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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Columbia Sportswear Snowline Softshell > Test Report by Edwin L. Morse

COLUMBIA SNOWLINE SOFTSHELL
TEST SERIES BY EDWIN MORSE
LONG-TERM REPORT
February 18, 2009

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
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TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Edwin Morse
EMAIL: ed dot morse at charter dot net
AGE: 71
LOCATION: Grawn, Michigan USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 8" (1.73 m)
WEIGHT: 145 lb (65.80 kg)

I started backpacking in 1979 with two weeks in northern Michigan along the Lake Superior shore. My gear was cheap, heavy and sometimes painful. My starting pack weight was 70 lbs (32 kg) with food but no water. Since that first time I have made one and two week trips in Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Late last summer I did a 2 week hike on Isle Royale. My starting pack weight was 32 lbs (14.5 kg), including 10 days of food and 3 qt (2.8 l) of water. I am slowly learning what lighter gear works for me.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Columbia
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.columbia.com/
MSRP: US$ 115.00
Listed Weight: N/A
Measured Weight: 26.9 oz (763 g)
Other details:
Copied from the Columbia website:
"Description
Softshells are breathable, flexible and comfortable. Made from stretchy, woven fabrics, softshells allow you to move the way you want to and are perfect for activities such as snowshoeing, crosscountry skiing and trail running. Softshells provide all the protection of a traditional jacket, with the comfort of a fleece.
Available Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL"

The jacket is available in five colors: Columbia Navy (dark blue), Kettle (light gray), Black, Caper (dark green) and Gypsy (dark red). The shoulders are a "raglan cut" which , in my experience usually means less binding and pulling when I get in awkward positions. I just discovered that the hand pockets are deep, wide and HIGH! The top of the pockets is at the shoulder seam. I'm not sure yet what use this height might be but I might think of something. I have no way of knowing what the jacket is made of except to read the tag, which says 100% polyester exclusive of trim.

There is one item in the website features section that I still find confusing and that is the "Men's Interchange Systemô"

Copying from the website under features of the Snowline Softshell:
"Men's Interchange Systemô
Our longtime layering system delivers versatility and value with three jackets for the price of one. The shell and liner combine for one maximum-protection parka or may be worn separately. The Columbia Interchange Systemô adapts to all weather conditions and activity levels. Make your own microclimate."

Based on this description I would expect the "Interchange System" to be layers that I could wear separately. This is not the case with the Snowline jacket. I think I'm missing something. Is this a statement that was included with the description of the Snowline by mistake or ad writer's hype?

I can find no way to separate the shell and liner. When I read this on the website I took it to be a general statement that might not apply to the Snowline. On the tag in the back of the neck it also says "INTERCHANGE". This is a nice two layer jacket and the liner is a sewn in part of the jacket and can not be worn separately. I find it very comfortable for the colder nights we are starting to get now.






INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Columbia Snowline jacket came in a clear plastic package inside the shipping box. The jacket was folded and on a hanger inside the plastic package. I quickly cut open the package to try on the new jacket. I think the size medium jacket fits me just right. The body seems snug while the sleeves are a little long. The jacket appears to be well made with all stitches straight and even. I requested and received the Caper (dark green) color. It turned out to be even darker green than I expected. The outside of the jacket is a very smooth material while the inside is a soft fleece. If this is an "active fit" I like it.

Snowline jacket
Snowline jacket - Caper green

Here I have the cuffs tightened around my wrists. I think this is a nice feature since I can have the cuffs tight when I'm not wearing gloves.

I like the hook-and-loop closure on the cuffs. In this next picture the cuffs are hanging down to my knuckles.

Cuffs loose
Loose cuffs will go over gloves


This type of wrist closure allows me to have the cuffs loose as in the above picture to go over gloves or mittens.

The zipper comes up tight and high on my neck with a nice flap to protect from getting my neck hair caught in the zipper.

Neck protector flap
Flap to protect my beard from the zipper



The chest pocket is well detailed and easily holds my glasses, cell phone or GPS.

