I am used to seeing innovations in outdoor gear, from cutting-edge waterproof membranes to new developments in insulation and fabrics. These technologies promise to make our gear more durable, breathable, warmer, or lighter.
When a manufacturer brands something as “revolutionary,” I always assume it’s a gimmick. But Omni-Heat is a different story. It’s been around for a decade now, and Columbia has made it a core part of its product range.
There is no greater measure than the test of time, at least when it comes to outdoor gear. Because of this, I’d say Omni-Heat merits a closer look.
The Story Behind the Tech
Back in 2010, Columbia introduced a solution to a problem that has been troubling campers and hikers for ages: how to make your insulation layers warmer without making them heavier, bulkier, and thicker.
Since the human body generates warmth through radiation, Columbia decided to work on a technology that harnesses the wearer’s own body heat. The result? Omni-Heat.
Omni-Heat consists of hundreds of teeny little metallic silver dots. These are applied to the lining of Columbia apparel.
According to Colombia, these tinny metallic silver dots can keep you 20% warmer than ordinary layers by reflecting your body heat. At the same time, they allow excess moisture and heat to escape.
This eye-catching technology had its debut at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The brand designed custom Omni-Heat gear for the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team. The team had won one silver and two gold medals.
After that, Columbia started rolling out the Omni-Heat technology across nearly a hundred styles of accessories, footwear, pants, and jackets.
Omni-Heat apparel received positive reviews from early adopters. The greatest selling point of the technology was the fact that you couldn’t see it, but you could feel its warmth.
How Omni-Heat Works
The technology works almost exactly like a “space blanket,” those metal-coated sheets given to hypothermia victims by mountain rescue teams or to marathon runners at the end of a race-
Space blankets can reflect up to 97% of radiated heat despite their extremely low weight and bulk. Awesome, but there is no way any hiker would wear one on the trail.
So, rather than using a continuous sheet, Columbia figured it would be better to apply the reflective material in a dot pattern. This way, fabric lined with Omni-Heat can dissipate sweat when you are being active.
Unlike a space blanket, the tiny aluminum dots only cover about ⅓ of the fabric. This prevents your body from overheating and keeps the fabric breathable.
However, I don’t think that all Omni-Heat apparel excels in the breathability department.
What I love about Omni-Heat: The fact that it reflects my own body heat to keep me warm. This translates to more time on the trail without seeking refuge.
What to be aware of: You need to figure out how cold it should be for you to wear Omni-Heat apparel as everyone’s body temperature varies.
Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective Apparel Line
The Thermal Reflective is an improved version of the original technology. Jackets, pants, and other Columbia apparel that feature Omni Heat Thermal Reflective technology offer enhanced breathability and warmth in cold conditions.
Best Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective Jacket for Men: Columbia Delta Ridge
- Fabric: Polyester
- Insulation: 650 fill down
- Weight: 12.8 oz
The Delta Ridge is one of the warmest jackets in its price range, if not the warmest one. The patented Omni-Heat liner, in tandem with the 650 fill power down, provides a great deal of insulation.
Considering the price tag, the compressibility and overall quality of the jacket are quite decent. I wore it while hiking high up in the cold mountains of Scotland, and it had no trouble keeping me warm.
Even though it’s a slim-fit jacket, the torso extends past my waistline. And, despite the fact that the jacket is on the slimmer side, it can easily accommodate a thin fleece underneath. But I found the jacket to be warm enough on its own.
On top of the Omni-Heat thermal reflective technology, the Delta Ridge features a weather-resistant shell, zippered hand pockets, and a nice chin guard.
The only thing I dislike about this jacket is the inner liner. It felt a bit stiff. Still, it was comfortable enough.
- Durable outer shell
- Very warm
- Great fit
- Inner lining feels a bit stiff
Best Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective Pants for Men: Bugaboo IV
- Lining: 100% Polyester
- Shell: Omni-Tech Generation Dobby 100% nylon
- Insulation: Microtemp XF II 100% polyester insulation
- Super warm
- Could be more breathable
I’ve used these pants for day-hikes in the snow as well as skiing. There is no need for layering underneath thanks to the innovative reflective lining.
But, if you do want to do that, there is still plenty of room for multiple layers.
On top of being warm, they allow for great freedom of movement. So far, they’ve never felt like they were getting in my way.
The lining feels nice against bare skin and the shell fabric is supple. For a pair of inexpensive winter pants, they are surprisingly comfortable.
The Omni-Tech shell is super effective at blocking wind, rain, and snowfall. The pants are critically seam-sealed.
The fit is okay as well, although I’d like to have the ability to tighten down the waist.
The only real complaint I have is about ventilation. Opening the fly zipper is the only option for venting. If you wear these pants somewhere indoors, they will probably feel too warm.
Best Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective Jacket for Women: Columbia Heavenly
- Super warm
- Not so breathable
The Columbia Heavenly is an inexpensive insulated jacket that will keep you warm during the coldest months of the year.
Its warmth comes in the form of its Omni-Heat reflective liner, thicker design, and ample amounts of synthetic insulation. The jacket can hold heat all day long.
The thick Storm-Lite DP II shell doesn’t allow water or wind to penetrate through its layers. But there is a trade-off: Heavenly is not very breathable. It’s not the best option for hiking on warmer spring or autumn days.
Even though the jacket is a bit bulky, it packs small if you use a small stuff sack. You will easily be able to stuff it into your backpack as well.
The Heavenly is one of the coziest and most comfortable jackets in its price range. Lined with faux fur hi pile fleece, the hood is ultra-comfortable for all-day wear.
