Chris Townsend likes this ultralight jacket with an unusual waterproof treatment.
Columbia’s OutDry Extreme is an unusual waterproof/breathable fabric. The waterproof layer and the taped seams are on the outside. This means there’s no need for a DWR treatment and the fabric never needs reproofing. The fabric does have a distinctive shiny look that not everyone will like. It works fine though, which is what matters.
The NanoLite is the third OutDry Extreme jacket I’ve tried since Columbia launched the first one five years ago. It replaces the OutDry Ex Featherweight Shell, which I reviewed two years ago after using it on the TGO Challenge, (see here), and weighs exactly the same. The design however has been improved.
In particular, the hood is much better as it has front drawcords as well as a rear one. The Featherweight only had the latter and when tightened it pulled the hood away from my face and flattened the peak on my forehead. Having front drawcords means this doesn’t happen with the NanoLite. It’s not perfect – the drawcords are inside the jacket so you have to undo the top of the zip to adjust them, which isn’t ideal in the rain, and the tiny cordlocks are fiddly to use – but it does give better protection than the Featherweight hood and feels more comfortable as it doesn’t have to be really tight to stay on in the wind. The peak is semi-stiff. It deforms a little in strong winds but still gives some protection.
Also improved are the pockets, which are now angled so they can be used for your hands. They’re roomy, easily hold maps, and are positioned just high enough to be used when wearing a hipbelt. The cuffs are better too, being wide enough to allow some air flow when fully open.
Columbia says the NanoLite has a “body skimming fit with end-use mobility in mind.” Fine if you’re planning on wearing it over just a thin base layer, as a runner might do. But for walkers I think a waterproof jacket should fit comfortably over a midlayer. And on me the Large size does, fitting easily over a midweight fleece.
The NanoLite has performed well on some very wet days. Breathability is okay – not up there with much more expensive fabrics but adequate. I’ve never got more than damp inside it from condensation. And, of course, it doesn’t need reproofing to maintain the performance. There was one day on Quinag in wind-driven rain and damp mist when I felt chilly and thought I must be wet inside the jacket. However, at the end of the day I found my base layer dry except under my hipbelt. My thin mid-layer was a little damp though. I reckon I’d felt chilly because the last wasn’t quite warm enough. The NanoLite itself was slightly damp to the touch on the inside though there was no visible condensation. The outer dried with a quick shake as it’s non-absorbent.
The NanoLite is very light and excellent for three-season use. I wouldn’t use it in winter conditions. I think it’s particularly good for long-distance walks due to the low weight, small packed size (it can be folded into one of its pockets), and because it won’t need reproofing, something difficult to do if you’re out for weeks or months.