The company built the new heat system in house, hiring an engineer from Intel to take on the task, plus working with a crew of third-party engineers. Many other companies have tried and failed with electric heat. Columbia thinks it has a new formula that will work, and it’s selling jackets next year that will hover between $750 and $1,200 for the initial launch if you want to take a try.
The release of a new base-layer series was news, too. The Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective design incorporates a vast matrix of metallic dots. The resulting silvery inner shine on the new Columbia layers reflects body heat a la a Space Blanket yet wicks and breathes, the company touts. (I did a five-mile run one morning in New York in an Omni-Heat base-layer shirt, and the initial test was positive on my part.)
Finally, with its recent acquisition of OutDry, an Italian company that has a waterproof-breathable product, Columbia used the New York press launch to pimp new footwear that employs the OutDry mix. Tanks of colorful dyed water to submerge footwear and compare/contrast tests with Gore-Tex-based shoes was a part of the fun at the press event.
Overall, the Columbia launch party proved to be a memorable night. To be sure, the ice skaters, gelled lights, and polyethylene membranes made it unique. With its big claims, the company has gone out on a long tree limb. In the coming months, as its heated and reflective products are put to test, we’ll see how sturdy the new Columbia branch can be.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.