Columbia Ultrachange Jacket ReviewMarch 14, 2012
- Extremely breathable for a waterproof jacket
- Remarkably lightweight fabric
- Highly compressible
- Large, mesh-backed pockets serve as vents
- Helmet compatible hood
- No powder skirt
- Face fabric is delicate; not built for abuse
Because these two jackets can be worn independently, the Ultrachange is a good deal. The shell is remarkably lightweight and compressible, and is among the most breathable waterproof shells out there—transitioning well into aerobic uses, humid environments, and uphill travel. The midlayer has great mobility, a very good athletic cut, and comfort into the low 40s (F). Together, the combo is easily capable of handling a day on the slopes in moderate weather, but the shell is too delicate for regular abuse and may be a bit too breathable for blasting, mid-winter winds.
This jacket is really two jackets—an insulated midlayer (filled with Columbia’s proprietary synthetic fill, Omni-Heat) and an independent waterproof shell.
This is one of the best midlayer jackets we’ve seen from Columbia. It’s light, supple, and slim fitting (athletic cut) with great movement. There’s enough insulation to idle in about 40-45 degree weather. The zipper is snag-free. We don’t usually test “style” but should note this jacket by itself was an instant compliment magnet, even from our swag jaded test crew.
Columbia’s highly-porous waterproof material (2-layer Omni-Dry, with a 1/2 layer “Omni-Wick” coating inside to protect the laminate and speed evaporation) is remarkably breathable. There is a good deal of airflow through tiny pores in the membrane (it’s actually semi-transparent if you hold it up to the light) and moisture buildup is very slow—among the best of the new breed of ultrabreathable waterproof liners that are finding their way into storm-ready gear. During a 30-degree (F) blustery winter storm in British Columbia, the cold wind worked its way through the fabric with a biting chill—a bad thing if you’re riding a lot of frigid lifts, a great thing if you’re working up a sweat hiking uphill. The waterproof laminate is not protected by an liner on the interior of the jacket, so it may not have the long-term durability that 3-layer laminates, protected by a sandwich of fabric, will.
Though it was snowing lightly most of the day, the conditions didn’t allow me to push the waterproofing to its limits.
This is a delicate jacket. For a wintersports jacket, that’s good and bad. Pro: It’s incredibly compressible, and crumples into a tiny, grapefruit sized ball in a pack. Con: One snag on a pine limb and you’ll have big new vents where you didn’t intend them.
The hood is truly helmet compatible, though the fabric crinkles like a noisy potato-chip bag when you turn your head.
There’s just enough height in the collar to turtle your chin into during blasting chairlift rides or wet-faced, frost-nippy runs, but the collar is not baggy enough to impede your vision when looking down, and it doesn’t send steam up into your goggles.
Two big front panel jackets can easily hold a pair of skins and fat insulated gloves, no problem. Opened up, they also double as air-conditioning: The back of the pockets are mesh-lined for increased ventilation when you’re slogging uphill.
The Silver Dots
Columbia has put great energy into convincing gear buyers that the matrix of aluminum dots lining the majority of its clothing creates warmer clothing. In theory, the matrix reflects infrared energy back at the body like tiny pieces of a space blanket. The effect is noticeable sitting in a warm room—the fabric has a subtle reflective warmth—but is less perceptible in the field. Faced with the extreme convective temperature differentials users will encounter in ski and backcountry conditions, the heat-conserving effect of the small amount of infrared heat retained by the dots is subtle at best, not a substitute for insulation or extra layers.
Very smooth: Fat-teeth allow the zipper to move easily and prevent snagging.
Lack of a powder skirt will be missed by some users, not others, and having one in a jacket this lightweight might be overkill anyway. One or two details come up short, like the faux-laser cut strips decorating watertight zippers on the shell, which wrinkle up and look cheap, but there are no major issues. (-3 points)
Available: Fall 2012