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No pit zips
Occasionally too warm
Tight sleeve cuffs
The Columbia Men's Alpine Action Insulated Jacket is a three-layer, budget-priced jacket for skiers who don’t want to manage layers.
We purchased the Columbia Men's Alpine Action Insulated Jacket so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
Columbia is an Oregon-based, family-owned outerwear company that has produced outdoor gear since 1938. Its colorful “Bugaboo” jacket took ski slopes by storm in the ’80s and ’90s and its products have been slope staples ever since. To see if the products’ reputation holds up, we tested the Columbia Men’s Alpine Action Insulated Jacket in an early Rocky Mountain winter. We assessed its performance over several weeks, evaluating factors such as warmth, breathability, style, wind resistance, and versatility. Read on for all the details.
Columbia dominated American ski style for at least a decade in the ’80s with its neon jackets and pants with goofy names, but those days are long gone. This jacket looks the part of a modern performance outerwear garment, even if it doesn’t have the name cachet (nor price tag) of an Arc’teryx or Patagonia.
The available colorways are simple and mostly solids: gray-blue, light blue, black, gray, and two reddish two-tone options: a burgundy (Black Cherry) and a fire engine red (Mountain Red/Red Jasper). If you’re looking to stand out in a crowd, look elsewhere.
The jacket is relatively soft and not stiff. The reflective Omni-Heat interior has a smooth mesh that makes the coat comfy, even when wearing only a t-shirt underneath.
Upon first trying the jacket on out of the packaging, the front felt like it awkwardly stuck out a bit, but the soft material seemed to settle down with use and eventually fit normally. I almost always wear a size Large in ski jackets on my 6-foot, 185-pound frame and the Alpine Action jacket was no exception. The fit is roomy, which is good in case I need to layer up underneath for the coldest days, and it also allows freedom of movement. Some ski brands (especially European-based ones) can skew more form-fitting in their outerwear, but I prefer a looser fit that permits athletic motion without needing fabric to stretch.
The fit is roomy, which is good in case I need to layer up underneath for the coldest days, and it also allows freedom of movement.
The cut overall is a happy medium with enough of a tail in the back to keep from feeling short or riding up on you. The removable hood fits easily over a ski helmet. Over just your head or winter hat there is some room left in the hood, but it can be cinched down without much effort.
While it fits a similar product niche as “3-in-1” jackets, it’s important to note upfront that this is an insulated jacket and none of its layers are removable. This bodes well for the construction and fit of the jacket, but it does remove the option of pulling a layer out to make the shell lighter on warm days, or to even wear the inner layer (as you can with 3-in-1 jackets) on its own. The upside of this setup is that the jacket is simple and doesn’t mess around with underlayers that can bunch up inside the shell, especially if not clasped properly at each point.
The jacket touts Columbia’s Omni-Heat system, which is a lining made up of silver dots that in theory reflect the body’s heat back at itself. Under Armour’s ColdGear tech makes similar claims about harnessing the body’s own heat. While I can’t assess the effectiveness of the Omni-Heat claims specifically, I can attest that the jacket is very warm. While it isn’t a thick down jacket, this insulated shell kept me warm on windy ski days in the 20s with only a Smartwool long-sleeve layer underneath.
Ventilation matters, too, and the Alpine Action jackets skimps a bit on this front, limiting it as an all-season ski jacket.
If anything, it was a touch too warm on the sunniest day I tried it and I was disappointed to reach for the pit zips (zippered vents that run along the arm line through the armpit area) and find that there were none. Pit zips are so common as to be nearly a convention on ski jackets that I was a bit surprised Columbia skipped out on them here. Perhaps the thinking is that this jacket is meant for cold days only, but living in the Rockies where 30-degree temperature swings are not uncommon, I wish Columbia would’ve given skiers some flexibility in regulating body temperature, especially since the insulation layer isn’t removable.
When shopping for ski jackets, casual skiers often focus on how warm a jacket is, forgetting that how breathable and adjustable a jacket is, can be equally important. If your jacket is too warm and you’re exerting yourself on a sunny day, you can sweat enough to soak your base layers. That becomes uncomfortable and possibly dangerous if and when you cool down or weather changes and that now-internal moisture chills you to the bone. Long story short: Ventilation matters, too, and the Alpine Action jackets skimps a bit on this front, limiting it as an all-season ski jacket.
Columbia lists the Alpine Action coat as waterproof, which is a good start, but the devil is in the details when it comes to the interrelated measurements of waterproof rating and breathability rating. The jacket features the branded Omni-Tech coating that purports, like most ski jacket coatings, to keep water out while allowing the garment to breathe when you heat up.
