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Reviews > Rain Gear > Jackets and Pants > Columbia Peak 2 Peak or Peak Power > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto
Peak Power Shell
Reviewed by Jamie
Product Information Back to contents
Product Description Back to contents
The Columbia Women's Peak Power Shell is listed by the manufacturer as a lightweight, ultrabreathable, waterproof rain jacket. The Omni-Dry technology, which the shell is made from, is presented as Columbia's "highest level of waterproof-breathability". The material does have an interesting feel to it. It reminds me of men's swim trunks. Not at all like the coated nylon rain jackets of old or the flimsy plastic feel of an economy rain poncho. The shell has several features:
Arrival Condition and Informational Material Back to contents
The informational material that was shipped with the Peak Power Shell was nothing more than the garment hang-tag. Everything on the shell is intuitive, however, so no significant use instruction is needed. I inspected the jacket for any defects or workmanship errors and it's in good shape. Very nicely made. It looks sharp!
Expectations and First Impressions Back to contents
Columbia has boldly stated that this shell is "insanely breathable and lighter than other 3-layer shells like it" so right off I'm very much expecting it to wow me with how breathable and light it is. Breathability will be very important for me since we are moving into our monsoon season here in Arizona, which is wet but also hot and humid. My other expectation is the obvious, solid rain protection. We don't get a ton of the wet stuff falling from the sky here in Phoenix but since I work outdoors, it's important to have equipment that works so when the rain does fall, I'm not miserable.
If I'm totally honest my first thought when I took the Peak Power Shell out of the box was, "whoa, this is one stiff jacket". But after playing with it a bit and trying it on, it's loosening up. I'm sure after it rides stuffed in my backpack for a few days it will get even more broken in. We'll see. The rolled up hood appears to make the neck area a bit bulky and with long hair, as I have, that could be annoying but again, only testing will tell. Lastly, I think it's a bit odd Columbia neglected to list the weight of this jacket on their webpage since they are clearly boasting of its uber-lightness compared to other similar shells. Beyond that, I'm interested to see if the Peak Power Shell can live up to its billing. For the price, I think it should blow dry my hair after the storm passes but since I didn't see that as an attachment, I'll have to be happy with staying dry and comfortable in a non-clammy way.
Since receiving the Columbia Women's Peak Power Shell back in April I have slept in it for 2 hrs and worn it during short bursts of rain on eight different occasions. So far my findings have been consistent with the manufacturer claims that the shell is highly breathable and waterproof.
Field Tests - April thru August 2011 Back to contents
The majority of my treks took place in the Sonoran Desert in and around Phoenix, Arizona. The elevation of these desert mountain or wash trails fluctuates between about 1,500 ft (450 m) up to 2,000 ft (610 m). Temperatures have fluctuated over the time span of this test series from the low 70's (22 C) up to 108 F (42 C).
April thru June - Rain in Phoenix is weird. Most of the time when storms come in they are very localized, meaning one part of the city could be getting hammered while the other is totally cloudless and dry. Given this, I turned into a bit of a "storm chaser" in May and June with the hopes of catching a few good rain opportunities. This was less successful than I had hoped. The result was wearing the Peak Power Shell for several hours in and out of the car but only getting a few actual moments of sprinkles while outside. Here's what I observed about the shell during these outings:
The shell is comfortable to wear for several hours at a time. As I suspected, the initial stiffness of the fabric is relaxing with each use. On one occasion in late April I ended up falling asleep while waiting for the rain to arrive. I wasn't wearing the hood but I did have the jacket zipped 85% of the way up with the pit zips open fully. To my surprise when I awoke an hour later I was not clammy or sweaty, which I expected since I'm generally a hot sleeper. Temps were in the low 70's (22 C) at that time.
July and August - With our monsoon season in full swing I decided to abandon the storm chasing and change strategies. Even though I still hike for work in the mornings, I also started taking night hikes each week hoping to find myself on the trail during one of our evening thunderstorms. Many of our storms have come over-night this summer so I didn't catch as many as I'd like but as I mentioned previously I was able to expose the Peak Power Shell to various degrees of rain on seven different nights. All rain events lasted between 5 and 30 minutes, some were just light sprinkles and others heavy down pours with dust and wind. The following are things learned about the jacket through my use in wet weather:
First, and probably most important, I found the Peak Power Shell handled the type of rain I experienced flawlessly. Granted, I was not in "all day wet" type of weather but half an hour of solid rain was enough to soak my bottom half (which was not protected by rain gear) to the skin in a matter of a few minutes. Anything covered by the jacket was totally dry, including my head and my hands, which were tucked safely into the outside pockets.
