The Columbia OutDry Ex Featherweight Jacket is the only rain jacket I’ve used that has actually kept me dry and that doesn’t wet out. It’s worth the weight hit.
Jacket Fit Notes: I’m 5’6” and 134 lbs. I have a reasonably athletic build. The small jacket runs baggy compared to my OR Helium II, which I wear as a Men’s Medium.
My typical go-to rain jacket has largely been the Helium II jacket. It’s light, breathes fairly well, is durable enough for bushwhacking, and works for most light rains. Furthermore, you can usually pick up a Helium Jacket for around $80 from Steep and Cheap, or can get it for $50 to $70 in pretty good shape at an REI Garage Sale.
Shortly after finishing the Pacific Crest Trail I started contemplating the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT), and so began to look into alternative rain jackets. As much as I like the Helium II, I recognize that after back-to-back days of rain, the jacket starts being unusable. Even on shorter trips with a lot of rain, you’ll certainly find your shoulder and other parts of your body getting pretty wet. For a thru-hike of the GHT, this would not only be exceptionally unpleasant, but could potentially be dangerous.
Given the limitations of the Helium II jacket, I started looking into alternatives that would not wet out.
Many Ultralight Jerks will swear by FroggToggs. They’re a solid PolyPropylene jacket that doesn’t use a “breathable” membrane and a DWR lawyer. As such, the jacket cannot wet out — you’ll just get wet on the inside from condensation.
I have used FroggToggs before, and my kind of hiking is completely incompatible with them. I do a lot of backpacking in Big Sur and other California chaparral regions. While FroggToggs could meet my needs in the Sierra, my frequent bushwhacking means FroggToggs are quickly rendered useless elsewhere.
While FroggToggs are light and are exceptionally good at resisting water, they have absolutely no durability. The Polypropylene fabric also prevents air and condensation from escaping, which means the rain gear is not breathable, and you still get wet from the inside during extended use. Some argue that because FroggToggs run excessively large you can get sufficient airflow to help improve evaporation. That is not consistent with my experience.
Even if FroggToggs were adequately breathable for my hiking style, they are still completely unsuitable for any situation involving bushwhacking. I’ve owned two pairs of FroggToggs, and both pairs suffered tears within about 4 hours of use. While the tears were repairable with duct tape, it just doesn’t make sense to use a “disposable” rain jacket if you do a lot of backpacking. I’d rather save the $20 on a pair of FroggToggs and spend it on something that will not need to be frequently replaced. For long trails, I also do not want to put myself in a situation where any encounters with vegetation will destroy the one waterproof layer I’m carrying.
Unless you find yourself walking exclusively on open trails, you’d do better with something other than FroggToggs. As such, I’ve become very interested in Columbia’s OutDry Technology.
A Rain Jacket that Doesn’t Wet Out
This brings us to OutDry. OutDry is an approach to jacket membrane technologically that means you can create a rain jacket that doesn’t wet out!
Conventional rain jackets usually use 2.5 or 3 layers to achieve water resistance. An outer layer coated with Durable Water Repellent (DWR), which causes water to bead and slide down the jacket, a waterproof breathable membrane, and then a printed layer (0.5 layer), or liner layer (3rd layer) on the inside of the jacket to protect the waterproof breathable membrane.
OutDry, like FroggToggs, does not use an outer nylon layer coated in DWR. Instead, it puts a fully waterproof layer on top. Unlike FroggToggs, however, the outer membrane has gaps which allows water to move through the membrane in the gaseous phase, but not the liquid phase. This means that rain stays outside the jacket, while allowing steam (evaporation) to exit the jacket.
That is fundamentally how Gore-Tex jackets work. Unlike a conventional Gore-Tex jacket that uses 3-layers, sandwiching the delicate Gore-Tex membrane between an outer layer with DWR and an inner layer, OutDry technology throws the membrane on the outside of the jacket. This means that there is no top-layer to wet out, closing off the pores of the waterproof breathable membrane. Therefore, as long as the OutDry membrane layer is relatively clean and you’re generating enough heat to evaporate water on the inside of the jacket, you’ll stay dry. The one exception is if you damage the outside layer, allowing water to directly penetrate the jacket.
Why has it taken so long for an OutDry rain jacket to exist?
It seems like it would have made sense, in the past, to use 1.5 or 2-layer jackets where a Gore-Tex membrane is used on the outside of the jacket, and an inner layer is used to make the jacket more comfortable. This is effectively what the new OutDry (or Shakedry) technology allows. In the past, the membranes were viewed as too delicate to use in this way. It was believed that standard use cases would destroy the outer membrane, causing problems for the company, and largely not meeting customers’ needs.
It appears that material advances have now gotten to the point that companies think an outer Gore-Tex-type layer is adequate for creating garments, and this is where we are now.
How durable is the Columbia OutDry Ex Featherweight Rain Jacket?
I bought a Columbia OutDry Ex Featherweight Jacket on sale for about $150 (about $100 after gift cards/store credit). The jacket feels slightly more durable than my Helium II, and clocks in on the scale at 205 grams (7.2 oz), or about 26 grams (0.9 oz) heavier than my Helium II.
I’ve now used the jacket in several fairly intense rain storms, and for around 500 miles of backpacking, and am happy to announce that the jacket 1) keeps me dry and does not wet out, and 2) Holds up remarkably well when bushwhacking (read: appears to be very, very durable)
A specifically memorable use of the jacket was for a recent snow storm encounter in Big Sur. I was bushwhacking for several hours through very wet, snowy + icy vegetation. Given the snow in Big Sur, temperatures dropped substantially at night, and my lower-body was very wet (didn’t use rain pants) and cold. My core was kept sufficiently dry by the OutDry jacket, and I managed to deal with a very cold, wet night safely.
If you’re looking for a jacket that cannot wet out — consider an OutDry Jacket. I’ve been impressed by the durability, breathability, and overall results of the Columbia OutDry Ex Featherweight jacket. It’s kept me dry and has held up to bushwhacking in a way that rivals the Outdoor Research Helium II (my previous go-to jacket).
At the time of this writing, it seems possible to find the OutDry Ex Featherweight online for around $100 to $150. I’m not sure if Columbia is looking to discontinue this jacket, as it doesn’t appear to be in-stock on their website, and seems to be getting harder to find.
If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, or are considering a hike where you’ll encounter prolonged rain, you should consider this jacket. At a weight hit of only 0.9 oz compared to the Helium II, this is now my go-to jacket if I’m expecting more than a day of rain.