By Daniel Neilson
Columbia have invested a lot in their new range of technical materialsRecently we have the seen the ‘Omni’ series expand. (Deep breath) there is Omni-Freeze (to be reviewed soon), Omni-Shade, Omni-Grip, Omni-Shield, Insect Blocker, Omni-Wick (using EVAP), Omni-Windblock, Omni-Heat and, most importantly, Omni-Dry – Columbia’s answer to Gore-Tex.
For the last two months I have been testing out Columbia’s Compounder Shell that combines the Omni-Dry waterproof outer and the Omni-Wick EVAP wicking material. Here’s the verdict.
The Compounder Shell is a 2.5 layer lightweight shell designed to be used under a long-sleeved layer. The two layers are basically the outer Omni-Dry waterproof and breathable shell and the Omni-Wick inner – with a sheen (the 0.5). It makes this a lightweight jacket, but serious to hold up to most weather.
The Omni-Dry outer is very light (7 grams a yard as opposed to 40 grams a yard for Gore-Tex – according to Columbia) and the Compounder weighs in at around 515g for a medium. In some fairly serious weather with horizontal heavy rain it stood up very well. Not a drop of water was apparent on the inside garment (chosen to show up any moisture).
The Omni-Wick EVAP inner worked reasonably well too. It utilises a patterned inner to direct moisture away from the skin. It performed well for 2.5 layer shell, although three layer shells generally don’t produce as much condensation. There was dampness inside the jacket after a couple hours of reasonably strenuous exercise in the driving rain, but not enough to change the colour of my T-shirt. Over all, the new Columbia materials are impressive – and easily compete, but not necessarily beat, similar Gore-Tex materials.
The Compounder Shell is designed for mountain walking and has many of the same feature you’d find on similar jackets. Whereas the material was excellent, there are some considerations in the design.
There are five pockets: two side pockets, a breast pocket on the right-hand side, and two mesh pockets inside. The two side pockets are just about big enough for an OS map, with a little manoeuvring. I found it easier to put the map in the inner pockets, but of course, I had to open the jacket to get them. The biggest issue was that the pockets became considerably covered when a hip-belt was fastened. The breast pocket would fit a small guidebook and a compass and perhaps some snacks. The zips are excellent. I put some tissue paper in all three and in heavy rain it didn’t get damp. A nice little design touch are the tidy little ‘zipper-hoods’ that stop water running down them at the weakest point.
The hood is large helmet compatible but I found adjusting it fiddly. There is a draw cord at the back of the head under a large flap. It covers it a little too well, meaning you need two hands to adjust it – very difficult with gloves on in the wind and rain. The draw cord around the face uses a good system. It is on the outside of the jacket (praise be!) and utilises a simple notch that captures the cord, rather than a push release. However, when the jacket is fully zipped up, the draw cord pulls up the chin. The hood isn’t wired, and in my opinion, definitely should be on all jackets. In the wind it blew back.
I’m a medium and found it well fitting. The hem is tight – I certainly didn’t need to draw cord – and because of this it’s definitely worth trying sizes first. It also meant that the drop tail rides up a bit.
There are easily accessible pit zips that can be opened from the arm or the side, or both.
The main zip was excellent; reassuringly tight and water-resistant. The pulls were also good on all the zips. The chin guard was also comfortable.
For a 2.5 layer lightweight shell, the Compounder Shell functions very well. The price is good too. There are a few design features I had problems with, particularly the hood, which mark it down. Otherwise a good value lightweight shell.