Columbia’s OutDry Extreme may be the future technology for rainwear. Traditional waterproof gear, like stuff that wears a Gore-Tex label uses a three-layered construction to get both jobs done: There’s a waterproof/breathable membrane sandwiched between two pieces of fabric. The outer fabric layer is treated with a durable water repellent (more on DWR anon), and the inner layer is a liner that gets the water off your skin and helps move it to the membrane, keeping you nice and dry. It works pretty well, and has for the 45 years since the technology was first introduced.
Columbia’s new OutDry Extreme tech is built differently. In this case, the exterior is covered in a water-tight membrane that makes the jackets look and feel more like a rubber drybag than the usual fabric exteriors of traditional WP/B gear. Columbia’s external membrane repels the big water droplets from rainfall (or yes, ocean spray), but it’s not entirely sealed off; the membrane has millions of tiny perforations that let water vapor evaporate out of the jacket. Below the membrane is a liner made of a nylon fabric that wicks water away from your skin. If the whole system works as advertised, an OutDry Extreme jacket will keep you dry, cool, and comfortable. Columbia says it’s solved one of the big problems with Neoshell and Gore-Tex and the like. These technologies rely on a fabric outer layer treated with DWR. This coating tends to degrade with wear and abrasions to the material, which means after you’ve taken your gear for a few romps in the woods, it’s going to start soaking up water in its outer layer, reducing its breathability. You’ll have to retreat your coat from time to time. OutDry Extreme meanwhile has no DWR, and thus, isn’t subject to the degradation. The outer membrane is tough and doesn’t degrade. It’s just waterproof by nature of its design and very breathable.