Chest pocket detail
Chest pocket


This pocket seems to be "welded" to the jacket rather than sewn in as are the hand pockets.

There is also a stretch cord with a tightener in the bottom hem of the jacket on each side.



READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

Washing instructions are on a tag on the left inside seam of the jacket.
"If present close hook and loop fastener. Machine wash cold gentle, wash separately, do not bleach, tumble dry low. Remove promptly, iron low. Do not dry clean."

These instructions are repeated in several other languages.

Behind these tags, attached to the same seam, is another tag with a warning:
"Fabrics are not fire resistant and will melt or burn if exposed to extreme heat, flame or sparks."

This is also repeated in several languages.

TRYING IT OUT

It was raining lightly, with a temperature of 52 F (11 C), when the jacket was delivered. I wore the jacket out to get the mail and the rain beaded up on the sleeves and back. I also wore the jacket out on the covered deck to take a few pictures. I was wearing a medium weight merino wool shirt under the Snowline jacket and found it very comfortable in these conditions.

The next day I wore the jacket on a short hike. I met an acquaintance who works for the North Country Trail Association and manages our Geographic Information Systems and mapping. He was out to map a section of trail with which I am very familiar. Since I wanted to visit I hiked part way with him. I wanted to hike all the way but I had another piece of trail I had to check and had promised to be home before noon.

The temperature was 44 F (7 C) with thick clouds when we began walking and it got up to a sunny 52 F (11 C) by the time I turned back. I was wearing a long sleeve polypropylene shirt and a light nylon Back Packing Light shirt under the Snowline jacket. This combination was comfortable while I hiked slowly with my friend. He had to stop frequently to mark points along the trail on his GPS. When I started back I walked much faster. I was soon so warm I had to take the jacket off and put it in my pack.

TESTING STRATEGY

I will wear or carry the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket for all day hikes and trail work during the testing cycle. When the weather gets colder I will also wear the jacket for hiking, skiing and snowshoeing.

During the test period I want to find answers for the following questions:
Will the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket keep out strong winds?
Can I wear enough extra layers under the Jacket to be warm when stopped for lunch on a ski outing?
Over what temperature range can I comfortably wear the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket, both with and without extra layers?
Does the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket keep me warm when wet from sweat inside or from snow outside?
Will the Snowline Softshell Jacket be comfortable when I'm using hand tools or a chain saw?
Will the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket get wet through from brushing against snow covered pine branches?
Will the seams and material endure several months of frequent hiking, trail work, skiing and snowshoeing?
Will the jacket stand up to the demands of bushwhacking and trail work?
Will the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket snag easily when I'm bushwhacking?
How durable is the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket?

I expect to give the Snowline jacket a thorough test by just doing all my normal fall and winter activities.

SUMMARY

The Columbia Snowline Softshell seems to be a jacket very well designed for active outdoor activities. The soft interior is soft, warm and comfortable on these damp and chilly days. The smooth and almost hard exterior feels as if it should slip easily through the brush when I'm bushwhacking. I will soon find out if this is true.
At this time I can see nothing to feel negative about the jacket. So far the Snowline jacket is comfortable hiking on trail at an easy pace in temperatures in the mid 40s F (+7 C).

I will be out bushwhacking soon and I will find out how the Snowline jacket works in thick brush, briers and stick-tights. The hard exterior of the jacket feels as is it should slip easily through these problems. I am even more looking forward to colder weather with snow.

This concludes my Initial Report.

I would like to thank BackpackGearTest.org and Columbia for giving me the opportunity to test the Snowline Softshell jacket.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

The weather has varied from a warm 75 F (24 C) to cold 22 F (-6 C) for most of my hikes during the last two months. I recorded the high temperature while I was hiking one sunny bushwhacking day hike, I noted the low temperature when I was eating breakfast at 6:00 one morning. There have been a few rainy days and a few bright sunny days. Several mornings have been frosty as well as cold. Mostly the terrain has been rolling hard wood and pine forests.

