In the quest to develop the best high-warmth-for-low-weight jacket on the planet, Colombia have quite literally looked to the stars, incorporating technical tricks used by scientists working on moon-bound materials in order to maximize the amount of warmth that can be realistically supplied by a jacket that remains lightweight and comfortable to wear.
It all sounds impressive, but is this lunacy, stellar marketing or actual inspired innovation with tangible benefits for people who invest in the new gear? To find out how Columbia’s new Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket compares to the best winter coats and jackets currently on the market, I wore one into the French Alps and hiked to several high passes and peaks.
Columbia Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket review: Specifications
- Sizes: Men’s: Small–XXL / Women’s: XS–XL
- Weight: 515g / 1lb 2.2oz
- Materials: Nylon, Polyester (85% recycled) & 80g Microtemp XF II
- Back Length: 73.5cm / 29in
- Colours: Men’s: Warp red / Stone green / Black; Women’s: Beetroot / Black
- Price: £200
Columbia Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket review: construction and features
To deal with the basics first, the insulating synthetic fill in the Columbia Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket is comprised of 80g Microtemp XF II polyester, which is 85% recycled, while the outer shell is made from 100% nylon. But, it’s what’s going on under the hood (and body) of this coat that makes it really interesting.
Columbia have been using Omniheat tech throughout their cold-weather range for years. The concept revolves around reflective metallic dots arranged on the inside of the garments that basically bounce the heat generated by the wearer’s body back at them, instead of letting it escape into the air.
Until recently the dots have been silver, but now – for fall 2023 – the American brand have launched a supposedly superior range of garments featuring Omniheat Infinity, which uses gold dots to achieve (they say) even more impressive thermal returns, without reducing the breathability of the gear.
On top of this, the much-vaulted ‘Double-wall Elite’ design of certain items, including this hooded jacket, uses not one but two layers of the Omniheat Infinity magic membrane, one on the liner fabric and one on the shell fabric, facing inward towards the insulation, in order to catch every last bit of heat.
According to Dr Haskell Beckham, Columbia’s Senior Director of Innovation, this new generation of Columbia cold-weather clobber is inspired by some unspecified work the brand have been doing with a company called Intuitive Machines, which plans to dispatch a lunar lander to the moon “at some point soon”.
“We learnt that insulation packages that go on lunar landers are not single sheets of foil, but multi-layered insulation blankets,” explains Beckham. “So whatever radiant heat gets past a single layer of insulation gets reflected by a successive layer.”
“Double wall allows us to create warmth at lower weight, he continues. “Lower weight conserves energy, and that’s important whether you’re sending a spaceship to the moon, or hiking up some mountain in the winter time.”
Inevitably, much of the marketing energy around the new Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket is burnt up in describing the Omniheat Infinity and Double Wall elements of the garment, but it’s worth going over this coat’s other credentials. These include an outer shell treated with water repellency, two deep hand pockets and a chest pocket (all with secure zips and cord pulls so you can operate them with gloved hands), a high neck with a chin protector, elasticated cuffs to keep drafts out, and a warm, helmet-compatible hood with a binding trim intended to keep it in place.
Columbia Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket review: in the hills
My maiden voyage in the Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket was a hut-based hiking trip to Les Contamines Montjoie in the Haute-Savoie, mooching around the Mont Blanc massif and Réserve naturelle nationale des Contamines-Montjoie (France’s highest nature reserve) amid the Auvergne Rhône Alpes.
Full disclosure: the trip was arranged by Columbia, who had experts on hand to explain the qualities of the apparel we were testing, and the science that had gone into the tech it was built around – namely Omniheat Infinity and Double Wall design. Nevertheless, this is an independent, warts-and-all review.
My alpine escapade took place in autumn, when nights were drawing in rapidly and the cold was starting to bite. We stayed at Le Refuge des Prés, which is nestled in the arms of the alps at just under 2,000 metres above sea level. The surrounding peaks were properly iced over and there was some snow on the ground around at the higher passes we visited, including Col du Bonhomme.
In all honesty, however, the days were pleasantly and unseasonably warm, and I had to wait until temperatures dropped dramatically during the evenings to properly trail test the thermal properties of the Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket. Once the sun dipped and the mercury plummeted, I gratefully donned the jacket for night hikes to high spots en route to Col de la Fenêtre. Since coming back, I have also been using the jacket on cold-weather adventures closer to home.
It’s hard scientifically validate the veracity of the claims behind the Omniheat Infinity concept and Double Wall design that are so central to the performance of this puffer jacket, but I can report that with temperatures in single figures and edging towards the negative, the Arch Wall Double Rock Elite has kept me very snug.
Of course, the harder you work, while hiking up hills and so on, the warmer you will feel, but the tightrope trick this technology has to tread is between maintaining the breathability of the garment, to avoid the build up of condensation and perspiration on the inside, while still reflecting and retaining enough body heat to keep you warm when you stop.
It’s quite the challenge, but during the testing I have done so far, I think the Arch Wall Double Rock Elite jacket does pull it off. With a good base layer underneath, I didn’t get too sweaty even during the steepest ascents while wearing this jacket, and I avoided any rapid and uncomfortable cool downs once we reached the peaks and passes we were trekking too and paused to take in the cool views.
The jacket is totally windproof, which helps enormously by deflecting the potentially dangerous impact of wind chill – a factor that can send your core temperature spiraling dangerously downwards when you’re adventuring at altitude. It also boasts effective water repellency, so moisture from mist and light rain will bead on the surface and roll off the jacket. It’s not fully juice proof, though, so in heavy downpours and seriously cold weather you can use the Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket as a midlayer with a decent hard-shell waterproof jacket worn over the top. (It is worth noting that it’s a tad on the bulky side for a midlayer, but it can still work if you have a reasonably loose outer shell.)
While the research and technology behind it is impressive, there are some areas where I think this coat could be improved from a basic design point of view. The hood is warm, roomy enough to accommodate a hat or helmet, and it does have an elasticated binding trim intended to keep it reasonably secure, but without a proper pull cord it can’t be drawn in tight around the head and face and it billows a bit in wild and windy weather, which can be annoying (and cold).
The cuffs are more securely elasticated, but I’d still like to see some thumb hoops to keep things in place for those times when a proper waterproof shell jacket needs to be pulled over the top, or when cold-weather gloves are required. Thankfully the hem is fully adjustable, and it can be tightened and secured with a toggle to keep breezes out.
Columbia Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket review: final verdict
Backed by some serious space-age science, the tech that has gone into the concept and construction of the Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket from Columbia is super impressive. By reflecting the heat generated by your own body back towards you, and keeping it trapped inside the garment, the Omniheat tech and Double-wall design, combined with a mostly recycled synthetic fill, offers sensational thermal protection from cold conditions for a very light weight penalty. This jacket can be rolled up and stuffed into a pack and you will barely know you’re carting it, until such time when the temperature drops and it becomes a lifesaver. It’s not perfect, but it is impressive, and it’s also available at a comparatively accessible price.