Having one wardrobe for your hiking adventures and another for daily life can get expensive. If only more outdoor brands made kit that was versatile enough to shrug off the elements in the hills and mountains without looking out of place in the urban jungle. After all, rain is rain, no matter whether it falls on peak or pavement. And let’s be honest, plenty of us outdoorsy types are forced to spend most of our time stuck in towns and cities.
Luckily, Columbia’s Ampli-Dry Shell has been built with multiple environments in mind. The jacket’s contemporary, understated styling won’t raise eyebrows as you stroll into the office on a wet Monday morning, no matter how stuffy and formal your boss is. But what’s under the hood has serious technical performance. It’s based on the brand’s tried and tested Omni-Tech waterproof-breathable membrane, a proven technology that first appeared way back in 1991.
Omni-Tech: Dry ‘From The Inside Out’
In fact, Omni-Tech was Columbia’s first patented in-house technology, a progressive step that marked a sea change in the brand’s approach: to take innovation seriously, rather than relying on ingredient brands like Gore-Tex. That philosophy reached its logical evolution in 2007, when Columbia established its own Performance Innovation Team, known as the PIT lab. A flurry of new innovations followed, not least the brand’s game-changing Omni-Heat tech, as well as TurboDown insulation and the genuinely unique OutDry Extreme range of apparel.
Today, Columbia Sportswear holds more than 200 patents for its remarkable range of in-house innovations. But three decades on, Omni-Tech remains a core staple of the product range. In essence, it’s an extremely thin PU (polyurethane) membrane laminated to a tough face fabric to provide the wearer with waterproof and breathable protection.
The membrane allows moisture vapour to pass through it thanks to some clever chemistry. Since PU is hydrophilic (water-loving), individual water vapour molecules chemically bond to the surface and are drawn through it, passing directly through the membrane to the opposite side. There, they can then evaporate away.
Columbia call this keeping you dry ‘from the inside out’: hence, Ampli-Dry. But a major advantage of PU-based membranes over most ePTFE-based rivals – like Gore-Tex – is that it’s much easier to make them stretchy. This has become the basis of the latest generation of Omni-Tech fabrics. As such, the Ampli-Dry jacket has built-in four way stretch, meaning it moves with your body, whatever you’re doing – whether that’s tackling a grade 3 mountain scramble or weaving your way amongst commuters on crowded streets. In either situation, it’s designed to offer a far greater degree of comfort over conventional waterproof jackets, many of which feature stiff, rigid fabrics without the same degree of flex. As such, they may do the job but tend to rustle like a crisp packet.