka.

Low Exertion (standing around in the snow)

My first test was pretty benign, but the conditions were realistic for many people’s common winter use scenarios.

Columbia OutDry Insulated Jacket

The forecast called for highs around 20 and moderate snowfall as I headed out for an avalanche training class in Rocky Mountain National Park. Falling snow betrayed a gentle breeze in the cold mountain air. I hiked in snowshoes up a modest grade as we searched for a good place to practice beacon searches. I warmed considerably, breaking into a slight sweat during the climb.

We didn’t hike long, so I had the chance to cool before my clothing got truly wet. Inside the parka, my body found a nice equilibrium as we stood and discussed the fundamentals of beacon searches. For at least 45 minutes of standing around in the falling snow, I remained toasty warm.

Aerobic Workout (sweating in a snowstorm)

Waterproof/breathable fabrics have limitations, and those are most frequently found through perspiration. Renowned gear tester Andrew Skurka recently called out Gore-Tex for inflated claims of breathability in an article last week.

columbia jacket review

I wanted to find if this jacket would “breathe” during aerobic workouts. I donned the parka and headed into a blowing snowstorm at Loveland Ski Area to skin (climb) uphill on a very cold night.

I broke a sweat quickly inside the jacket, and while working hard for a half hour, my underlying base layer got slightly damp, but not soaked. I suspect part of the reason I noticed little condensation inside the jacket comes from the great ventilation provided by large pit zips, and the wind was howling.

Granted, this was a fairly short test, but the jacket did as well as any other I’ve tested in similar conditions.

To give it a fair comparison, I skinned hard a few days later on a mild morning with it zipped up tight. Sweating hard for an hour, my clothing became damp with sweat, but I didn’t soak the interior material.

After pulling my skins and skiing back to the car, I cooled, and my base layers dried somewhat. For breathability in this situation it performed similar to a Gore-Tex shell.

It doesn’t feel clammy with modest exertion such as downhill skiing, but the jacket can probably be overwhelmed easily by long aerobic activity. I’ll put in a full day of hard exertion to find out, and will update this article with the results.

A side note on uphill performance: this jacket is extremely light for a “parka.” This was an unexpected bonus. On my scale, the jacket — really comparable to a much heavier ski parka as far as warmth and protection from wind and snow — weighed in at just 1 pound, 12 ounces.

Columbia-Sportswear-Outdry-Ex-Diamond-Down-Insulated-Jacket

That’s just 6 ounces heavier than a favorite Gore-Tex hardshell I own, which is entirely uninsulated. Impressive.

So, while many folks won’t want an insulated jacket for hard uphill exertion, this one has potential thanks to light weight and good ventilation. It will be too warm for uphill use on all but the coldest days.

For Downhill Skiing

This is where the Outdry Ex Diamond shines. From my initial testing, it seems to be a perfect garment for cold weather downhill skiing.

As noted, the jacket is well insulated and also light. The combination of wind and waterproof shell material, high quality 800 fill down, and reflective Omni-Heat fabric makes this a serious big gun in a battle against cold.

I used it one afternoon with the temps hovering around 0º F with solid 30MPH winds. It created a formidable barrier to wind. The insulated hood and incorporated face-shielding cuff kept me warm coupled with a helmet and goggles, although I wish the hood was a touch bigger.

Columbia OutDry Insulated (1)

I was layered up with a tech tee, midweight base layer, and Voormi wool insulating layer. I felt warm and comfortable as the wind whipped across the chairlift.

Maybe Too Warm For Backcountry

If there is any major flaw to this type of jacket, it’s a reduction in versatility compared with a standard shell-over-puffy configuration.

Here’s what I mean: Most backcountry skiers, and many people in bounds at ski resorts or even those just hiking, snowshoeing or working outside, dress in layers. The Columbia OutDry Ex Diamond essentially serves the function of two layers — the outer shell, and a down insulating piece.

This limits the jacket because it’s impossible to wear the shell alone. This is pretty normal for parka style jackets designed for use in winter’s deep freeze, but backcountry users who work up a sweat while climbing up mountains will likely want something that allows complete layering versatility.

Initial Durability Is Good

While I’ve only used the jacket for two weeks, it seems durable. I carried skis over my shoulder on several occasions, rubbed against trees and even scrapped the face fabric against a sharp brick corner.

Columbia OutDry Insulated Parka

It is tough, certainly tougher than the face fabric in most puffy jackets, and close to rivaling the face fabric in my burliest hard-shells.

Without more time in testing, it’s hard to say if the jacket will last for the years needed to make it a viable investment. But from my first impressions, I’d say this jacket should have a long lifespan if treated according to its intended uses.

Columbia’s Insulated ‘OutDry’ Family

The Ex Diamond is part of a new family of insulated OutDry products coming from the brand in 2016. Others include the seriously epic Ex Diamond Heatzone Jacket ($750), Ex Gold Hooded Jacket for men and women ($250), OutDry Ex Glove ($75), and Ex Diamond Bib ($350).

Columbia Outdry Insulated Jackets Gloves

If they perform like the Ex Diamond I tested, I’d expect to see these flooding ski resorts in the coming years, especially with mid-price options available.

OutDry Insulated Jacket A New Option

After a few days of use, the Columbia jacket proved a solid piece of outerwear that will fit the needs of alpine skiers and also those who just want a well insulated, windproof, waterproof winter jacket.

It is an exciting new option thanks to the OutDry Extreme material, and it’s very well made overall. If you’re on the fence about buying a new jacket this season, it might be worth holding off a bit so you can inspect what’s coming down the line in 2016 firsthand.

tagged: #Columbia

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By
Editor-in-Chief Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in GearJunkie's Denver office, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.
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