Columbia’s Triple Trail Shell wasn’t something I thought I needed. I own rain gear and I love it. I bought it during a four month stint in Glacier National Park the summer after I graduated from college, and it has served me well ever since through inclement weather in ten different national parks across the country. I bought it from a kind old lady in a locally owned outdoor gear shop in a small town in Montana. She told me she mostly sells gear to motorcyclists passing through who are ill-prepared for Montana’s lengthy rain and snow seasons. The gear she sold me then has certainly kept me dry. It has also been heavy, hot, and anything but stylish.
The more I’ve backpacked, the more I’ve come to favor traveling light (though not ultralight). Every time I’ve loaded my pack for a trip, I come to the point where my heavy rain gear is laying on my bed and I’m staring at my computer screen weighing the weather forecast against my desire to travel as light as possible. I’ve chosen poorly more times than I’ve chosen wisely, both bringing my gear when it didn’t turn out to be necessary and leaving it behind when I could have used it. Furthermore, the times when I’ve both bought it along and needed it proved to be frustrating, as I often wonder whether I’ve sweat inside the jacket more than I would have been moistened by the weather.
I’m also a big trip backpacker, opting for two or three multi-night trips a year rather than lots of mini excursions. My school and work load often demands my weekends, so I fastidiously plan my wilderness retreats. As a result, I like my (expensive) backpacking gear to be functional in the urban wilderness of Los Angeles as well as in the mountains, deserts, and coasts nearby. My old rain gear is not clothing I can wear to the office or out on a date with my girlfriend. I look too much like I’m about to power wash a parking lot.
Columbia’s Triple Trail Shell solves all three of these problems. The jacket is extraordinarily lightweight. I will never consider leaving my rain gear behind again. It packs down and folds up inside the hood and slips into my pack nicely.
It also breathes extremely well. I’ve worn it zipped up for hours in the San Gabriel Mountains near my home on misty 40-degree days, in the mountains of Utah in the snow when the temperature was in single digits, and on one intermittently drizzly day at the “happiest place on earth.” I was continuously protected from both exterior and interior moisture.
Columbia’s Triple Trail Shell is also easily the most stylish jacket I own. I never hesitate to put it on as I leave the house. I’m a 42 regular, and the cut of this medium sized jacket is close and flattering. Stylishness isn’t really something I worry about in the backcountry, but when a jacket costs as much as Columbia’s Triple Trail Shell (MSRP of $300), it ought to do double duty on the trail and on the town. And it does. The svelte cut also works extremely well underneath a backpack. Nothing bunches, and my pack slips on and off with ease.
Does the jacket keep me dry? Absolutely. In heavy rain, thick snow, steady drizzle, and ever present mist, not a drop passed through this impressive impermeable. In an extra daring step of faith, I trusted my smart phone to the interior pocket, and it stayed dry and fully functional as well. Furthermore, the jacket sheds water excellently. Within ten minutes of the sun coming out or stepping into an enclosure, the jacket was dry enough to put back into my pack.
As an extra test, I donned the jacket and stood in my shower for about ten minutes one afternoon. I set the shower on its massage setting and pointed the stream directly at the jacket’s zippers. Eventually, water found its way through the pit-zips and the main front zipper, but if you’re the type who hikes in rain as heavy as what I simulated in my shower, you won’t mind the slight moisture that found its way inside.
Does the jacket keep me warm? Absolutely. Colombia’s Omni Heat technology is stellar. I even wore the jacket on top of only a t-shirt one day in temperatures in the teens in steady snow in Utah, and my torso stayed toasty all day long. My favorite of the jacket’s features are its velcro cuffs which fasten around my gloves and the thin thermal layer which locks in warmth but adds almost no extra girth to the jacket.
My only complaint with this jacket concerns the pit-zips. They are too high, and they dig into my armpits, making wearing the jacket slightly uncomfortable. The right arm is more invasive than the left, but both are troublesome. I’m broad shouldered, so I had my thinner framed roommate try the jacket on too, and he found the pit-zips annoying as well. With them unzipped, the problem goes away. I really didn’t mind the zippers when I only wore the jacket for a half hour to an hour at a time, but as the hours stretched into days, I found the annoyance to be unbearable.
Keeps you dry
Columbia’s Triple Trail Shell has awakened me to my need for better backpacking rain gear. It is lighter, warmer, and more stylish than my old gear. It keeps me just as dry, and it is more functional. However, the painful pit-zips will keep me from using this jacket when I think I might be wearing it for more than an hour at a time. The armpits are the one spot where a jacket comes into continuous contact with a joint, and I did not appreciate pressure there for longer periods of time. At $300, I expect my technical clothing to be somewhat comfortable as well as functional.
Date available: Currently on the market
Manufacturer’s Website: Columbia Triple Trail Shell
MSRP: US$ $300
Materials: Shell: 100% nylon 3L Heat; 89% nylon/11% elastane 3L Heat Cyberstretch
Size/Model tested: Medium
Colors Available: Black, Hot Rod, Red Element, Dynasty, Abyss