Summer requires lots of gear: hiking, camping, biking, rafting, kayaking and more. While it’s always good to have gear that can pull double-duty, sometimes you need something specialized. You need gear designed to get the job done. Today, I’ve got reviews of three Columbia products: the Compounder Shell, the Powerdrain Shoe, and the Solar Polar Short Sleeve Tee.
The Compounder Shell
I have to admit, I haven’t been able yet to really put this shell through its paces. It’s been on plenty of hikes, and out in the rain, and I have no complaints. But what The Compounder is really made for is hard-core backcountry protection. Weighing in at only 20 ounces, the shell is designed to keep you warm and dry in extreme conditions. OMNI-Dry fabric keeps the rain out (along with waterproof zippers and a storm hood), while OMNI-Wick EVAP pulls moisture away from your skin. My favorite feature however, are the pit zips, because even when it’s stormy outside, if you’re moving, you’re sweating.
Compared to a Gore-Tex jacket I have, the Compounder looks better (better fit, more style), packs down smaller, but weighs 3 ounces more. My big question is how to take care of the Compounder over time so that it doesn’t lose any impermeability. Last year in Ireland, we found ourselves in a day long deluge. I found out the hard way that if you don’t take care of Gore-Tex, over time it’s no more waterproof than cotton.
The Compounder doesn’t come with any special care instructions, except to use powdered detergent, avoid fabric softener and do not dry clean. Otherwise, the jacket seems to be wash and wear (or just get it dirty and then hike in the rain).
With the snow melting on the highest peaks, we’ll be climbing higher and higher as the summer goes on and this jacket will be coming with me. Not only will it keep me protected, but with the bright colors (my son calls it radiation yellow), I won’t get lost. And frankly, I like the colors…and standing out in the crowd.
The Powerdrain Shoe
My favorite, favorite, favorite of this season’s goodies from Columbia, Powerdrain Shoes keep my feet happy when they’re wet. We kayak, and we live near several popular rafting areas, so I need good water shoes (sorry, but old sneakers DON’T cut it). For years, I’ve worn Chacos and I love ‘em. BUT, they’re heavy and they offer absolutely no protection for your toes.
In addition to being super lightweight, I love these shoes because they have great traction on land; they quickly slip on and off — even when wet — and secure with an easy-to-use bungee; they are real shoes — with arch support; and they drain out the bottom. This means no more sloshing around (and is an innovation so obvious that it’s brilliant). Best of all, they look like and perform like athletic shoes, not funky hybrid socks.
Bottomline: If you plan to spend anytime in the water this summer, Powerdrain shoes are for you. Your toes will thank you!
Solar Polar Short Sleeve Tee
Because the Solar Polar shirt has Columbia’s OMNI-Freeze technology, I decided to try running in it in the hottest climate I could find: Phoenix, Arizona in June. Columbia uses three technologies in this shirt: OMNI-Shade (UPF 50), OMNI-Wick (to pull moisture away) and OMNI-Freeze ICE.
OMNI-Freeze ICE is designed to cool you down as you sweat. In theory, when your sweat hits the fabric, it activates the shirts cooling properties. In reality, well…it’s hard to judge relative coolness.
The first time I wore the shirt, I was in Colorado and there was a slight breeze. I couldn’t tell if I felt some cooling because of the fabric or evaporation from the wind. In Phoenix, I wore it three times. Each time I sweated buckets, but I couldn’t really tell if the OMNI-Freeze was working. At some point, hot is just hot.
Still, I like the shirt. It looks good and it’s longer than some other running shirts I have, so there’s no chance of it riding up and flashing my midsection to the world. It washes up quickly and dries even faster (yes, I was hand washing it in a hotel). In an ideal world, the shirt would have a phone/iPod pocket somewhere (hint, hint), but this version does not.
As for OMNI-Freeze, Columbia has just announced a new technology available in 2013 called OMNI-Freeze Zero. This fabric has little blue dots that activate the cooling magic (sort of the inverse of Columbia’s OMNI-Heat little silver dots). So, while ICE is nice, I can’t wait to meet Zero.
If you don’t want to wait either, look for the Columbia Omni-Freeze ZERO tour beginning July 15, 2012. One bus will head for the Southeast, while the other crosses the great Southwest. More information, right here.
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