One of Columbia’s strongest selling points is offering decent performance at prices your average consumer can stomach.
Omni-Tech has a breathability rating of 10,000, which is around the bare minimum to claim “waterproof.” In our testing, the waterproofing held up when sprayed with water and in wet snow conditions. However, we avoided washing the jacket to damage the waterproofing (it is machine washable). Even when following the manufacturer guidelines for washing outerwear, you are likely to knock the waterproofing down a few points—points the Alpine Action coat doesn’t have to spare.
The garment is also fully seam-sealed, which just means that stitching and zippers and other joints are taped-off. This is important because those weak spots can ruin waterproofing no matter how great the fabric is.
I had no complaints on this front in my testing. I skied in this jacket primarily at Breckenridge in Colorado, which is known for its high winds above treeline, and I never felt the wind except in that it pushed against the jacket, which isn’t super stiff.
In addition, having the integrated insulation layer meant there weren’t odd gaps in my layering. I did find the sleeve cuffs oddly tight and difficult to stretch over my larger ski gloves. If using gauntlet-style gloves that cuff over your cuffs, this wouldn’t be an issue, but even with relatively small gloves, I found the cuff action annoyingly tight.
On its face, a tight cuff seems like a good idea—keep cold and wind out, right? But in practice, trying to seal up your wrist area when you’ve got cold hands about to disembark a chairlift, a tight cuff makes a simple routine action difficult.
There’s also the requisite snow skirt option to seal around your waist. I found the placement a bit higher than waist high but effective using the usual button snaps to lock in place. This isn’t just for deep powder days—the skirt can help keep any unwanted breezes from heading up the bottom of the jacket, especially when combined with the built-in adjustable hem drawcord.
The Omni-Tech layers have a 10,000mm breathability rating as well, which is at the lower end of the spectrum, not surprisingly given the price point. However, given the construction of this coat, I’d argue this metric matters less than in, say, a standalone shell. Since your body heat and moisture have the insulation and reflective Omni-Heat layers to get through first before it can even think about diffusing through the Omni-Tech waterproof exterior, you’re probably better off simply unzipping or removing the jacket if you’re getting to the point where ventilation is a must.
My few weeks of testing weren’t enough to fully evaluate the coat’s performance over the long haul, but it’s safe to say that given that this jacket’s performance is at the threshold of waterproof as mentioned above, it might not hold up as well to abuse and repeated washing as other more expensive treatments such as GORE-TEX.
In addition, the jacket is softer to the touch, which makes it more comfortable but could be an indicator that the coating isn’t as rugged as it could be. How much this matters to you in your purchasing decision will dictate if this coat makes sense for you. If you are looking for a very warm coat to wear a few times a year skiing only, the performance could hold up over several seasons and you won’t have spent $500 on a jacket. If, however, you ski regularly and/or intend to wear the jacket for more than just skiing, you might consider spending a bit more for longer-lasting performance.
Like most modern ski jackets, the Alpine Action coat features an interior mesh goggle/gloves pocket and a “media” pocket with routing for headphone wires. There’s also a zippered interior security pocket for phone or wallet safety. The wrist pocket is barely noticeable and designed to hold a ski pass for easy access.
Ski outerwear of any halfway decent quality is expensive, and skiing and snowboarding generally are not cheap sports. However, one of Columbia’s strongest selling points is offering decent performance at prices your average consumer can stomach.
You can find the jacket on sale for as cheap as $130 in some colors and sizes, and even the full MSRP of $170 isn’t outrageous for a ski jacket.
I have tested both of these jackets and found them comparable in terms of performance, and they fall in similar price brackets, though the Arrowood skews about $30 more at most retailers. The biggest difference is the modularity of the Arrowood. The common “3-in-1” style means there’s a removable insulating layer that can be worn on its own or as part of the system. The drawback is that clasps and buttons hold it in place, whereas a jacket such as the Alpine Action has insulation layers stitched in place.
However, if you have concerns about heating up or if you ski often in the warmer spring season, the Arrowood could be worth the extra spend to get a bit more flexibility, allowing it to serve as a more three-season jacket than winter only.
Interested in reading more reviews? Check out our roundup of the best men’s ski jackets.
Despite my small gripe about heating up in the Columbia Men's Alpine Action Insulated Jacket, this could be a great budget option for someone who worries more about being cold than ever running hot while skiing. Especially if you can find it on sale, you could buy three of these jackets for the cost of even a mid-tier option from the elite ski outerwear companies.
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