Does Columbia’s Omniheat Technology Really Work?

Whenever we see a new breakthrough technology, we consider it, but also question the true novelty of it. Well, Columbia’s Omniheat technology was no different.  At the beginning of the ski season, Columbia offered us some new coats and baselayers to review, all made with their Omniheat technology.  After a few months of crazy trials, we’ve finally come to a conclusion about Omniheat.  Let me explain.

The Omniheat Technology is hundreds of little metallic dots attached to the inside of the garment. Almost like hundreds of little sequins.  Columbia promotes this product as “the ultimate body heat management system for the outdoors“.  So does it work or is it really just a way to market coats?

I tested the men’s Melting Point Parka and Jessica tested the women’s Triple Trail Shell while we both tested their midweight baselayers (top and bottom).  We tested the coats and baselayers extensively and consistently came up with the same results.  The coats are great, and the puffy liner quickly became my favorite coat.  The base layers do not perform like I would expect one to. 

The base layers are made out of a thin polyester, almost spandex like material.  The funny thing is that as soon as I put them on, rather than getting warmth, I feel cold.  The thin layer doesn’t help hold heat, even if the Omni Heat does (might).  It felt like the material was simply too thin to trap any of our body heat.  As I would lounge around in the house with just the base layer on with the heat set around 60, I actually felt colder with the baselayer on then without it.

Now let me give Columbia a little more credit by saying that they do seem to work fine if they are covered up.  So if that is your full intent, to always cover them up by a sweater, pants, coats, etc.—hence the name BASE layer—then it does work fine.  I walked around Anchorage in -4 degree weather with just the base layer and a pair of jeans and didn’t have much of a problem with the cold. So does it work?  Depends on how it’s used.  If your intent is to have something that keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter (if it is covered), these could be a good option.  Jessica loved how hers were tailored to fit her body  (instead of just a smaller mens version) and they are all quite comfortable.  As far as the omniheat, the base layer material, it is too breathable to hold the heat in making it so the reflectors don’t work.  When I get a base layer, I think of insulation, or if I put it on, I expect that I will feel warmer, not colder and I just couldn’t get over the initial reaction of, wow, this actually feels colder.  It consistently happened, so I do not recommend the Columbia Omniheat midweight baselayer.

On the other hand, the coats are great.  Honestly, Columbia has really stepped it up in the coat department.  When I think of Columbia, the first thing that comes to mind is the 3-in-1 coats everyone had in middle school, while although they were popular, do not make me think of high performance.   The Melting Point Parka I received, also has the 3-in-1 system that Columbia is so popular for.  The liner is a synthetic coat and is so warm that I wear it every single day.  It is a coat that is very versatile and warm.  The liner has the Omniheat technology and the shell does not, which makes sense.  I wanted to tell whether it was the Omniheat or just a good coat, so I did a little experiment.  I went out on a cold night with the coat on inside out (so that the Omniheat wouldn’t be reflecting my body heat).  Yes, I probably looked like I was from outer space, but I did feel that there was a difference in the performance of the coat with the Omniheat in vs out.  By the way, zipping a coat up an down with the zipper on the inside can be a little tricky. 🙂  Overall, this is a fantastic coat that I would highly recommend.  It performed great in all conditions from recent 60 degree Colorado days, to -10 degrees in Ankorage AK.

Here’s what Jessica had to say about the Triple Trail Shell that she received:
Honestly, I’m not typically a big fan of shells on their own.  I’m kind of a whimp about the cold, so I tend to like lots of insulation in addition to my layering and most shells don’t cut it.  The first time I really put this coat to the test was skiing with only my baselayers and Icebreaker wool top on underneath.  Initially, my lift ride was really cold.  However, as I started to wrangle Mason and Chloe down the hill, I got warm, and stayed that way.  The heat lasted much longer than I anticipated, probably due to the Omniheat.  If you’re looking for a shell, this one really is fantastic.  One of the first things that I noticed is how incredibly well it was constructed.  Since I love to sew, I could quickly tell that this was a coat that was made with a lot of precision.  I mean seriously, it’s sewn so well, you can barely even see where the pockets are.  I also loved that it was tailored to fit a women, complete with bust darts!  All of the seams are taped and zippers are sealed so well that even in the rain, everything stays out, just as it should.  I’d recommend this coat in an instant!

At the Outdoor Retailer show, we were able to see a great lineup of all the Omni- technology that Columbia is working on.  Keep an eye out for it, because there will be lots of new things hitting the market soon.

Thanks to Columbia for providing the coats and baselayers for this review.  All opinions we expressed are our own and we didn’t receive any payment for them.



  • braveskimom says:

    Gotta hand it to you Andrew. Wearing the coat inside out was brilliant! I also agree about the baselayers — but since I only wear them as baselayers, the cold feeling quickly goes away. Well done!

  • Pablo says:

    Hi! Thanks for share your experience. Did you try the omni-heat pants too? Any feedback? Regards. Pablo

  • Colette says:

    Did Columbia test any of these in Alberta weather?
    Telling me that you felt warm at -4 is NOT what I consider a true test of cold. LOL This Alberta family needs to know how it felt at -50 if you want us to consider fitting up the family.

