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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Columbia Faster and Lighter Shell > Test Report by Mark Wood

Columbia Faster & Lighter Shell
Product Report
Updated August 14, 2007

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Biographical Information
Product Information
Field Conditions 
Initial Report - April 10, 2007
Field Report - June 26, 2007

Final Report - August 14, 2007


Biographical Information
Name:
Mark Wood
A Brief Introduction
I grew up camping with my parents and had taken a few short backpacking trips, as well as a couple of 10-day trips before I got married. While my wife and I have enjoyed car camping and day hiking for close to 6 years, we have both decided to make backpacking a permanent part of our lives. Our trips are generally shorter (2 - 5 days) over rocky, hilly terrain. My general pack weight for a 3 day trip is around 25 lb (11.4 kg) including food and water.
Age / Sex: 27 / Male
Height: 5' 11" (1.8 m)
Weight: 250 lb (113 kg)
Email Address: mwood_bgt at markandkc dot net
Shoe Size: Mens US 11.5
Web page:
http://www.markandkc.net
Location: Chenango County, NY, U.S.A.

Product Information
Front Viewback view 
Manufacturer: Columbia
Year of Manufacture: 2007
URL of Manufacturer: http://www.columbia.com
MSRP: $179.00 US
Listed Weight: None Listed
Weight as Delivered: 9.75 oz (275 g)
Size Tested: Mens XXL
Colors: Available: Jet, Cayenne
As Tested: Cayenne
Materials:
(From Web page)
100% nylon Omni-Tech 2.5L 15D stretch ripstop 
According to the manufacturer web page, this shell is a "sleek, minimalist, waterproof design with just the features necessary for taking on various weather conditions."

Field Conditions
Numerous locations will be visited during the testing time frame.  My usual backpacking areas are the Catskill and Adirondack regions of New York as well as some Northern Pennsylvania trails such as the West Rim Trail.  Also, the Finger Lakes Trail passes very close to my home and I have been looking into incorporating this hiking opportunity into our "regular" destinations.

In general, temperatures will range from around 32 F (0 C) to 95 F (35 C) during the testing time frame.  Over the last few years, Upstate New York has experienced very heavy rains and lots of flooding so I'm sure rain will be in the mix somewhere.  Snow could also be a possibility.

Elevations in my normal hiking areas generally range from 500 - 2500 ft (150 - 750 m).

The Columbia Faster & Lighter shell will accompany me on all outdoor adventures as well as seeing significant use around town, especially in the spring rainy season.

Initial Report - April 10, 2007
First Impressions

The most striking feature of the Columbia Faster & Lighter shell is its weight, or should I say lack thereof!  This is one light shell!  Upon removing it from the protective plastic bag in which it was shipped, I could do little more than marvel at how light it was.  Getting over my initial joy, I began inspecting the shell and looking over the pockets, hood and the ultra light material!

This jacket is part of the Columbia Omni Tech line of waterproof, breathable shells.  The attached hang tag mentions that it comes fully seam sealed and is guaranteed to be waterproof.  Inspecting the Faster & Lighter, I found the seam sealing to be very well done with no bumps or threads anywhere.  In fact, my sample shows this shell to be very well made with great attention to detail.

The shell has two large pockets, one on each side.  These are both quite large and utilize small zippers with a generous cord loop to make them easy to grasp.  The inside of the large front pockets is made of mesh and looking at the manufacturer's web page, I gather that this is to double their purpose as vents.  The front zipper of the shell uses a slightly larger zipper, again with the cord loop configuration.  All zippers have a storm flap over them to keep out the elements.

