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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Columbia Hot to Trot Softshell > Test Report by Kathleen Waters

COLUMBIA HOT-TO-TROT SOFTSHELL JACKET
TEST SERIES BY KATHLEEN WATERS
Columbia Logo

LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - January 16, 2011
FIELD REPORT - March 21, 2011
LONG TERM REPORT - May 22, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Kathleen Waters
EMAIL: kathy@backpackgeartest.com
AGE: 60
LOCATION: Canon City, Colorado, USA
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 4" (1.60 m)
WEIGHT: 125 lb (56.70 kg)

Living in Colorado and being self-employed, I have ample opportunities to backpack. There are over 700,000 acres/280,000 hectares of public land bordering my 71-acre/29-hectare "backyard" in addition to all the other gorgeous locations which abound in Colorado. Over the past 15 years, my husband John and I have also had the good fortune to hike/snowshoe glaciers, rain forests, mountains and deserts in exotic locations, including New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, Slovenia and Death Valley. My hiking style is comfortable, aiming for lightweight. I use a tent (rainfly if needed). Current pack averages 25 lb (11 kg) excluding food and water.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Columbia Sportswear
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.columbia.com
MSRP: US $130.00
Listed Weight: N/A
Measured Weight: 15 oz (425 g)
Sizes Available: XS to XL
Size Tested: M (medium)

Other details: (from manufacturer's spec sheet)

"Versatile Soft-shell, great for light hiking."

* Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective
* Omni-Shield Advanced Repellency
* Windproof
* 2-way Comfort Stretch
* Zip-closed Security Pockets
* Comfort Cuffs
Columbia Hot-to-Trot Softshell
Picture Courtesy of Columbia Sportswear

Warranty: "Our outerwear comes with a Limited Lifetime Warranty, so if something fails to perform we’re here for you. "

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Columbia Sportswear's Hot-to-Trot Softshell (hereafter referred to as the softshell or shell) I received has been updated from the previous model which is no longer described on the company website. I did have a pre-release press blurb to give me an idea of what to expect and the shell is as I anticipated.

"Sea Salt" is the color description which translates to a very pleasant off-white shade. Other than the black wrist cuffs, the coated zipper pulls and a teeny, tiny Columbia logo silk-screened on the left front bottom hemline, the shell is monochrome. Oh wait, there is also a black Columbia Titanium logo stenciled discreetly on the upper left sleeve.

Shapely is how I would describe the cut of the shell with trim princess seams to conform to my body without being form-fitting.

There are two curved "slash" pockets, generously-sized, positioned on the front sides of the shell. Inside these light, fleece-lined pockets are pulls to adjust the hem cord for a comfortable fit about my hips. Two additional narrow but very deep pockets add storage inside the shell right besides the zipper opening.

Interior pocket w/1 lt water bottle
Interior Pocket with 1 L Water Bottle
Exterior Pocket
Exterior Front Slash Pocket

Speaking of zippers, all the zippers are nylon and sport coated pulls. The front zipper has a storm flap to keep out the errant breezes and thoughtfully, Columbia added a zipper "garage" at the top neck so when I wear the collar in "stand-up" mode, I won't have to worry about a cold piece of metal rubbing my delicate skin!

The heart of the Hot-to-Trot softshell is the Omni-Heat lining which according to the Columbia website consists of a "unique silver dot lining" which "reflects and retains body heat, keeping you 20% warmer which means you can stay out in the cold 20% longer than your buddies."

I can clearly see the reflective shiny silver dotted material which makes a black mesh-like pattern. Surprisingly, to me, this lining is very soft to the touch - as is the whole of the exterior shell as well. Both the lining and the shell are made of 92% polyester, 8% Lycra elastane jersey.
Omni-Heat Lining
Omni-Heat Lining

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

No need for directions on how to put on a softshell, eh? But with the intriguing technology of Omni-Heat, I was certainly curious and going to take heed of any out-of-the-ordinary care instructions. A very large (but soft) set of care tags is attached to the left inside side seam and in addition to the international care symbols which I never can remember anyway, are text care instructions in several languages.

