Monday, January 10, 2011

Equipment Review - Columbia's Omni-Heat Powder Bowl Parka

Columbia Sportswear recently asked me to field test its newest line of technology - the Omni-Heat "silver dot" jacket. At first, I was critical. This highly advertised line of skiwear had interrupted my viewings of House time after time during my Hulu commercial breaks. While popular among the masses, Columbia products have never been seen flying in the high circles of skiwear that include The North Face, Patagonia, and Arc'teryx. But after this heavy advertising, I was eager to get to the bottom of the rabbit hole and see if the new Omni-Heat would hold up to the hype. So I buttoned up in a new two-shell Powder Bowl Parka, decided on one of those spontaneous last minute holidays, and made my way to the peak at Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia ...

Visual Appeal

As a fashion-savvy ski professional, I was pleasantly surprised at the new school look to this old school brand. As you can see here, my jacket is best described as one that makes you hear whispers from the ski lift riders above (some sick skiing helps too). The in-your-face color and hip design tell others that you are seriously good-looking. At the same time, this jacket has a conservative enough look to not be seen as a young hipster and still be able to be worn among family and business ski trips. Better yet, the inside shell to the jacket is also a great fashion, consisting of a grey nearly-solid color that is great to wear in the warmer temperatures and out casually.


After I modeled at the fashion show in front of my mirror, it was time to hit the slopes and give the jacket its true test of character. The jacket provided a great deal of warmth in 20 degree Farenheit weather, and I was actually able to cut down one inner layer with this jacket. A well-designed hood helped keep my face out of the wind, and an adjustable waistline helped keep my warmth in my core. Unfortunately, it did provide some bulk, although it certainly was not movement restricting whatsoever. If you are looking for a shapely and cut jacket, this probably would not be your top choice, especially if you like to keep some extra materials in your jacket pockets. This jacket lived to the standard of all inner shell jackets - extra warmth with extra bulk. However, I was most impressed with its breathability. No matter where I was, it was almost impossible for me to get too hot with this jacket while skiing. As far as water-resistance, you cannot pick better. The rain drops from one day of skiing formed little sphere droplets on the sleeve and did not soak in at all (although this is to be expected of any modern ski jacket). I also do not know how it fares over time with regard to its water-resistance, as most jackets lose much water-resistance over time.


The high quality of materials is something that I was not expecting at all when I first put on the jacket. The outer zippers are all forged metal, meaning that there are no fabric straps attaching the zipper that easily come off, and all form waterproof seams. The outer fabric is a top-notch waterproof and tough layer that keeps rain at bay and does not tear easily. The usual 007 hidden James Bond pockets were all present, and a key clip was in the right hand outer pocket. The inner zippers that keep the two layers connected are easy to put together and take apart, and they are well-protected with softness on your chin during fully-zipped-to-the-top mode in cold temperatures. When I wore the jacket, I knew that real skiers designed this instead of foreign businessmen who have never even seen a mountain. It's the little things in this respect that make this jacket a keeper.


All things considered, the thing I love most about this jacket is its versatility due to the inner shell. I have always hated two-shell jackets because of the bulk and clumsiness that come along with them, but this jacket turned me 180 degrees the other way. The inner shell by itself might be my favorite part. It is a conservative color to wear out to hit the nightlife scene after a long day on the mountain, or just something to wear out around the city. This inner layer also contains the Omni-Heat technology (the Omni-Heat silver dots are present on the inside of both layers). While it mimics the puffy look of a Patagonia Down Sweater, it is remarkably lighter than it looks and is extremely warm. Further, the outer shell can be worn by itself as a rain jacket or as a more waterproof layer on a warmer day of skiing. Overall, the most versatile jacket I have ever had.

Overall Rating

Four and a half stars

  • Pros: versatile use, warmth, looks, materials, breathability

  • Cons: bulky