I've been on at least ten day hikes, including three bushwhacking hikes. I've also done one two night backpacking hike and two overnight hikes. All except one of the backpacking hikes were in the Manistee National Forest (MNF) in northwest Lower Michigan.

The last overnight hike was in the Ocala National Forest (ONF) in Florida. The weather was cooler than I expected in Florida but not much different than late summer in Michigan. The high temperature for this hike the first two days of December was 64 F (18 C) with a low in the morning of 38 F (3 C). During the night there was about an hour of hard rain and wind. I was sure I was about to be on the ground when the trees the hammock was hanging from were moving so much. The only thing that happened was that one tarp stake pulled out. I had to go out to put the stake back and tighten all the other stakes and ropes.

Michigan is relatively flat compared with New England or the western states but Florida is really flat. In the ONF there were still oaks (the red oaks were scrubby little trees) and pines but the plants I recognized were the palmetto, live oaks and long leaf pines.

Day hikes were in the MNF, the Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Pere Marquette State Forest. I've used the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket for all hikes I've done in the last two months.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The three bushwhacking hikes were while I was searching for property corners of a swampy Preserve for the local Land Conservancy. I can say, with no reservations, this jacket is the best protection I've ever worn for briers and various kinds of stick tights. I was worried at first that the briers would snag the jacket but there was no problem, they just slid off. None of the stick tights could stick to the smooth jacket material. When the temperature got up to 75 F (24 C) I still wore the jacket for protection.

The colder weather on the overnight hikes tested the jacket in another way. When it gets below about 40 F (4 C) I start to need more than just a light shirt under the Snowline jacket. Here is a picture I took the night before when it was 35 F (2 C). I was drinking hot coffee while waiting for dinner to rehydrate.
backing in Manistee NF
drinking coffee and waiting for dinner


During the night I wrapped the Snowline jacket around a hydration bladder to use for my pillow. When the temperature was down to 22 F (-6 C) the next morning I put on a light down jacket under the Snowline until I was ready to start hiking. Then I put on a merino wool pullover as well as my light weight nylon hiking shirt under the Snowline jacket. I started hiking two hours before sunrise. Soon after sunrise I stopped to take off the wool pullover since I was walking faster and getting warmer.

When I was on the third overnight hike, in the ONF in early December, I used a hammock for the first time while backpacking. The Snowline jacket went under my feet and legs. I needed the extra protection since the CCF pad I carried was a short one.
Ocala NF campsite
my campsite at Hopkins Prairie campground


Here is a picture of my campsite at Hopkins Prairie in the Ocala National Forest, after filling all my water containers at the pump. Even with all the advantages (pump, tables, fire pits and outhouses), I decided again that I prefer not to camp in established campgrounds.

I woke up in morning to a temperature of 38 F (3 C) and I put the jacket on even before I got out of the hammock. I was slow packing up this morning since I was learning to use a new shelter as well as several other new items. It was after sunrise when I started hiking. It had also warmed up enough I could hike without the jacket, which I put inside my pack.

SUMMARY

Summary completed January 3, 2009

In my opinion, the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket is a nice jacket for day hikes in cool temperatures. The jacket is now my all-time favorite for bushwhacking, whether the weather is warm or cold. It is very breathable when the weather gets warm.

I do not see it as an ideal backpacking jacket because of the relatively heavy weight and bulk, which makes packing more difficult. I also find the wind resistance less than I expected. A cold wind seems to blow through unless I have extra insulation under the jacket.

What I like:
Great trim fit but with room for more layers,
The jacket really is stretchy and lets me reach high with the hiking poles climbing hills,
Best bushwhacking jacket I've ever used,
The jacket is very breathable.

What I don't like:
The jacket seems heavy and bulky for backpacking for the warmth provided,
It is not as wind proof as I expected.

This concludes my Field Report on the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Most of my use of the Columbia Snowline Softline jacket has been in northwest Lower Michigan. We've had good snow cover from about 6 inches (15 cm) in areas of strong wind to well over 30 inches (76 cm) in some more protected areas. This has made for some good skiing and snowshoeing. The weather near home has varied from cold to very cold with temperatures of 22 F (-6 C) down to -4 F (-20 C). The day the temperature dropped so much I was snowshoeing along a high ridge and the snow was coming more sideways than down. We have had some sunny days and at least as many days when it was cloudy or snowing hard.