Trying on the Faster & Lighter I was happy to see that the jacket sizing runs very consistent with other Columbia offerings I have tried in the past.  The front zipper runs up past my chin in when zipped fully and the hood fits very nicely.    One immediately noticeable feature is that there is a soft micro-fleece like material at the top of the zipper which keeps the cold metal off my chin.  A very nice touch!  The cuffs of the shell have a hook and loop fastener system to provide adjustability.  Instead of the traditional solid hook and loop strip on the actual sleeve material, there are instead small dots of fastener.  While this doesn't provide as much adjustability, there is much less hook and loop to collect debris.  Testing will show how this works in practice.  There is also a drawstring adjustment system around the bottom of the shell to adjust the waist. 

The hood is very well done with both an adjustable face opening as well as a drawstring adjustment system in the back of the head.  I especially appreciate this as it allows me to adjust the hood so it doesn't interfere with my peripheral vision.  The hood also features a small brim around the top in the front which I hope works well to keep mist and rain off of my face.  Further testing will confirm this.

Fit & Comfort

I've worn other Columbia outerwear in the past and I was happy to find that the Faster & Lighter shell follows a very similar sizing system.  For me, the XXL size fits slightly loosely when worn over a light shirt, and is still quite comfortable with anything up to a medium weight fleece layered underneath.  The bottom hem of the shell falls slightly below my waist which I've found to be a very good length for wearing with a pack hip belt.  Also, the sleeve cuffs are large enough to get over my lightweight gloves while still adjusting to be small enough not to slip over my bare hands.  

Care Instructions

According to the attached tag, one is to close the hook and loop fastener, machine wash separately in cold water using powdered detergent.  The garment can be tumble dried on low with a low iron.  Fabric softener should not be used nor should bleach or drycleaning.

Summary

So far, wearing the Columbia Faster & Lighter shell around town I have been most impressed with the range of movement I have in my arms.  Unlike some other shells I have worn, I feel no restrictions in arm movement which should be appreciated on the trail.  I have also noticed that, while blocking wind quite well, the Faster & Lighter does not provide a lot of insulation.  This was expected and I feel that it will work great as an outer layer over more insulating layers -- a system which I prefer anyway.  I have yet to try the shell in hard rains, but in a light drizzle, water beaded up nicely and I was able to simply shake the shell to remove any traces of water.

This concludes my Initial Report.  The Field Report will be amended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report.  Please check back then for further information.

Field Report - June 26, 2007
Locations for Testing

Over the last two months of testing, the Columbia Faster & Lighter shell has been worn hiking, backpacking and around town.  During the first week of May, I was in Alaska on a cruise.  The shell was worn during a rafting trip through an eagle preserve, hiking around Mendenhall Glacier and on a whale watching tour on a small boat.  It was also worn while on the deck of the cruise ship.  The average temperatures while we were there was around 40 F (4.5 C) and rain occurred on all of the outings and almost every day on the ship.

I also wore the Faster & Lighter shell on two weekend backpacking trips in and around Upstate New York.  Temperatures generally ranged from 45 - 80 F (7 - 27 C).  These two trips totaled 4 days of hiking.

I also wore the Faster & Lighter as my primary light jacket over the past two months.  Overall, I would estimate that I have worn the shell at least 20+ days.

Mendenhall Glacier
Faster & Lighter near Mendenhall Glacier

Field Report

So far, I have had absolutely no problems with the Columbia Faster & Lighter shell.  I've worn in during damp rainy weather, warm sun and high winds.  I have not had any problems with rain penetrating the shell and I have been impressed with the wind breaking abilities.  During most of my testing, I wore the shell over layers to maintain warmth.  The shell itself is not overly warm but since it keeps water and wind away, it helped greatly with staying warm.

Features
As described in the Initial Report, the shell has a full length front zipper, hook and loop wrist closures, large front pockets for ventilation and a full hood.  During the past two months of testing, I've found the hood to be one of my favorite features.  There are two adjustments on the hood: one in the back of the hood to adjust the depth of the hood and one around the brim to keep the hood snug around my face.  There is also a small bill to the hood which did very well keeping my face dry.  I am even able to adjust the hood so I can wear a winter hat underneath.  I tend to dislike hoods due to the poor visibility they offer, but the hood of the Faster & Lighter has been one of the better ones I've worn.

