2016: Waterproof/Breathable Rebirth With New ‘Exterior Membrane’ Shell

They look like teched-out “rain slickers,” water beading and rolling off a shiny face. But for 2016 Columbia Sportswear offers a breathable fabric instead of a clammy shell on a rainy day.

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The line, called OutDry Extreme, comes to market in February of 2016. GearJunkie got a first look this past week, including a test in rainy conditions in South America in the mountains of Colombia (see video below).

OutDry Extreme flips waterproof/breathable fabric around, moving the jacket membrane to the outside. A single ply of wicking material is next to the skin.

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The result is a new kind of jacket that is more durable than most breathable hardshell jackets, and it’s possibly more waterproof, too.

Membrane Challenge

Jacket membranes are thin, porous, waterproof and breathable materials traditionally sandwiched in between layers of fabric. Gore-Tex, the most recognizable membrane type, is made of a compound called polytetrafluoroethylene (abbreviated to ptfe or e-ptfe).

The type of Gore-Tex used in jackets is too fragile to be exterior facing. The company sells its membrane sandwiched under an exterior fabric coated with a water-repellent chemical.

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Traditional three-layer waterproof/breathable jacket fabric construction

The surface chemical, simplified and called a DWR (durable water repellent), can rub off. The exterior fabric then soaks with rain, causing an effect called “wetting out.”

I watched a Columbia Sportswear designer scratch off the DWR from a jacket; it took only a few scrapes with his fingernails, simulating interaction with tree branches on a hike. He then poured water on, which soaked to the membrane, eliminating the water-beading effect.

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OutDry Extreme: Two-layer waterproof/breathable construction, membrane on the outside

At the same demonstration table, the designer aggressively scratched an OutDry Extreme jacket. It did not budge.

No outer surface compound was removed, and water continued to bead. I was impressed. This simple test piqued my interest and proved the company had something new to show.

Video: OutDry Extreme – Test In Chingaza National Park, Colombia

 

In Colombia, I would soon be able to test the new jacket, including in harsh high-altitude conditions and driving rain. (See the video above.)

OutDry Breakdown

OutDry Extreme is not ptfe-based like Gore-Tex but uses instead a polyurethane-based membrane. It’s a cousin to the OutDry (no “Extreme”) waterproof treatment that’s been around for years in shoes, packs, and gloves.

The secret to OutDry Extreme is a new kind of chemistry, as yet undisclosed, which strengthens the polyurethane. In addition, a thin diamond-pattern layer, also made of polyurethane, sits atop the membrane, serving as an armor.

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Cut to fit and function like a performance shell

Columbia says the new polyurethane formula is the highest-density jacket membrane that it knows of in the industry. The patent-pending material, which has microscopic perforations for breathability, was concepted in 2013.

In the membrane’s bonding to a wicking fabric, the process uses no adhesive. The fibers are mechanically bonded via heat and pressure as opposed to a glue, which Columbia cites increases breathability.

Storm Test

I tested OutDry Extreme on a foggy, rainy day in Colombia last week. The alien forests of Chingaza, a national park east of Bogota, are home to succulents, grasses, and strange tree-plants called frailejones.

Wetness came from above and all sides as we hiked and bushwhacked for hours in the park. Wind almost blew me sideways.

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At the end, despite constant rain and contact with drenched vegetation, I was dry. The jacket and rain pants served as a rubbery shell, shedding all water but letting my body breathe.

It was a day-long test with a new jacket, so it was far from conclusive. But OutDry Extreme is something new, and it deserves attention from gear geeks as well as anyone obsessed with staying dry in any weather outside.

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Guide Miguel Angel Garcia and the foggy, soaked landscape of Colombia’s Chingaza National Park

In the hand the jackets feel different, closer to the “rain slicker” material on a coat you may have worn as a kid. Seam tape is on the outside. The zippers on the high-end models are watertight and thin.

Rain Jacket Redux

As a category, rain jackets need a kick in the pants. This design by Columbia is a definite jab: It’s an affront to the sandwiched-membrane format used by dozens of premium brands.

Compared to ponchos and non-breathable options the Columbia line isn’t clammy. Though more expensive, the OutDry Extreme line is a new alternative and a higher-quality rain jacket that could last for many years.

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Water beads on the durable, rubbery (but breathable) fabric face

They crinkle and fit like a thick winter-oriented hardshell. Breathability on my first test, a 50-degree, humid and rainy day, was impressive.

I expect the Columbia jackets to attract people by their shiny, waterproof looks alone. The breathability comes as a bonus and major upgrade to anyone used to sweating in a slicker.

Columbia Sportswear won’t ship the OutDry Extreme line until next year (February 2016). We’ll be testing it throughout the coming months in rain, sleet, and snow.

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Two of the 19 styles offered in the 2016 OutDry Extreme line

Look for jackets and rain pants for men, women, and kids, including 19 styles in all. The company will sell three levels of the line, from $120 to $400 per piece.

I am a fan of the new concept. In the windy, wet, saturated conditions at Chingaza the OutDry Extreme system kept me dry and I never felt clammy, despite the hood up and rain tapping on my head all day long.

See page 2 for more photos from the 2016 Columbia OutDry Extreme line.

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Stephen Regenold is Founder and Editor-In-Chief of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for nearly two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of four small kids, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.

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