Columbia Compounder Shell
Published on 06/04/2012
By Peter Reese
To those who’ve only experienced Columbia as purveyor of back-to-school jackets and boots for their nieces or nephews: This review serves notice of the company’s increasing focus on core-driven products. While Columbia hasn’t exited the mainstream market, the specialty side is showing up in force.
THE COMPOUNDER SHELL is a prime example of getting serious – and asking climbers and backcountry enthusiasts to give them a shot at the performance gear tier. Active Junky testers zipped up as part of ongoing evaluation of this clearly-important, all-season clothing category.
Columbia favors trademarking nearly every technology, fabric and name so reading the shell’s description offered little clarity compared to field use. As such, testers put Compounder into rapid, repeated cycles of activity followed by on-mountain rest.
First off, we’d proven OmniDry’s efficacy in other clothing and footwear categories. Compounder wasn’t on the hook to maintain distance from water incursion. The OmniWick breathability – and the jacket’s ventilation architecture -- was a far greater concern in this multi-season shell aiming for active pursuits.
In addition, testers hadn’t viewed Columbia’s designs as synching up with off-trail activities and the vibe connected with them. Call it bias or a well-earned reputation, but the woven diamond logo hadn’t stirred the hearts of many of the reviewers’ peers. As such, style joined breathability as the two mountains to be climbed.
Lower elevation, soggier sessions were balanced with high-and-dry ridgeline travel during a compressed testing period. At every turn, the Compounder got a chance to fly the colors for a reaction from trail mates.
Staying dry in-motion and at rest proved to be a newfound strength of the shell, even with the added coverage of a drop tail and storm hood. Between the 2.5 layer construction and ultra easy-gliding pit zips, Compounder cooperated even when temperatures pushed above 50.
A dependable front zip (see a pattern here?) and membrane-lined front pockets gave testers even greater ventilation control. In wetter conditions, sealing the shell was quick and complete as seams guarded the wearer even during extreme arm and body movements.
The greatest performance mystery around this piece was the storm hood design. Minus a wired brim, Compounder took some belabored adjustment to adapt to cycling, snow sports and climbing helmets. In addition, side wind protection for neck and face was an attribute requiring additional testing in more extreme, winter conditions.
As for the style, we commend Columbia for beginning to look like a piece dirt-bag climbers might tolerate. Colorways are acceptable while the panelized construction is totally relevant to the full articulation required for many Active Junky passions. While not quite an unqualified thumbs up, Compounder gets an ever-so-slight grin vis a vis past design efforts.
Compounder, based on Active Junky’s experience, lands as a legitimate low profile, lighter weight shell. Priced well below the reigning mountain brands, this Columbia model adds meaningful value into the mix and, as a result, gets high performance on the backs of more alpine enthusiasts.