By Zach Koerber
There’s a reason that Swiss Army Knives have been around for over a century, carried by everyone from minivan driving moms to the most rugged of outdoorsmen: versatility. Columbia’s Ultrachange Parka is the embodiment of this principle, offering what amounts to three jackets in one.
The outer shell, composed of Columbia’s Omni-Dry® and Omni-Wick Evap® material, is both lightweight and breathable, while still providing excellent protection from wind and water. Meanwhile, the inner lining, composed of Columbia’s Omni-Heat® material, is exceptionally warm without the bulk. When worn together, by snapping the inner lining into the shell through unobtrusive snaps in the back and both arms, these two jackets combine to form an integrated barrier against all things cold, wet, and nasty.
I was able to put the versatility of the Ultrachange Parka to the test while skiing in Montana, where the weather can be as unpredictable and volatile as the mountains are big. In the beginning of the week, with temperatures in the 30’s and little wind, I was able to stay comfortable and breezy by opening up the large vents on the outer shell and leaving the inner lining unzipped (each jacket zips independently).
Later in the week, when temperatures plunged below 0 degrees with wind chill, zipping both jackets kept me warm while skiing for over 6 hours; I found it especially nice that both jackets zip high, with the outer shell easily covering my chin.
Even better, the inner lining is perfect for putzing around on the day-to-day. It’s both slim-fitting (a size M fits snuggly on my 6’0, 185lb frame) and stylish (friends had no idea that it was part of an interchange system). Similarly, the shell’s ventilation and weight (or lack thereof) also make it great as a separate piece for rainy spring days. My single gripe is that there is only one true insulated pocket on the shell.
While the MSRP of $450 might seem high (the women's version is currently on sale at Sierra Trading Post for $290), consider that this jacket – or more appropriately, these jackets – performs equally well whether you’re at the top of a wind-swept mountain in 0 degree conditions or strolling around a city on a mild day in April.