The ones in English read: If present, close hook and hoop fasteners. Machine wash cold, permanent press. Powdered detergent. Rinse thoroughly. Wash separately. Do not bleach. Tumble dry, permanent press low. Iron low. Do not use fabric softener. If present, do not iron decal. Do not dry clean.

These are normal care steps I take with all my technical clothing so no special steps. Yay!

Interestingly enough though, there is an "extra" care tag labeled "CAUTION". Apparently the Hot to Trot softshell "Fabrics are not fire-resistant and will melt or burn if exposed to extreme heat. Avoid exposing this garment to high heat, flame or sparks." Again, no worry, I'll just let hubby do the cooking on the trail!

TRYING IT OUT

Even if I'd never worn anything by Columbia, I would have been able to choose the correct size thanks to the sizing chart on the Columbia website. I fit squarely right smack dab in the middle of the Medium size range for "Misses's Sizes".

That said, the shell fits closely to my body yet still gives me enough room underneath to wear a couple of light to medium-weight layers. With a light-weight wool base layer and a medium-weight synthetic mid-layer, I am easily able to don the shell, zip it up, and move my arms around freely. There is no feeling of constriction around my arms and/or shoulders.

If my bust size were just that inch (2.5 cm) larger, even though the size chart indicates I would still be a "medium", I would not be comfortable and a Large size would have been a better choice. Unless, of course, I didn't wear much at all under the shell and that would scare the wildlife and small children!

I like the length of the shell. It hits me mid-hip with a back seam - if it had a back seam (I just folded the shell in half to measure.) - of 25 in (64 cm).

Slipping the Hot-to-Trot on is like slipping on a broken-in pajama top. With pockets. And zippers. And a lining...oh heck! It's not like a pajama top at all except for the comfort factor! The materials are soft and warm with nothing to snag or irritate my base layers or my skin.

The zippers all work smoothly and I could find no pulled, loose or uneven stitches anywhere. My initial assessment of the shell is one of quality design and quality workmanship!

SUMMARY

I am very excited about this jacket! It appears to be very light-weight yet sturdy, warm yet breathable. The cut is trim and stylish enough to be worn in town after a day on the trail. I'm very anxious to see how the Omni-Heat technology performs in the field.

Over the next 4 months I'll be traveling to varied climates from dry and cold, to humid and cold, and then to humid and mild. I should experience sun, rain, snow and wind. I expect I'll be wearing the Hot-to-Trot a lot!


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Up until February Colorado had been experiencing an unseasonably warm and dry winter. While the west slope mountains of the Rockies got pounded with snow, the east side (Front Range) experienced record lows in precipitation. We had only one snowfall and it measured less than 6 inches (15 cm). In order to find snow for our annual family Christmas snowshoe, we had to drive into the mountains. Even on Mt. Evans, a 14,000+ ft (4300 m) peak, at 10,000 feet (3000 m), there wasn't enough snow! We ended up just hiking in winter boots but I digress.

In February, all that changed and temperatures plunged. Average highs (daytime) were around 15 F (-9 C). And then we did have a period of 4 or 5 days where the daytime temps never broke 0 F (-18 C). Truth be told, I wasn't outside much on those days! Brrrr!
Lake Estes with RMNP in background
Lakes Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park
I spent two weeks of February in Estes Park, Colorado where I did short (2-3 hours) dayhikes everyday. Estes Park is the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, so the terrain is mountainous, heavily forested and begins at an elevation of 7522 ft (2293 m). While it was very sunny, it never hit the freezing mark and the winds were harsh averaging 10-15 mph (16-24 kph) with gusts up to 50 mph (81 kph). Humidity levels were higher than I'm used to in Colorado - about 41-45%.

To counter the winter conditions of Colorado, I traveled down to Palm City, Florida for three weeks where I immediately was shocked with temperatures ranging from 56-84 F (13-29 C) and humidity levels upwards of 45%. Sure there was sunshine, but why is it, no matter WHEN I'm there, "it's the rainy season". So my beach walking time was more limited, but I still managed to get out there 3 times for several hours.

In between the Colorado and Florida extremes, I visited family in New Jersey for two weeks where it rained almost every day. The temperatures were pretty constantly about freezing. The only jacket I had with me was the Hot to Trot, which I wore with a couple of layers the entire trip. It was all casual, about town wear.