So that you can comfortably nuzzle into your jacket, the lining extends right to the chin. The elasticized cuffs with stretchy thumb loops are also a nice detail.
Wearers say that the fit is true to size, with a bit of extra room. If you want to wear extra layers underneath, you won’t have to worry about sizing up.
Best Omni-Heat Boots: Bugaboot Plus IV
- Outsole: Michelin rubber
- Toe box: Rubber
- Upper material: Leather and nylon
- Cold-weather rating: -25°F
The Omni-Heat technology isn’t only reserved for pants and jackets. The Bugaboot Plus IV are warm and versatile winter boots that offer a tenacious grip. But they are not just for ice and snow. They perform well across the board.
The boots have an incredibly high warmth-to-weight ratio thanks to their 200g of synthetic insulation and the Omni-Heat liner.
Although the lighter insulation was more noticeable when I was just standing around in the cold, the boots were quite warm when I was active.
Columbia claims these boots are waterproof, but I have my doubts about that. To put these to the test, I submerged my feet in water. After a couple of minutes, water started leaking in through the tongue.
But, considering the price point, I might just be nitpicking. There is no doubt that the Bugaboots are highly water-resistant. The boots shrugged off splashes of water and slush with ease.
I wore these boots on a few long winter walks and found them to be great for extended hiking. They are more comfortable and supportive than most boots in this price range. And, even though the boots are tall, they didn’t rub against my shins uncomfortably.
- Not entirely waterproof
Omni-Heat 3D Line
Omni-Heat 3D is an even newer version of the tech. In addition to the reflective pattern, Omni-Heat 3D features fiber pods.
These microscopic tufts of soft fibers create an air gap for even better insulation. Even though they are too small to see with the naked eye, they add literal warm fuzzies.
Omni-Heat 3D is designed to improve next-to-skin comfort as well as enhance heat retention. Omni-Heat 3D apparel provides extra warmth and comfort in moderate to extremely cold conditions.
Best Columbia Omni-Heat 3D Jacket for Women: Heatzone 1000 TurboDown
- Lining: 100% polyester
- Shell: 84% nylon/16% elastane; 100% nylon ripstop
- Insulation: 900 fill power water-resistant down; 60g Omni-Heat thermal insulation
- Flattering fit
- Super warm
- Limited color options
Featuring both high fill power down and Omni-Heat synthetic insulation, the Heatzone 1000 is one of the warmest winter jackets on the market. The Heatzone will keep you warm in temperatures as low as -4°F.
The Heatzone incorporates welded baffles instead of traditional stitching—a huge source of heat loss. As a result, the jacket has fewer cold spots than a traditional down parka.
The hem and storm hood feature drawcords while the cuffs have velcro straps. The cuffs cover more of the back of your hands, but, at the same time, they allow for a range of motion and utility in your palms.
The whole jacket allows for mobility during dynamic activity. It’s able to skim the body in a flattering way.
The waterproof but breathable nylon shell offers great protection from rain and snow.
Even if moisture manages to penetrate the outer layer of the jacket, the down insulation is water-resistant. The snug hood does a great job of sealing out the wind.
Best Columbia Omni-Heat 3D Jacket for Men: Powder Keg II
- Lining: 100% polyester
- Shell: 96% polyester/4% elastane; 87% nylon/13% elastane
- Insulation: 700 fill power down insulation
- Stylish shell
- Super warm
- The space blanket lining looks a bit silly
Although technically a ski jacket, the Powder Keg II is great for all winter adventures. This jacket’s looks are street-friendly from the outside and I liked wearing it around town.
However, unlike other Columbia jackets, the Powder Keg II has a quite visible Omni-Heat layer, to say the least. The lining of the jacket looks more like a space blanket than a cozy quilt.
Even though it looks weird, the Omni-Heat 3D lining does its job more than well. It keeps you warm and, at the same time, allows moisture to wick through to the outside.
The 700 fill power down insulation adds to the Omni-Heat 3D cold-beating armory. The Powder Keg II is much more breathable than most other Omni-Heat jackets, thanks to its two-way front zipper and double-zip pit zips.
And, considering how warm the Powder Keg II is, it isn’t that bulky. Moreover, the articulated sleeves and the active fit allow for great freedom of movement.
Other features of the jacket include a removable hood, contoured adjustable cuffs, a micro-fleece neck enclosure, and some of the most water-resistant internal and hand pocket zippers I’ve ever seen.
Off all the Omni-Heat jackets I’ve tried, the Powder Keg II offers the most bang for the buck.
Omni-Heat Black Dot
Black Dot is the latest upgrade to the Omni-Heat technology. The newest, patent-pending version of the Omni-Heat “thermal shield” features thousands of multi-layered black dots.
The Black Dot layers essentially imitate low-emissivity windows. Like these windows, Black Dot technology uses a microscopic layer of aluminum, covered in a black coating, to minimize heat loss.
While the Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective keeps the inner lining of the jacket warm, the Black Dot technology helps heat the outer shell. Together, the two layers keep the whole garment super toasty.
Jackets that feature the Omni-Heat Black Dot technology are best for prolonged exposure to cold.
Unfortunately, these are hard to come by at the moment, so I am yet to try out a Columbia Black Dot jacket.
Omni-Heat performs consistently in all of Columbia’s products – boots, jackets, pants, hats.
Although a couple of products on this list lack breathability, they compensate for it with extra features, comfort, flattering fit, and, of course, exceptional warmth.
When it comes to insulation technology in outdoor gear, it’s safe to say that Columbia has changed the game.
Read next: why I think Columbia makes good hiking shoes.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.