Ode to my Columbia Compounder Shell

O’ Columbia Compounder shell, given to me by the wonderful people at Columbia for the sole purpose of testing and writing this review, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

1) Your loud, gaudy neon colors reminiscent of The 80’s, making me visible to rescue workers should I have an untimely accident

2) Your lightweight material, allowing me to fantasize of retiring my current, slightly heavier and bulkier, 3-layer GoLite wind and rain jacket to urban duties

And that’s about it

When I first saw the shell, I immediately noticed that it was similar material to my Marmot PreCip rain pants. As I mentioned above, I was pretty happy about this since it is lighter and less bulky. I’ve also seen Marmot’s PreCip line in action before, and it performed flawlessly underneath a waterfall. I had the same high hopes for this shell.

Photo Courtesy of Brendan Ireland

The first test the Compounder went through was simply a wind test. While setting climbing anchors on top of the bluffs in Blue Mounds State Park, I experienced 30-40 mph wind gusts. I was wearing a t-shirt underneath and was still quite warm in the mid-70 degree weather. I made a mental note that it appeared to be windproof. Marketing claim number 1 checks out.

Prior to that, I went for a walk in a windless, light drizzle. When I got back to my apartment, I was still dry. Marketing claim number 2 checks out.

Or so I thought.

Let’s talk about driving wind and rain

The claims of being windPROOF and waterPROOF fall short when conditions escalate much above “mild”. Perhaps unfortunately for this shell, I had the opportunity to test it out again in a torrential downpour, sporting 60 mph winds. While the rest of my camp mates hid inside “the party tent”, Anh and I were standing outside in the thick of it, testing our gear (and holding onto our tent poles to prevent them from becoming conCAVE instead of conVEX).

After playing around in the wind and rain for about 20 minutes (and drinking beers whilst doing so), we decided to join our friends in the tent until it died down a little. After awhile, it was nice enough to get the fire going again and hangout outside. At this point, Anh noticed her neck and shoulder area were wet. I wrongfully dismissed this and pointed out that she had been facing into the wind, and the rain may have gotten in through the opening between the hood and her face. To prove her point, she unzipped her jacket and displayed the entire backside was soaked. In shock, I removed my jacket and witnessed the same thing. My shirt was drenched. The inside of my jacket was glistening in the light of the fire.

Photo courtesy of Matt Holland

Wet! We were wet! We were wet in a waterproof/windproof shell!

My Marmot PreCip pants kept me dry. Anh’s Sierra Designs pants kept her dry. Our friend Rhoderic’s Arc’Teryx Beta AR kept him dry. If these products can keep us dry, Columbia’s Compounder should keep us dry as well.

Now let’s look at price.

The Compounder is $300. For similar money, maybe slightly more, you can get the Beta AR, which is made with Gore-Tex. For MORE THAN THREE TIMES LESS than the Compounder, you can get Marmot’s PreCip jacket. I have not had a chance to test those specific jackets personally, but I do believe my eyes and have seen the conditions they have withstood.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this shell

I cannot recommend this shell because I cannot fathom going out in the backcountry, completely exposed, relying on my gear to keep me safe and warm, and experiencing something like this. Depending on the conditions, hypothermia is a real threat. If I spend money on gear, or if I tell other people to go spend their money on gear, I want to know it can handle the toughest conditions, not just mild ones.

I’m extremely grateful to Columbia for allowing me to test their jacket. This review aside, they are a great company to work with. I hope this review helps them improve their product. And more importantly, I hope they let me #trystuff again in the future!

Don’t Miss Your Chance

I was stuck in Corporate America for 9 years. I was miserable.

Then I took control.

You can too, and it starts right here.