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Columbia Baselayer Extreme Fleece Review

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Columbia Baselayer Extreme Fleece.
Columbia’s Baselayer Extreme Fleece has a space-age look thanks to the Thermal Reflective Omni-heat lining. The fabric is thin and stretches in all directions, allowing it to slip inside most form-fitting leather or textile riding gear on chilly days. The thumbhole at the end of the sleeve allows the garment to slide into a jacket sleeve without bunching up.
Columbia is a well-known name in outdoor gear and the company has been at it a long time, with its roots going back to the Columbia Hat Company that started in 1938. My experience with the product line goes back to around 1984 with one of the then-recently introduced Interchange system “Quad” jackets. With its removable down inner jacket, it was - and still is - my go-to jacket when northern Wisconsin’s temperatures and wind chills drop to sub-zero. That’s right; 29 years on, that jacket is still in service, despite seeing use primarily when conditions are at their worst.

With that history, I was curious to see how one of Columbia’s recent innovations called “Thermal Reflective Omni-heat” would perform for cold-weather motorcycle riding and snowmobile use. Columbia product literature claims that the thermal reflective material, “…keeps you warmer by reflecting back the heat your body generates. It also helps regulate body temperature by allowing excess heat and moisture to escape.” It goes on to describe the “Omni-wick Advanced Evaporation” technology in the product: “…moisture transferring technology moves and disperses sweat away from the body for quick evaporation, keeping you comfortable during physical activity.” It also describes the material as having “antimicrobial” properties that inhibit bacterial growth.

Two things that the product literature doesn’t focus on that are potentially important are how thin the fabric itself is and the fact that it has some all-direction stretch to it - the fabric is 91% polyester and 9% elastane Thermostretch. Those characteristics prove very useful in allowing the Baselayer to fit easily under even snug-fitting riding gear.

The design of the Baselayer includes extra-long sleeves with thumb slots at the end to allow the wearer to slip the sleeves down inside over-garment sleeves without the annoyance of the Baselayer sleeves bunching up in the process. If the sleeve length interferes with wrist closure or fit of your riding gloves, just take your thumbs out of the holes and let the sleeves ride up above the wrist level. A half-length front zipper closes up to a mock turtleneck collar that works well with a variety of top gear collar styles and doesn’t interfere with helmet fit.

The Baselayer material is breathable and so has little wind-stopping capability. This is not necessarily a drawback; for example, if it’s cool in the morning, but will be warm enough later in the day to consider a perforated leather or mesh jacket, the addition of jacket liner or vest will work during colder parts of the day and as the day warms up, the Baselayer alone will work well with perforated leather or textile mesh to allow the rider to feel the ventilation.

The Thermal Reflective Omni-heat interior surface is 35% covered with metallic dots bonded to the base fabric designed to reflect body heat back to the wearer, more than retain body heat the way insulation layers do. This helps explain why there is no immediate sense of increased warmth that you might expect when donning the Baselayer; it’s design is intended to keep your body heat at baseline in the cold, not overheat you.

Under leather and textile riding jackets, the Baselayer worked well and fit comfortably. Its effect seemed most noticeable in conjunction with lined and insulated gear. If you ride in areas that experience cool or cold weather for a fair share of the riding season, the Baselayer may be worth the investment - its retail price is $80.

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