You may or may not have seen last year that Columbia were developing a fundamentally different waterproof/breathable fabric for the start of 2016. Well, they've finally released it and it's got a whole lot of people pretty excited.
So what's all the hype about? Well, to understand what's got everyone excited you have to understand how a standard high quality piece of rainwear is made. The most important part is the 'membrane'. This is the bit that is actually waterproof. When you hear names like Gore-tex, eVent, neoshell and so on, what this is actually referring to is the membrane. A waterproof/breathable membrane allows water vapour (sweat) to pass through, but not liquid water. This 'membrane' is then sandwiched between a 'face-fabric' on the outside and some form of thin material on the inside. The inside material is there to protect the membrane as well as wick your sweat away from your body so it can evaporate through the membrane. The 'face-fabric' is usually made of some form of nylon weave, and is designed to protect the membrane and make the jacket abrasion resistant. But herein lies the problem. When the face-fabric gets wet, the membrane can no longer breath. This is where the fourth element comes in, the Durable Water Repellent coating (DWR). This is basically a treatment given to the face fabric that stops water soaking in, this is why water 'beads' off a rain jacket.The only way a train jacket stays breathable is because of this DWR coating. However, the DWR coating loses effectiveness over time. It gets rubbed off by you wearing it, brushing against things, and being shoved in and out of your pack. It can be revitalised through various methods, but it still will slowly lose effectiveness overtime. This means that a rain jacket loses its effectiveness reasonably quickly. No matter how amazing the design of a rain jacket, they all suffer from this same inherent flaw. Basically, DWR coatings are a good but not great solution to a difficult problem. A lot of the innovation around rainwear lately has focused on making the DWR coating better and longer lasting.
However, this is where Columbia has come along with its 'Outdry Extreme' fabric. What they've done is simply done away with the face-fabric and DWR all together. So the membrane is on the outside of the jacket. They've found someway to make it tough enough so that many people say it feels sturdier than a regular rain jacket. What this means is that, since there is no face-fabric, there is no need for a DWR and hence it will theoretically last a lot longer.
Which brings me to why you should hold off on buying that new rain jacket you've been eyeing up. This technology in theory could make jackets with DWR coatings obsolete. This would be a really good thing, as DWR coatings really are flawed technology. You spend an awful lot of money on a nice jacket only to have it wear out really quite quickly. So it is worth holding on to see how Columbia's Outdry Extreme fabric behaves long term. There are already quite a few reviews out there, but these are mainly from Columbia testers. It has only been available to the general public for a couple of months, so there is not a great deal of reviews on it yet.
The other thing to remember is if this works, other companies will start to develop their own versions of this fabric. I believe Gore-Tex (the company) are already developing something similar. So even if you are a little skeptical of the Columbia jacket designs (which I am), it may still be worthing waiting if you can afford to. Or maybe you can take the plunge and grab one of Columbia's new jackets right now. At the moment they have three different hiking oriented models: Gold, Platinum and Diamond, with platinum having more features than gold and so on. I'm seriously considering getting a Platinum, as it is actually quite reasonably priced ($250 USD). The only problem is they are not available in New Zealand at the moment.
Check out their range and product information here: http://www.columbia.com/technology-outdry-extreme/
My name is Daniel Scholes, I've been a casual outdoor instructor for around four years. I particularly do a lot of work running Duke of Edinburgh training courses as well as instructing on Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. Aside from this I have worked in outdoor retail, I volunteer with Land Search and Rescue and am studying at the University of Auckland. What little spare time I have left I spend tramping around New Zealand, planning to go tramping, reading gear reviews or articles and some other non-tramping related stuff (lest you think I'm overly obsessed).