Our Gear Editor Matt breaks down the tech behind Columbia’s Omni-Heat equipped waterproof down jacket, the Grand Trek.
If a puffer jacket was animal, it would have just come out of hibernation here in Aus.
You’ve probably noticed them for yourself, healthy numbers are already occupying public transport in Sydney as the mercury continues to drop. Not to mention further south and on our alpine ranges where these creatures really do thrive.
With such a wide-ranging habitat, there’s no wonder down jackets, also known as puffer jackets, come in a wide range of subspecies. We’ve previously chronicled some of our favourite puffers here. But, there’s a new down jacket from the folks at Columbia that we’ve just got our hands on, and it’s packing all kinds of space-age tech we thought we’d examine.
To conclude the drawn-out animal metaphor, the Columbia Grand Trek Down Jacket I’m talking about here is a bona fide beast.
Want to WIN a Grand Trek Down Jacket? Enter now.
When we talk down jackets and puffers, most of the time they’re resigned to being a mid-layer. Something to wear over your base, but under a shell. We don’t typically expect them to be waterproof or windproof, rather a light fluffy, highly packable piece of the layering pie.
The Columbia Grand Trek Down Jacket does not fit this description. Made with a waterproof and seam-sealed construction, this jacket is your mid-layer and outer-layer all-in-one.
The sturdier ‘Omni-tech’ outer fabric does make this a much less packable puff, which is the trade off you’ll inevitably make for a more weather-proof jacket. But I’d say it’s designed to be worn in environments where taking it off isn’t really going to be on the agenda. Let’s take a look under the hood.
Omni-What? This Thing Is Hot!
While there’s the ‘Omni-tech’ outer membrane that coats the jacket’s shoulder panels and waterproofs the most vulnerable zones. It’s fair to say that the real magic happens on the inside of this jacket with its so-called ‘Omni-Heat’.
Omni-Heat refers to Columbia’s patented thermal technology designed to reflect and retain body heat. Basically, the inner liner is covered with thousands of tiny silver dots that reflect back the wearer’s body heat – just like a space-blanket does.
While I tend to take such sounding tech with a grain of marketing salt, these little dots definitely did their thing. The ultimate test I could think of, as someone based in Sydney, sans snow, was to put the jacket onto bare skin when cold after just getting out of the surf and see how long it would take to warm up.
Where my other inventory of down jackets would take a few minutes to warm and capture body heat, getting semi damp and somewhat redundant in the process, the Omni-Heat felt as though someone had already been wearing it and warming it up for me. We’re talking just a few seconds and it’s actually reflecting heat back at you. It also wicked away some residual moisture, making it much more user friendly than other down jackets I own.
That’s a weird sentence I know, but this thing really isn’t afraid to get water on it and the same can’t be said for a lot of puffer jackets.
If anything, I’m hanging out for temps to drop even more in my area so I have more of an excuse to wear it. Where the jacket will really come into its element is further south, and at higher altitudes, when sleet and wind occur frequently.
Our mate Boen Ferguson, photographer at Thredbo Resort, took a Grand Trek Down Jacket for a spin recently up to Charlotte Pass and out to Seamans Hut, following a dusting of snow. The temps were nudging 0°C and by all accounts the jacket excelled. It’s on these types of jaunts that I think you’d be reaching for the Grand Trek.
While the magic silver dots line the chest, back and torso of the jacket, there’s also a traditional down layer that is certified to the Responsible Down Standard and that’s certainly doing some of the heavy lifting on heating as well.
This is a 650-fill power down, which is in the middle ranges of fill power – ‘fill power’ describes the downs’ loftiness or fluffiness. The higher the number, the more space the down occupies for its weight and the more air it traps. The combination of this level of down and the omni-heat means superior warmth without looking like the michelin man walking down the street.
Since Columbia hasn’t given it a name, I’d like to call their down compartmentalisation on the torso a ‘crimped waffle’ pattern. Columbia, feel free to slide me a few dollarydoos for coming up with that one. They do mention that there’s no stitching involved though and instead utilise a heat seal method to stick the fabric together and create said crimped waffle pillows. This gives it less holes for air to penetrate, a neater aesthetic and less of a marshmallow effect than you might see in other jackets of similar warmth.
Speaking of the aesthetics, if we really turn our attention to the appearance of the jacket, and as fun as the ‘crimped waffle’ is, I appreciate how they’ve left the arms and hood free of it. This means it doesn’t look at all out place on a commute – if yours is cold enough – or at a chilly café with all the other down jackets.
It was also a wise choice by Columbia to leave the inner hood free of the tiny silver dots. Although they’re unreal at reflecting body heat, they do give off a vaguely disco ball like effect when they catch the light. Better left internal, unless of course you’ve got an 80s themed party to go to, in which case, turn this sucker inside out and heat up the dance floor.
Want to WIN a Grand Trek Down Jacket? Enter now.
When I said ‘let’s take a look under the hood’ earlier on, it wasn’t just a metaphor. Not only does it come with an attached hood, it’s also adjustable at the back with a velcro strip and with a drawcord to cinch it at the front.
A drawcord to cinch the waist and velcro wrist straps also help you seal the warmth inside. While zippered hand pockets are a given in most down jackets, these ones come lined with a soft brushed fabric so your digits are well looked after too.
Where Can I Buy A Grand Trek Jacket?
If you’ve made it this far, you’re in luck, because it could be the best part yet.
While the Columbia Grand Trek Down Jacket usually retails for the not-inconsiderable sum of $550, they’re actually on sale right now. You can score the jacket for 50% off right now, which knocks it down to a very doable $275. The Grand Trek comes in Men’s and Women’s with ‘stone green’ (featured here) and black for men, and two-tone greys or reds, or a straight black, in womens.
When you compare this to the price of other down jackets that don’t come with anywhere near the same water and weatherproofing, it starts to look like a really good deal.