Gear Guide 2012: Columbia Compounder Shell

The Compounder's design helps you stay completely dry and comfortable in the most wet conditions.

[year-round workhorse]

There’s more than one way to enhance a jacket’s breathability, as Columbia proves with its new technology, called Omni-Wick EVAP. The claim: Hydrophobic microparticles increase the liner’s surface area for speedier evaporation, and break up perspiration molecules for faster transfer through the membrane (traditional membranes use hydrophilic wicking fibers, which can absorb moisture and slow the evaporative process).

The result: “I stayed completely dry in heavy rain at 11,000 feet on the Colorado Trail, despite working hard to hightail it off a ridgeline,” says one tester who armored up against a season of hard-luck weather in Colorado and Utah in the Compounder. “I sweat a lot, but I stayed dry and comfortable on cold mornings with just a light fleece—and I barely used the pit zips, even on 1,000-foot climbs in the Collegiate Peaks,” she says.

Testers agree that the breathability is nearly as good as some fabrics that cost much more. A relaxed fit with long arms leaves plenty of room for winter layering. The Compounder hits the major creature-comfort marks: comfy, easy-to-adjust hood; soft face lining; internal mesh pockets handy for storing gloves.

Caveats: While waterproof pocket zippers all run smoothly, the main zip requires wrestling. The Compounder is also the heaviest hardshell we tested, though the weight is mitigated by burly fabric that offers multisport potential: It crosses over into skiing and mountaineering, yet it’s not too heavy for backpacking. $300; 1 lb. 2 oz.; columbia.com