First test: Columbia Compounder Shell jacket

Omni-Dry is Columbia’s latest waterproof and breathable fabric, and on paper it appears to stand beside the best that money can buy. With the proud claim that it is ‘more air-permeable than Gore-Tex’ and that it is ‘the ultimate in waterproof technology for the outdoors’, Columbia has clearly set out its stall. The question is, does it actually help hillwalkers stay dry and comfortable?

I’ve been using the Columbia Compounder Shell, which features the new Omni-Dry fabric, for a few months to see how it stands up to typical wet and windy weather in the Lake District. It is certainly a very comfortable jacket, with a fabric that has a very soft feel, and it moves effortlessly with the body. The fabric is a 2.5-layer design, which in plain English means there is a thin coating on the inside rather than a full third inner layer to the fabric sandwich, with the outer fabric and waterproof membrane being the other two layers. It is this inner coating coupled with the waterproof and breathable membrane that controls the condensation.

The trouble is, while laboratory results are useful for comparing fabric breathability, they are not so good at mimicking what actually happens when you go for a walk, for numerous reasons. So when I’ve worn the Columbia Compounder Shell it has developed condensation inside, and more than I would experience from a 3-layer fabric, where the inner layer is a full layer of material, such as 3-layer eVent and 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro Shell for example. But if I compare the jacket to other 2.5-layer fabrics, such as Marmot’s Precip, then the Columbia Compounder Shell is a better option.

There’s also more to staying dry and comfortable than just the fabric, as it is often the pockets and hood for example that cause difficulties in the rain. The Compounder Shell has good arm movement and you get pit zips for venting as well as large pockets that are mesh-lined, to further improve venting, while also reducing weight. It has a single water-resistant zip up the front and a third chest pocket that takes a GPS, phone or a Cicerone-style guidebook. 

But the pockets extend below rucksack waistbelts, while the hood design is not ideal as it does not easily turn with the head and it has a floppy peak that does not offer good protection. These design drawbacks are common to many jackets, of course; but when combined with a 2.5-layer fabric they don’t help to increase the comfort. However there is an area where the Columbia Compounder Shell performs very well – and that is when it is placed on the scales, as it tips them at 520g (size men’s L), which is pretty good for a jacket with pit zips, three pockets and a hood. Also the price of £195 is again very good for the overall performance.

Columbia’s new Omni-Dry fabric is a good 2.5-layer fabric, with the advantages of weight, price and softness. But to keep the wearer dry and comfortable when hillwalking, a jacket needs more than this.

 

Material 2.5-layer Omni Dry

Sizes S-XXL (men’s); XS-XL (women’s)

Weight 520g (size men’s L)

Made in China

Stockist details www.columbia.com

 

Verdict

The Columbia Compounder Shell is a reasonable jacket at a good weight for the features, and a great price for the performance; but it is not the promised saviour for those who want to stay dry and comfortable when hillwalking.

 

Review by Graham Thompson

First published in Trail magazine April 2012