Columbia Sportswear has a long history of making high-end outerwear. For those not aware, the parent company also owns Mountain Hardwear. But it has been a long time since I tried anything from Columbia. Working at a sporting goods retail shop in the late 90’s selling Columbia jackets put a lot of money in my pockets (gratefully, which ended up going towards my ski trips to Quebec). I knew the ins and outs of the products, the materials, the construction, quality, even great customer service. (Side note: I once ripped the sleeve of my Columbia jacket. I sent it in and they patched it up with a panel. Bonus, they sewed the same panel on the other sleeve to make it match, like it was part of the original jacket design. Extra bonus: They only charged me $20 for labour and a job well done, which I was extremely happy to pay).
As my outdoor adventures expanded, my needs become more technical, more specific, and (bummer to us non-millionaires), more expensive. I am a minimalist – my touring wear for the uptrack is only a merino base layer and a windstopper softshell. In my pack, I carry a lightweight puff/insulated sweater, and a lightweight GORE-TEX hardshell. Usually I only wear one of those for the descent. With these few items, I often don’t get cold (except for my fingers thanks to too many frostbite incidents). At the resort, I’m much the same, opting for less bulk and prefer features that are functional.
Columbia might not be the first brand you think about for the resort or backcountry among the competition but it’s worth a closer look. The Fusion Exact jacket takes two key technologies and meshes it with a lightweight insulation making for a great resort or cold weather touring kit.
This is Columbia’s proprietary waterproof and breathable outer fabric which is also windproof. When the going gets wet this will keep you dry. This fabric is coupled with a DWR coating to help water bead from the jacket.
This is a key technology in minimizing bulk and maximizing warmth. Think of it as a space blanket without the plastic bag characteristics. It breathes well and manages to reflect and retain your body heat. Coupled with an Omni-Heat base layer, you won’t need much else to stay comfortable all day.
This jacket has a semi-fitted cut and is roomy allowing for extra layers as needed. It features four outside pockets: chest pocket, sleeve pocket, two hand pockets (lined with fleece) and even includes a lift ticket clip. Internally, the jacket carries two deep, zippered pockets to store valuables to separate wallet from keys from phone (a luxury not usually featured on similar jackets). This jacket is very snow sports/resort oriented, and the inclusion of a goggle pouch is a nice touch. The design refrains from being too flashy (my kind of style) and dark compass blue colour tested stood out just enough for my friends to find me on the hill.
I found myself mostly appreciating the waterproof breast pocket for storing my phone – quick access was welcomed for those on-the-lift tweets. The hood is removable, easily adjustable with a cinch on the back, and side drawstrings. Though noted as a helmet-compatible hood, we found it to be a pretty tight fit over a low-profile Lazer helmet. Not a big deal because I frequently don’t ride with a hood over helmet, but you may run into the possibility of it not fitting larger helmets at all. A slightly different take on keeping the cold out at the sleeves, the jacket includes a soft inner cuff that rests comfortably around the wrist; just as functional but more comfortable than thumb-looped cuffs.
On The Mountain
This jacket is primarily geared for resort use. The light insulation with the Omni-Heat fabric eliminates the need for an additional insulating layer which cuts down on the bulky Michelin man feel that can happen. While filling my pockets with essentials (keys, wallet, phone, granola bar) I have to say the light weight of this jacket makes carrying a lot of stuff tolerable – something I definitely cannot say about a lot of the other resort-oriented jackets out there. The raised, fuzzy lined collar makes hiding easy when faced with a chilly chair lift ride to the top of you next run.
Due to its bulky nature the jacket is better served at the resort. However in some areas where temperatures are cold then it may be a great way to eliminate the need for multiple layers. The pit zips add extra ventilation if needed for the way up. In wet climates, this jacket would serve well as a down-jacket alternative to pull out of the pack for that extra layer during lunch stops.
The jacket has a great overall fit, style, and is packed with lots of features. I have found myself preferring this jacket for the city or resort over my more technical hard and softshells, as the added warmth and comfort features are welcomed on those long chair rides. In stormy conditions the jacket performs well in repelling water and keeping you dry. At $299 CAD it also provides great value for the money for a waterproof jacket.
With so many other products in this apparel category that have similar features, it’s tough for one product to stand out. When a lot of people base their buying decision on colour and style, I think the warmth-to-weight ratio is what makes this jacket stand out from the competition, and something us gear-heads will recognize after taking a closer look.
Now I find myself thinking… I need some new comfy resort pants to match.
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