So, I'd venture to say, I've worn the Columbia Hot to Trot Jacket on at least a dozen occasions - day snowshoe or boot hikes and numerous other shorter hikes around our property, down the road to the mail box (5 miles/8 km round trip) and while sneaking treats to my neighbors' horses!

Other than the two above listed trips, all of my outdoor activities have been in the mountains of Colorado, mostly south central Colorado in the Fremont, Cooper and Wet mountain ranges.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Columbia indicates the Hot to Trot softshell is to be used as a "light hiking" jacket. Its outstanding feature is its Omni-Heat lining, which Columbia states is a "breakthrough thermal technology" that "helps maintain warmth and prevent heat loss."

And keep me warm it did - sometimes too warm! For instance, on my trip to Estes Park, I took a break from my work project each afternoon to take a brisk hike into town along the Riverwalk and then continued on a trail around Lake Estes. Round trip, it was just over 6 miles (9.7 km), up and down a couple of steep hills and I kept a fairly brisk pace, completing the trip in just about 1.75 hours. Since Estes Park tops out over 7000 ft (2100 m) in altitude, this pace gave me a good workout.

The first couple of days, it was very windy, snowy and cold and the Columbia softshell languished on a hook in the closet, but on the third day, the snow pretty much melted and I traded my heavier jacket and traction devices for the Hot to Trot and trail shoes. Underneath the shell, I wore a very thin synthetic base layer, a light wool mid-layer and a thin down vest. This was a great combination and worked great for the rest of my trip.

When I got too heated, I would unzip the Hot to Trot to cool down a bit and if that didn't work, I'd unzip the vest too. On a couple of occasions, on the uphill side of some steep hills, I did take off the Columbia and stashed it into my backpack, but inevitably, I'd end up putting the shell back on as I rounded a corner and suddenly encountered shade or wind - there were some mighty winds, especially when headed westward around the dam on Big Thompson River! I do think pit zips for additional venting would be a great addition to this jacket.

And when those winds would blow, I was mighty glad I had the Columbia Hot to Trot to wear. It did a stellar job of keeping me from getting chilled!

While in New Jersey, I wore the Hot to Trot exclusively even when it was at the freezing mark. I always had a base layer and a heavier weight mid-layer top on beneath it. I can't say I ever got too warm, but then again, I never was too cold either. I didn't do much more than walking around the block or walking through parking lots on this trip though, but I did experience some snow flurries and light drizzling rains, so the shell did get a bit of different weather to contend with.

The Hot to Trot never wetted through in the short (10 minutes maximum) rain showers I encountered, thankfully as it was the only outer layer I carried with me on my trip.

Since I boarded an airport shuttle at 7am in the morning in NJ, I was gratefully for the warmth of the Hot to Trot and even kept the shell on during the plane ride to Florida. But once the air attendants opened that plane's door, the humidity of the hot tropical air had me scrambling to get the jacket off my instantly sweaty body! That was the last time I wore anything lighter than a t-shirt for the next 2 weeks. I can't wait to get back to my mountains where I know I will be wearing the jacket again for at least several more weeks.

So far, the Hot to Trot has worn well with no signs of wear and tear. The front and pocket zippers haven't snagged and they continue to open and close smoothly. The hook and loop wrist fasteners still close securely and look "neat".

I am pleased to report the interior pockets which are nice and roomy have not distended or stretched out even though I have abused them with my camera, cell phone and large framed sunglasses. I was initially afraid the material would end up getting "baggy" since they are so deep and I tend to be rooting around in them with my whole arm to get to the bottom. These pockets are great!

In retrospect, I have to admit, "white" probably isn't the best color for me to be wearing. I'm not the most careful person in the world and will sacrifice my clothing to the dirt if it means climbing a tree or a boulder, or leaning into the dirt to get that fabulous picture.

Needless to say, I've had to wash the Hot to Trot, as a matter of fact, twice already. I used a powdered detergent in cold water on a gentle setting with all the zippers and fasteners closed and the jacket turned inside out.

I did not dry the jacket in a dryer, but hung it up to dry which it did overnight. It may have been dry earlier, but I only checked on it in the morning after washing it at night.

