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(The Gear Loop) - Spend any amount of time looking for a new waterproof shell and you’ll rapidly discover most jackets use the same technologies, namely Gore-Tex.

It’s a clever textile membrane that is used across the outdoors industry as a waterproof but breathable fabric, and it is found in everything from trousers to gloves.

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If it’s likely you are going to get wet but don’t want to sweat, chances are the garment of choice will feature Gore-Tex.

Many manufacturers use it in their products for a reason: it works. Really well. It’s therefore rare to see the big players break away from the norm and develop their own technologies.

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Enter Columbia - the US brand that boasts over 200 patents that make their products some of the most innovative in the industry, and their Gore-Tex alternative Omni-Tech is no different.

Our quick take

The Columbia Ampli-Dry Shell Jacket is a very solid outer for a great price and with a bit of digging online, it can be had for less than £100, which is an absolute steal in our eyes.

The membrane technology is excellent for a jacket of this level and it’s a great choice for a single jacket to do it all, or as a layer to pile on top of an insulated jacket or warmer mid-layer when hiking in more changeable conditions. Just make sure you get the sizing right, as the jacket definitely errs on the athletic side in terms of it.

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We still feel that Gore-Tex pips Columbia’s proprietary tech in terms of waterproofing and breathability, but there’s no denying Omni-Tech offers a great fit and a nice alternative, especially given the price.

Columbia Ampli-Dry Waterproof Shell Jacket review: a light shell that pulls its weight

Columbia Ampli-Dry Waterproof Shell Jacket

4.0 stars
For
  • Excellent value for money
  • A refreshing change from Gore-Tex
  • Plenty of adjustability
Against
  • Not the most breathable
  • Lining feels odd against bare skin
  • Hood brim isn't the best

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In the Loop

Everything you need to know about the Columbia Ampli-Dry Waterproof Jacket in convenient, bite-sized chunks:

  • Omni-Tech waterproof/breathable fully seam sealed
  • Four-way comfort stretch
  • Bonded hood brim
  • Drawcord adjustable hood
  • Underarm venting
  • PU coated front zipper
  • Zippered hand and chest pockets
  • Adjustable cuffs
  • Drawcord adjustable hem
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Getting technical

Gone are the days of waterproof shells transforming into hot and sweaty bin bags after a light ramble up a hill, as modern technologies have advanced to allow sweat and hot water vapour from your body to pass through the material but not let external precipitation in.

Omni-Tech combines a highly breathable membrane with a tough exterior, in this case ripstop nylon, to make the whole package more durable. But it’s the clever membrane where the magic happens. Moisture from the wearer is drawn through the membrane and then allowed to evaporate away, keeping the wearer dry but cool, as the air can circulate unimpeded.

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Traditional waterproof textiles, like Gore-Tex, use ePTFE, which is equally as adept at shedding moisture but isn’t particularly malleable, so garments tend to be a little larger to allow for the wearer freedom of movement.

But here, we could really feel the stretch when we pulled the jacket around, it’s almost lycra-like and offers a great athletic fit for a range of activities.

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We loved the fact that the Ampli-Dry didn’t rustle nearly as much as its Gore-Tex counterparts. It might not seem like much but trust us, after four hours in a noisy coat and silent surroundings, you’ll be glad of the peace and quiet.

The breathability of the jacket wasn’t among the best we’ve ever tested, but for the price, the Ampli-Dry certainly pulls its weight against much more expensive outers in this category and in everything but the highest exertion situations, the shell was never overwhelmed by this sweaty reviewer.

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Get that fit dialled in

Aside from the high-tech wizardry going on with the material, the Ampli-Dry is a reasonably feature rich garment: fully taped seams means no water is sneaking past the membrane and Velcro cuffs keep the blasts of chilly air at bay.

Elastic drawcords around the hem of the jacket allow the fit to be dialled in to a greater degree and in combination with the stretchy fabric, we could get perfectly comfortable in not time at all.

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A pair of drawcords in the hood work in tandem to cinch down the opening. We loved the versatility, as it meant the fit could be adjusted to slide over a helmet if needed. Unfortunately, the hood lacked a proper, adjustable peaked brim, so in very wet and windy weather, the rain often dripped straight onto our face rather than running away to the sides.

Three large pockets allow for a good number of things to be stashed on your person, with two in the traditional spot around the waist and one on the chest, perfect to keep a smartphone or map to hand.

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On top of this, generous pit zips allowed us to expel any heat and moisture that the membrane couldn’t quite cope with and with chunky zippers and pulls, they were easy to locate and open when the going got toasty. Even with gloved hands.

This was a really nice feature to see on a shell at this price point, and while pit zips are becoming more widespread, we can think of plenty of outers that are many times more expensive that don’t have them.

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One thing we weren’t a huge fan of was the feel of the material against bare skin - it felt slick and sweaty almost immediately, but we put this down to the slightly plasticky-feeling lining. This is overcome by wearing long-sleeve shirts, but could be a problem when attempting to escape summer showers.

Available in a good range of sizes from small to 2XL, finding a good fit shouldn’t be an issue. Our jacket was in the fetching Stone Green colour, which was a refreshing change from either black or luminous orange that seem all the rage at the moment. Other colours are available.

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Rain repellent

The key benchmark of any waterproof shell should be, well, it’s waterproofness. Columbia’s Omni-Tech technology has a considerably lower hydrostatic head of 10,000 when compared to Gore Tex’s 28,000, which on paper should translate into a bit of dampness when the heavens really open.

Granted, we didn’t test the jacket in any biblically wet conditions, but we found it to be waterproof enough to ensure an entire day spent hiking in changeable conditions was comfortable.

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The taped seams kept water from entering through the tiny needle holes left during manufacture, while the hood was great at fending off some of those heavier showers.

On the subject of hoods, you’ll see in the imagery that it creased really easily. We suspect the rest of the jacket would if stuffed into a backpack, too. So if you’re a fan of super sharp lines, you might want to take note.

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To recap

In a market packed with a mind-boggling array of different variations of Gore-Tex, Colombia’s Omni-Tech technology is a refreshing take on waterproof, breathable shells. The unique construction of the membrane allows it to stretch four ways, which offers a great range of movement to cover myriad outdoor pursuits. Offering up a good array of features, including elastic drawcords and roomy pockets, the Ampli-Dry shell is a great choice for the budget-conscious outdoors enthusiast.

Writing by Matt Buckley.