Columbia Ultrachange Parka Review

Columbia Ultrachange Parka Review

About a year ago, I first put on the new Columbia Ultrachange Parka. To say I was floored would be an understatement. This is not the Columbia I remembered from my childhood. Putting it to the test has continued to be an impressive experience.

Columbia Ultrachange Parka Features:

  • Omni-Heat thermal reflective and insulated liner
  • Omni-Wick EVAP advanced evaporation
  • Omni-Dry ultrabreathable waterproof fully seam sealed
  • 3-point Interchange System
  • Liner with breathable stretch panels
  • Attached, adjustable storm hood
  • Helmet compatible hood
  • Vented hand pockets
  • 2-way center front zipper
  • Waterproof zippers
  • Drawcord adjustable hem
  • Skinny seam seal tape
  • Contoured sleeve cuffs
  • Backpack compatible
  • Abrasion resistant chin guard
  • Drop tail
  • 24 oz (Shell: 11.2 oz. Liner: 12.8 oz.)
  • Center back length: 29.5”
  • MSRP: $450

Columbia Ultrachange Parka Review

My Experience

The first thing I noticed about the Ultrachange was just how comfortable it felt. Slipping it on was like putting on a system (thanks, Kobe) that’s built for outdoor activity. While the Ultrachange system is great together, the shell and insulating jacket are outstanding on their own or with other pieces. All this quickly quickly wiped my memory of the neon teal Bugaboo I had in 1988.

Immediately putting the Ultrachange to the test, I opted for the full system for a day at Alta Ski Resort. The primary focus was to test next year’s Salomon skis, but the Ultrachange made it all comfortable. The temperatures at 9am were hovering around 10 degrees, which is usually the temperature I start grabbing my down puffy jacket, but I grabbed the Ultrachange and let Omni-Heat go to work. I finished it off with the Columbia Mountain Monster gloves to wrap myself in Omni-Heat goodness.

Columbia Ultrachange Parka Review - Jason Mitchell

For those unfamiliar with Omni-Heat, this stuff just plain works. Thousands of tiny silver dots reflect the body’s natural heat while still allowing the garment to breathe. Couple that with Omni-Wick and Omni-Dry and this system just plain works.

Back to Alta… the Ultrachange was comfortable and warm while skiing and riding the chairlifts back up to the top. In combination with a gauntlet-style glove the elements are kept at bay. And, the extra-tall collar and chin guard provide extra coverage to keep your face warm on the ride up. Add to that the asymmetrical cuffs and the drop-tail and this jacket seals in the warmth without sacrificing natural movement or comfort.

Rounding out the tests, a frigid evening in Salt Lake City with the family helped show the versatility of this piece. The two front pockets are easily accessible when carrying a backpack and open wide to stash a pair of skins or, on this trip, carrying 4 pairs of kids mittens, and hats… comfortably. Another feature of the front pockets is that they double as ventilation in a pinch since the liners are mesh.

Columbia Ultrachange Parka Liner and Shell

The outer shell of the Ultrachange is thin, but burly enough to withstand the grasp of scrub oak branches while backcountry skiing. I like wearing the shell in combination with the included synthetic insulated liner (that works well by itself, btw), but it also works well on top of any lightweight insulating layer. Another benefit of the thin outer shell is how flexible it is. The whole system just moves with you and never feels cumbersome or bulky in any way.

Its performance has been nothing short of spectacular in the field. The shell breathes very well and withstands rain, snow and brutal winds. The included hood provides excellent coverage and is easily adjusted. The hem features grippy material to keep it in place. When worn with the lining, you can feel the Omni-Heat go to work. When worn as a system, this jacket really maintains warmth well beyond what I had anticipated. In fact, I got downright toasty on occasion and exposed its only flaw — breathability as a complete system.

When I wanted ultimate breathability, I wore the shell with a better wicking mid-layer. Something like the Patagonia R1 or the Mountain Hardwear Effusion Power Jacket worked awesome. So, the 3-in-1 system does give you lots of options for extreme cold or layering in combination with other layers.

For reference, I wore the Large and I’m 5’11” and 175 lbs. The fit was perfect.

The Good:

  • Feels instantly comfortable
  • The system delivers a flexible, lightweight package
  • Lightweight outer shell can be worn alone
  • Outer shell breathes extremely well
  • HUGE double front pockets work well with a pack on
  • When worn as a system, this jacket is WARM (thanks Omni-Heat)
  • Great fit that’s not too bulky or too athletic either

The Bad:

  • Omni-Heat can be a bit too warm when pushed hard
  • Angled sleeve cuffs can get bunched up

The Bottom Line

This is a great example of the benefits of Columbia “Trying Stuff” because the Utlrachange is a fantastic system made up of great individual pieces. The lightweight shell in combination with the included midweight synthetic puffy liner provides a fantastic level of flexibility that’s hard to match. With surprising durability and Omni-Heat’s cold weather capabilities, the Ultrachange has a lot to offer as a resort and backcountry-friendly jacket.

Buy Now: Available at Columbia.com

Written By

A Seattle native, Jason developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 --sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground. Follow Jason Mitchell on Google+.