It's not uncommon to see daily high temperatures above 108 F (42 C) during July and August in Phoenix, in fact we just had a 116 F (47 C) degree day last week. Thankfully it's not usually that hot when the rain is falling but it's still muggy. Regardless, wearing a rain shell that doesn't breathe well is just as bad as not having one on since the humid and hot conditions will wet the wearer from the inside very fast. As I had experienced in the months previously, feeling clammy or overly hot has not been an issue with this shell. It seems to vent great. On the hottest of nights I have worn it with the front zipper open and just the chest button snapped. In this way, it could be worn kind of like a cape with my arms either inside the sleeves or free (although I have not tried the free option yet). This definitely increases the ventilation but as one would expect, if the wind is blowing the wrong direction this set up won't keep me as dry.
Finally, in getting used to the Peak Power Shell's features, I find some I like and some I'm still on the fence about. Since there are several I'll list them and then offer my findings to this point so you can see where I'm coming from.
Pros and Cons Thus Far Back to contents
Aspects I'm pleased with…
The Peak Power Shell is for the most part comfortable to wear, it keeps the rain out perfectly and even in hot conditions it has thus far been very breathable.
Aspects I'm under whelmed with…
The hood has been problematic for me and the jacket's packability is very low. It's quite bulky when rolled or folded up and takes up more space in my pack than I'd like.
Collective Use and Field Conditions Back to contents
During the final months of this test series I had the opportunity to wear the Columbia Women's Peak Power Shell on three more inclement outings bringing my total field use up to eleven.
In September I used the Peak Power Shell on a night hike along the Maricopa Trail in N. Phoenix, Arizona where I was walking for about an hour in a mild thunderstorm. Conditions were very windy with light rain and a low temp of 72 F (22 C). In October I wore it twice more. Once while waiting out a ten minute downpour/lightning storm and the other while jogging in heavy to light rain for just over a half an hour. Both these outings were in the Sonoran Desert near my home in Phoenix, AZ. The elevation here is about 1,500 ft (450 m). Temperatures were in the low to mid 80's F (27-29 C).
Long Term Conclusions Back to contents
In my Field Report I mentioned I was having trouble with the Peak Power Shell's hood. While the beak worked well to keep rain off my face, the sides of the hood felt constrictive and the back was too shallow to accommodate my ponytail. Thanks to the hike I did in September on the Maricopa Trail and the gusty winds I experienced, I now have a different outlook regarding the hood. I was walking straight into the wind on that hike and had I not been able to tighten the hood down to the degree the Peak Power Shell allows, it would have never stayed on. I'm not saying it was ever really comfortable, but if I have to choose between a little discomfort and having a totally soaked head, the choice is simple, I'm going with the head protection every time.
Along that same thread, I was having a hard time adjusting the hood to accommodate my ponytail and at the same time still protect a significant amount of my face. While I did not discover a perfect fit, I was able to monkey with the drawcords enough, the one in the back in particular, to allow the hood to be worn over my ponytail successfully. This was a big issue for me so I'm very glad it all worked out.
Another interesting discovery came about on this same hike but this one had to do with the interior pockets. Previously I had only used the exterior pockets so I made it a point to put a few things in the inner pockets this time around just to see how well they worked. I chose to carry my cell phone and car keys in one and my camera in the other. It was no surprise that these items fit easily since the pockets are very spacious. The issue of contention came when I tried to buckle the hipbelt on my daypack; it became immediately apparent that the items in my pockets were in the way. I had to either move the items higher up and sacrifice the bottom 2 inches (5 cm) of the pocket or blouse out the front of the jacket to get the belt to cinch under the stuff in my pockets. Perhaps moving the internal pockets to a slightly higher location would alleviate this. Furthermore, the addition of items in the inside pockets made the outside pockets less functional. I was still able to keep my hands tucked away and dry but there was certainly a space tradeoff.
During the two October thunderstorms I decided to try a couple of things I hadn't yet tested. Thankfully the weather cooperated on the first outing with several minutes of lightning in addition to a very strong downpour where I figured the safest option was to crouch down near a couple of low lying bushes and wait things out. I had shorts on and this seemed the best way to attempt to keep myself as dry as possible. Leaving the zipper open with the chest button done up and my arms free underneath I was able to use the Peak Power Shell as a bit of a cape to cover most of my legs and all my upper body when kneeling down. Turned with my back to the rain, this position worked well enough. I like the little chest button idea. It sometimes gets in the way when zipping the jacket up but I think it adds an extra option for using the shell that's worth this tiny inconvenience.