The Hot to Trot turned out great except for the cuffs which look a little dingy. I'm thinking of maybe trying a little pre-soak/wash spray or something before the next washing. Hmm - maybe I'd better check with Columbia customer service first.

I certainly wouldn't want to ruin the jacket. I still have lots of plans for it in the coming months!

SUMMARY

Snowshoe Hike in RMNP
Snowshoe Hike in RMNP


I really like this jacket! It is very comfortable to wear and sheds water reasonably well for a softshell jacket. Its strong suit is definitely in trapping body heat to keep me warm during mildly strenuous activities on crisp cool and/or windy days. As the spring weather warms up, I'm still expecting continued use of the Hot to Trot on windy mountain peaks and at night.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I'm sad to report I spent a relatively sedentary April and May with my hiking relegated to nothing more than walking around my own property, multiple visits to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, shopping in our pokey small town of Canon City and exploring downtown in the big city of Denver. I've been crushed with work, so play took a back seat.

During my "walks", the terrain varied from the dusty to muddy building site on the 71-acres (29 hectares) that will be my home, complete with cholla and prickly pear cactus as well as juniper and various pine trees to black-top paved city streets. In between, there was a lot of rock - scree to boulders.

The weather was rather mild with temperatures from freezing to mid-60s F (16 C). It has been exceptionally windy. I don't mean nice balmy, breezy cool-myself-off winds; I mean I-gotta-lean-into-them winds! Gusts over 45-50 mph (72-81 kph) have been regularly threatening to blow me into Kansas!

Since I'm a transplanted south central Coloradan, I can't speak for too far back, I can say, we've had more rain this spring than the past couple of years, anyway. Makes for lovely, sticky mud!

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Wearing the Columbia Hot to Trot Jacket these past couple of months in the mostly casual hiking/walking situations I found myself in confirmed my belief that this is one neat jacket!

For the most part, even when I didn't really need a jacket to keep me from freezing from low temperatures, I did need it to ward off what seemed like constant, gusty winds. The Hot to Trot Jacket does a stellar job at keeping cold winds from sneaking inside it and chilling my body's core. With its snug, adjustable cuffs, I was able to block the cold from snaking up my arms and the drawstring bottom when pulled tight via the stretchy cords and barrel locks, did the same for my torso. The stand-up collar, while it doesn't close up, was great for covering my neck area and I really appreciate the soft, smooth lining of the zipper "garage" which prevented the zipper from rubbing my chin.

By blocking the winds, my body core was able to better maintain its warmth and the Omni-Heat technology in the lining did the rest by holding in and reflecting that heat back to me. Great stuff!

I have had more than a few encounters with rain during this long term test period - mostly misty drizzles, but also a couple of downpours. I never was out in the wet for more than 10-15 minutes at a time which was enough time to appreciate the waterproofness of the jacket. Light precipitation initially will bead up and roll off the jacket, but after a bit, the outside of the jacket will get soaked. I never had the experience though of the jacket wetting through totally. At no time did my inner layers even feel damp. On the occasions the jacket did get wet, I just hung it up on a wooden hanger and it dried out in a matter of 45-60 minutes.

After 4 months, the jacket shows little signs of wear from pack straps rubbing, snags from juniper trees and the like. All zippers operate smoothly, the hook-and-loop closures remain functional and the adjustable cord locks/stretchy cords are still working and intact. It has, however, gotten very dirty and needed washing on several (5) occasions. Even with careful washing, the cuffs still look a little dingy. White is definitely not my color for the backcountry!


SUMMARY

I've always been a big Columbia Sportswear fan and the Hot to Trot Jacket has not dampened my enthusiasm one tiny bit. It's a great jacket! It has smashingly good looks, keeps me warm and dry (in light rain) and has worn well.

And while I love the look of the jacket, I probably shouldn't have chosen white (what WAS I thinking) as an in-the-field top layer. I'm really not a super neat-freak when I'm on the trail or in camp, so the Hot to Trot has suffered the indignity of looking sadly ratty at times.

So, now that this testing period is over, I will, most likely, only wear the jacket on the more pristinely maintained park trails and for casual use. I'm still sure to get plenty of continued use from this great jacket!

Thank you to Columbia Sportswear and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to wear this neat product!

Kathleen (Kathy) Waters

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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