I've also enjoyed the front ventilating pockets.  I was initially skeptical as to how much ventilation they would actually offer.  But due to the fact that the zippers are quite long and the inside of the pockets made of mesh, I found they worked well in warm weather keeping me somewhat cool.  I did notice that since this shell is made of a waterproof nylon it did not breathe well, so I'm glad Columbia included the ventilation feature.

Also, the hook and loop cuffs on the jacket seem to work quite well despite the fact that Columbia chose to use small patches of the hook and loop instead of one continuous strip.  I have had no problems adjusting the cuffs to fit over gloves or other long sleeve layers.

Comfort
I've worn the Columbia Faster & Lighter shell both with a short sleeve nylon shirt and over three or more layers.  To date, I've not had a problem with size of the shell inhibiting me from wearing the necessary layers.  During the rafting trip, it was very cold and we were sitting still.  During this excursion, I wore a short sleeve shirt, a long sleeve shirt and a lightweight fleece under the Faster & Lighter.  I had no problem with the shell binding or constricting my movements.  The shell didn't offer too much warmth, but we experienced multiple short rain storms and I was one of the few people who stayed dry.  This kept me much warmer than had I gotten wet.

During warmer weather, I've worn the shell during rain storms with a pack on.  While the rain stayed out, I did become somewhat damp from sweat.  Once I realized that the ventilation pockets were being held shut by my pack straps I was able to make a few adjustments and found myself much more comfortable.  However, when I sweat, I noticed that the shell clings to my arms and back.  

Packability
I really don't have too much to say on this topic.  The shell is compact and fits in almost any small outside pocket on my pack without a problem.  This works great for me as it's easy to grab during even the smallest of drizzles.

Summary

I've been truly impressed with the Columbia Faster & Lighter shell.  It's been versatile, light and so far, functioned perfectly.  It's important to remember that this shell isn't meant for an insulation layer.  Once this limitation is noted, the shell performs great.

This concludes my Field Report.  The Final Report will be amended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report.  Please check back then for further information.

Long Term Report - August 14, 2007

Since my Field Report, I have worn the Columbia Faster & Lighter shell numerous times primarily on day hikes and photography outings. My main hiking locations have been Lackawanna State Forest in Pennsylvania, Watkins Glen State Park and Butternut Falls State Park. On most of these outings, rain was minimal but wind was common. All trips were taken in warm to hot weather from 65 - 95 F (18 - 35 C). I was wearing either a day pack or a camera backpack on these outings. I also wore the Faster & Lighter to work whenever there was a chance of rain.

Summary

I maintain my feelings that this is a very good shell for rain and wind protection. While it may not offer much in the way of insulation, it is perfect for wear in warmer months when sweat becomes as much a problem as rain. I have found the pockets more than sufficient for holding anything I would need them to hold (mainly snacks and maps) and the hood continues to impress me with its ability to keep rain out of my face. On top of all of this, it is so light that it's very easy to pack into my camera bag, hiking pack as well as my messenger bag I take to work.

Durability has not been a problem even with constant crumpling / un crumpling when packing the shell. There are no wear marks that I could find and even the wrinkles shook out easily. The waterproofing has yet to fail in any location that I could find and the hook and eye closures around the cuffs work as well as when they were new.

Conclusions

I have truly enjoyed the Columbia Faster & Lighter shell. It is a pleasure to pack, use and adjust. While it is not overly cool, it can become quite warm on a sunny day -- something to be expected from a waterproof shell. If I could change one thing about the Faster & Lighter, I would recommend increasing the size of the zipper pulls on the pockets. Simply adding a small piece of cord to the pulls would make them much easier to grasp with light gloves or sweaty hands.

I would like to thank Columbia for the opportunity to test the Faster & Lighter!



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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Columbia Faster and Lighter Shell > Test Report by Mark Wood



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