On our Yosemite backpacking trip last summer, Columbia gave us the new Compounder Shell to throw in our packs in case of adverse weather conditions. I have been wearing this shell jacket for almost 8 months now, finding it a great companion for hiking, backpacking, or even rock climbing, as the wind picks up or a cold rain starts to fall.
The Compounder Shell is a lightweight, low profile jacket, perfect for stuffing in the bottom of your pack for when the weather turns sour. Using Omni-Dry waterproof technology and fully seam sealed, the shell jacket gives you complete wind and rain protection.
Inside, the Compounder Shell is lined with Columbia's new Omni-Wick EVAP technology that works to quickly pull moisture away from your skin. The moisture is then spread across the framework of the lining, much like a wicking base layer, in order to facilitate faster dissipation through the membrane.
I found under certain conditions, such as warm and humid weather where you are working up a good sweat, the membrane doesn't quite keep up with the Omni-Wick EVAP technology. After a couple of rainy but warm hikes here in San Francisco, I returned with the entire inside of my shell jacket coated in sweat.
To be fair, other shell jackets would also have a tough time under warm, humid conditions, as the traditional waterproof membranes rely on diffusion to push moisture vapor out of your jacket. With the inside of your shell the same temperature and humidity level as the outside, quick diffusion through the membrane is more difficult.
This problem is something the new air permeable membranes have tried to solve. Using the Compounder Shell's full side zips, however, can really help with ventilation and temperature regulation when you are really working hard.
That is not to say this shell jacket doesn't work great under all other conditions, however. I wore the Compounder Shell during my entire backpacking trip to Yosemite where it was great at blocking the early season cool wind. The jacket was also a staple in my backpack for hiking and rock climbing all over the Alps last summer, providing me with valuable wind and rain protection.
The hood is helmet compatible, making it useful as a climbing shell. The drop tail fits well under a harness or backpack and keeps it from riding up when you are reaching high.
Two chest pockets, hand pockets, and internal stash pockets offer plenty of easy access storage options for a day out on the trail. The draw cord adjustable hood and hem help you to really seal out the weather when it takes a turn for the worse. A fleece lining on the inside front flap keeps the zipper from rubbing against your face.
Bottom Line: The Columbia Compounder makes a great shell jacket for backpacking, hiking, or climbing, where you need lightweight but foolproof wind and rain protection. In more humid climates, you will probably need to play around with the ventilation system in order to prevent sweat buildup.
The Compunder Shell comes in both a men's and women's version and retails for $300, available now.