    • bringthekids says:

      You should ask Tanya from She does some work with Columbia, is a tough Canadian Mama and an awesome outdoorswoman. Trust me, she’s awesome and should be able to help you!

    • Raf says:

      Colette … Alaska is colder than Alberta. When the author said -4 that wasn’t Celsius but Fahrenheit, so about -20 C. Alberta has some cold spots don’t get me wrong but I would think if you said Yukon or Northwest Territories we’d be talking more along the same lines as Alaska.

    • Wes says:

      I’ve tested them in Alberta, as well as the territories. They work, they just aren’t designed to have the warm feeling of wool. They are designed for athletics. The heavyweight base layer will give you more warmth feeling, as will an insulator layer on top of the medium weight…but that cooling feeling is intentional. As someone described, it’s like menthol for your legs.

  • Alan Robinson says:

    I have the Columbia 2 in one jacket with the shell, this coat is good for Minnesota winters, the only thing bad is that outside I’m fine but when I get in my car the cold from the jacket transfers to my back. I’m 60 year’s old once my back gets cold I’m just about done, can you help me I can’t afford to buy another coat.

  • Matt says:

    Has anyone tested the mighty lite jacket? I was wondering how it performs in the cold. Please let me know.

  • John says:

    I bought and omni heat coat last winter when it was freezing cold I simply loved them they were warm I found with every other coat I had I needed 2 sweaters and I was still cold with these I either wear all the layers or the base layer and my down jacktet

  • Mike says:

    I have had one of these coats for just over 2 years now, and initially my reaction was as described in the review. But as the coat ages, the shiny dots wear off, and what was once a very warm coat, becomes basically a fall jacket.
    It’s seems Columbia’s decision to leave the insulation exposed has created a good marketing gimmick, at the cost of the coats longevity.
    Has anyone else found this to be true?

    • Adrian Martinez says:

      I could not agree more, I live in Chicago and have had it for the 4 winters. This 4th winter the omni-heat reflective material wore off on the inner line and the jacket has not been nearly as effective, thus requiring another added layer under the shell and its liner. I now have to send my jacket to Columbia for repair.

  • Daryl says:

    I just tested the mid weight base layer in -25c plus wind chill factor. My initial reaction was “like menthol for the legs…”. But despite the chilly feeling from the omni-heat dots, my legs felt like it was 10c warmer than it really was. Warming up now I’m not feeling the pinsandneedles frostbite I would have been, had I not been wearing the base layer. What really struck me is that whenever I stood in sunshine, the base layer seemed to magnify the heat of the sun on my legs… Even through the layer of denim over top.

  • Bob says:

    Wearing a light Omni Heat jacket while just standing around in the cold doesn’t do much to keep you warm, but once you start moving around (thus generating body heat), the jacket does a great job of trapping body heat and keeping you warm. Compared it to a heavy duty sweatshirt under the same conditions…the sweatshirt felt warmer initially and, when active, the sweatshirt also trapped body heat, but only momentarily, whereas the Omni Heat jacket retained warmth far longer (to the point where I found myself unzipping it to avoid getting too warm). Definitely appears that there is something to the design. Shoveled snow wearing both a heavy down coat and the light Omni Heat jacket to compare…they both led to me being uncomfortably warm, but the Omni Heat, despite being far, far lighter, made me warmer much more quickly and again, trapped the heat to the point where I was unzipping it to cool off. I feel like it almost works too well when you’re active in cold weather.

  • Wes says:

    The medium weight base layer is not intended to make you feel warm. It’s an athletic layer, designed to regulate core temperature. The cold feeling is the same whether it is Columbia, Dajota DryWear, UnderArmor, et al.

    Having spent 7 years in the infantry in Canada, I had the opportunity to test many different types of base layers in extreme cold environments. The omniheat medium weight layer is intended to vent excess heat to prevent overheating and sweating. This is done through moisture wicking. If you put a layer, such as fleece on top, you will instantly feel the warm…which is why you noticed the jackets felt warm. That too is intentional. This allows athletes (or soldiers in my case) to perform without getting their baselayer wet. They are great for that role…but if you’re looking for something to feel the heat, then go with polar fleece or marino wool. Marino wool wicks moisture quite well too, and even stays warm when wet. It’s also super thin.

  • Bob says:

    Hi Wes…I totally understand, I spent 5 years in the USMC wearing everything from cold weather gear (in the cold thankfully) to 75+ pounds of body armor in heat that would be generously described as “unpleasant.” My comment was more intended for those who haven’t worn specialized gear in multiple environments. I experimented with the Omni Heat in that mindset. If I need to do something in the cold, I know what to wear to: stay warm, as dry as possible, not overheat, avoid frostbite. Not everyone has experienced extreme weather in a military environment. As an aside, I had the distinct pleasure of working with the Canadian Army, to include a rather enjoyable party on the roof the Canadian Embassy in DC, in no way am I trying to start an “argument on the internet.” 😉

  • I bought one of these reflective jackets from Columbia a couple of years ago. If you don’t layer up under it, the jacket is nearly useless. It does not do any kind of wind-breaking at all; wind goes right through the jacket. If you’re looking for a jacket you can wear everyday clothes under, throw on and be warm when going outside, look for something else.

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