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Columbia Thermodynamic Softshell Jacket : More Heat, Less Bulk

Usually this time of year I'd be wearing a heavy wool pea coat, but I've replaced mine with Columbia's Thermodynamic Softshell Jacket.

It's been the ideal jacket for Seattle's rainy winter. The Thermodynamic Softshell jacket is very water resistant, thanks to Columbia's Omni-Shield, a water- and stain-repellent coating. It also provides adequate wind protection. I spend an hour or more out on a hike by my house several afternoons a week, and the constant rain just beads and rolls off. Thanks to a wide protective flap that covers the zipper, the water doesn't have a way in!

The Thermodynamic Softshell Jacket is warm for such a thin coat. Columbia's Omni-Heat technology is effective at insulating my body and at making the inside of the jacket look like a Michael Jackson-style space suit. I've been wearing the jacket over just a short-sleeved cotton shirt and a thin merino wool jacket in temperatures between 25-35 degrees, and I've been plenty warm even when I'm just kicking around town (i.e., not working up a sweat).

This jacket runs a bit longer than my other soft shell and fleece jackets, which I like. The hem hits below the waistband of my jeans, so that helps with adding warmth, too. There's a draw cord on either side when I want to cinch up the bottom of the jacket. The tall collar is lined with a soft fabric and, when fully zipped, does a great job of keeping my neck warm.

The only thing I'd change on the Thermodynamic Softshell Jacket: the wrist straps. They're effective at keeping the ends of the sleeves close to my wrists, but they are also a bit distracting. Rather than a velcro strap, I'd prefer a tapered sleeve with an inner wrist cuff. The zippered front pockets are roomy and the zippered chest pocket is handy for stashing my cell phone.

Overall, I'm pleased with the performance, fit, and style of this jacket.

Available in men's sizes S-XXL, colors: Intense Red, Charcoal, Black, Deep Teal. Columbia makes a similar jacket for women called the Hot to Trot, in sizes XS-XL in Sea Salt, Oxide Blue, and Black.

Bottom Line: It's nice to be warm with just thin layers (which also makes layering easier and more comfortable).--B.M. (December '10)

BUY ONLINE: $140, click to shop at Backcountry.

Manufacturer's Site: www.columbia.com

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When hiking or camping, always carry the "10 Essentials":

Extra clothing, extra food and water, lighter or water-proof matches and fire starter, map in waterproof envelope, compass, pocket knife, sunscreen and sunglasses, flashlight or headlamp, first aid kit, emergency shelter.

Source: Seattle Mountain Rescue and Seattle Mountaineers.