Finally, during the last storm I wanted to see how well the jacket would move with me and how breathable the material would be when I used it during a higher level of exertion, which is why I chose to take a jog instead of hike. The shell was comfortable. It didn't ride up or rub under my arms, although I was running with my hands in my pockets off and on. My only complaint on the comfort front is the zipper cover. It's not thick enough and I found it rubbing on my chin too much. The hood was good. I didn't experience any issues with it jostling up and down. Breathability was fine in the beginning. In the first twenty minutes of the jog it was breezy and raining fairly heavily. I could actually feel air flow inside the jacket. As my body temperature heated up and the sun came out I started feeling more and more warm and sweaty. Since the precipitation had changed to very light sprinkles I unzipped the jacket fully opting to use the chest button to keep it from flopping around. That helped cool me but not entirely. By the end of the jog I was definitely a little sweaty on the inside but I attribute most of that to the perspiration naturally created by running. I think the Peak Power Shell did a good job of venting considering the outside temperature was over 80 (27 C).
Final Thoughts Back to contents
Over the last few months I have done my best to use the Peak Power Shell in whatever yucky weather I could find. Most of my experiences were in short bursts of light to heavy rain and some wind, all totally typical of our desert monsoon season. In these conditions the jacket kept me completely dry inside and out, even in very hot weather. I found the shell to be comfortable to wear, even to sleep in for a short period of time. The fit was about right for my body size/shape. The sleeves drop down to just above my knuckles, the hem to about mid-hip. That worked well to provide good torso coverage even with my pack on and the bottom half bloused up a bit. While the material is somewhat stiff, it has relaxed slightly and I think over time it will get even more pliable. Unfortunately, this stiffness carried over to the packability of the jacket, which is not good. Low packability, the inadequate zipper guard and the drawcords are my only complaints. I found it hard to adjust the drawcords on the fly and as a result it took me several outings to really get a good fit in the hood. Putting that aside, the hood did provide very good coverage for my face, only slightly obstructed my peripheral vision, stayed in place very well through high winds and when properly adjusted did finally accommodate my ponytail.
Overall, I'm impressed with the Columbia Women's Peak Power Shell and although it doesn't blow dry my hair, keeping it dry in the first place is a perfectly viable substitute. I'm very much looking forward to using this jacket in other seasons and plan to post an addendum to this report in the future after it's seen a few more extended rain/snow events.
My thanks to Columbia for your cooperation with BGT and to Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to be part of this test series. It was challenging but enjoyable.
After the official completion of this test series back in November of 2011 I've continued to use the Columbia Women's Peak Power Shell on several other outings (about six that I can recall) and as promised it's time for an update.
The most significant trips was in July 2012. My family and I headed up to Prescott, AZ (elev. 5,300 ft/1600 m) for a three day weekend of fishing and hiking. The weather was rainy all weekend, in fact, the Saturday we were there happened to be the day with the highest precipitation total of the whole year. We loved it! I wore the Peak Power Shell for several hours on both days anytime we were outside. On Saturday we hiked around Willow Creek Reservoir, temperatures were in the mid 60's F (15.5 C) with winds as high as 25 mph (40 kph).
The jacket was fabulous. I felt like I was living in the darn thing I had it on so often. Thankfully, it was decent accommodations, better than our motel, but let's not go there. Although the Power Shell has always been a bit stiff, the material just isn't the type that gets all snuggly over time, it works. Whether I was plodding along the shore with my daypack on or lugging duffle bags across a wet parking lot, the jacket functioned with me. It's so breathable I never once felt clammy. I was very pleased this was the rain shell I chose to bring along.
On our last day of the trip we took a drive up in to the nearby Bradshaw Mountains (elev. 6,300 ft/1900 m) for another hike. The weather was really soggy while we were up there and since we gained a bit of elevation the temperature dropped nicely. I'm guessing it was in the upper 50's (14 C). We were on the trail for about 2 hours. I had to wear the Peak Power Shell the entire time for warmth as well as rain protection. Knowing the hood had given me trouble in the past I decided to wear a ball cap to help keep the beak up a bit and hopefully give me a little more visibility range. I think it helped. I felt like I had better peripheral clarity. Unfortunately, during my efforts to re-adjust the hood around my cap, I broke one of the stretchy draw cords that cinch the hood up tightly. Such a bummer! I haven't looked into getting it repaired yet, although I really need to because the hood's effectiveness is drastically diminished without those cords.
- Jamie J. DeBenedetto - 2013
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