The terrain where I was skiing and snowshoeing was rolling to steep dunes mostly covered with oaks and pine trees. I was out skiing four times and snowshoeing about 12 times. These day trips were either in the Manistee National Forest or the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

I also did a five night and five day backpacking trip through the Ocala National Forest in central Florida. The terrain in the Ocala National Forest is what I consider flat with a few dips and a few small hills. The vegetation seems to be mostly short, thinly spread sand scrub pine and red oak. There are areas of long leaf pine and live oak both the latter often include heavy understory of brush and palmetto. I just happened to pick the coldest spell Florida has had in six years. The first three mornings the low temperatures were 22 F (-6 C), 22 F (-6 C), and 29 F (-2 C). Then it started to warm up and the low temperature the last two mornings were 39 F (4 C) and 43 F (6 C). The high temperatures were 62 F (17 C), 68 F (20 C), 72 F (22 C), 72 F (22 C) and 74 F (23 C) while I was hiking.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I've worn the jacket over heavier insulation for all my snowshoeing and skiing for the last two months near my home in Michigan. Here are two pictures from a group hike in the Sleeping Bear Dunes (SBD). The first is in the morning and it was cold, snowing hard, and windy. The temperature was 10 F (-2 C) when this picture was taken. A short time later we went over a high ridge and the temperature dropped to -4 F (-20 C). I'm the one on the far left.
group snowshoe hike
group snowshoe hike

The next picture was taken in the afternoon the same day on a different trail.
hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes hike

I was standing near the edge of a sharp drop above Lake Michigan. North Manitou Island is just visible in the distance. I was wearing the Snowline jacket over an Under Armour hooded sweatshirt over a light hooded merino wool shirt over a medium weight merino shirt. I still felt cold on my upper body most of the time I was out.

The Columbia Snowline Softline jacket is just not warm enough for cold weather. It seems to draw the cold in to my body. The jacket is also NOT a good wind breaker.

I also wore the Columbia Snowline Softline jacket early mornings and late afternoons when backpacking in Florida. I put the Columbia Snowline Softline jacket under my feet in the hammock for a little added warmth. In the following picture I have the jacket hung on my hiking poles While I relaxed for a few minutes. After the picture was taken I wrapped the jacket around the foot of my quilt in the hammock.
watching the sunset
watching the sun set


In the colder mornings I wore a light down jacket under the Columbia Snowline Softline jacket while I was eating and getting packed. When I started hiking each morning I wore the Columbia Snowline Softline jacket over a light merino wool pullover and a nylon shirt. The first morning I also wore a down liner jacket under the Snowline jacket. I took the following picture just before I took off both jackets for the day.
cold morning
cold morning hike


I would usually take off the jacket before 10 AM and stuff in the top of my pack.

I will continue to wear or carry the jacket on day hikes, especially in warmer weather. I will probably never take it backpacking again because it is too heavy for the warmth it provides. The jacket is heavy and bulky.

SUMMARY

The Columbia Snowline Softline jacket is a well designed, good looking, and well made jacket. It is very nice to wear in many situations. It is great for bushwhacking off trail in nearly any condition. The Columbia Snowline Softline jacket is not good for cold and/or windy conditions.

Pros;
" The jacket is well made and neat-looking
" The hook-and-loop cuff closures allow me to wear some gloves inside the cuffs and some gloves and mittens work well over the cuffs
" The pockets are all handy and easy to use
" The jacket is great for bushwhacking

Cons;
" The jacket is too heavy for the little warmth it provides
" The jacket does not keep the wind out
" The jacket seems to draw the cold in
" It is too heavy and bulky for backpacking


This concludes my Long Term Report on the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket.
I would like to thank Backpackgeartesters and Columbia for the opportunity to test the Columbia Snowline Softshell Jacket.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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Read more gear reviews by Edwin L. Morse

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