The #OmniGames: Counting Down to the Best Columbia Sportswear Gear of the Games

Decked out in some of my favorite Columbia duds
on the last obstacle of the 55' ropes course. (H. Balogh)
When I boarded the plane to Salt Lake City with a full carry-on rolling suitcase and a stuffed 35L backpack, I knew I’d over-packed for the #OmniGames. But with good reason. At least, it was a good reason in my head. I'm half an inch shy of 5'9" and have a 6'0" wingspan, which is great when I need to get something off of a shelf at home, but makes it tough to find outdoor apparel that fits. Of the Columbia tops and bottoms I've tried over the years, fit has been hit or miss. Most pants are too short unless they're made in long sizes, and most tops look like they're designed to have ¾ sleeves when I wear them. I tend to stick with brands I know make pieces that will fit my frame, and these days, they're few and far between.

As it turns out, I could’ve left almost my entire suitcase at home. When we walked into our suites at the Hyatt Escala Lodge, we found Columbia Lode Hauler 50 duffels loaded with a variety of apparel and gear for the week. As expected, some pieces didn’t work out for me, but a bunch of them left a strong, positive impression.

A Tall Girl's Three #OmniGames Essentials

Aleya modeling one of the baselayers inside out at the
Columbia fashion show! (Anne Carney)
When I pulled the medium sized Women's Heavyweight and Midweight ½ Zip tops out of their containers and tried them on, I was elated to find that they fit perfectly. When I extend my arms, I can still make use of the thumbholes without cutting off circulation to my thumbs. The waffle pattern on the Heavyweight top makes it particularly flattering. Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective breathable material and Omni-Wick inserts strategically placed on both tops keep you warm while wicking sweat away from your body.

I wore the Heavyweight ½ Zip on the first day of the #OmniGames under a fleece and a shell and was plenty warm enough in the 20º weather, even when the wind picked up. I also took it to CrossFit Love for a morning workout and didn’t find myself with any movement restriction. The Midweight ½ Zip was all I wore under my Turbodown jacket on the ropes courses during day two of competition, and though I was chilly standing still, as soon as I got moving, the Omni-Heat did its job.

The only issue I found with both tops is, as with most synthetic baselayers, they got stinky after a day of wear. I’d also prefer they weren’t packaged in so much plastic; they’re great looking, functional pieces and don’t need any extra labeling or marketing.

I didn’t have high hopes for the Veloca Vixen Pant because I have yet to try a pair of Columbia pants that are long enough. I pulled them out of the duffel, shrugged, pulled them on, and lo and behold, they fit! The Back-Up waist on the medium felt like it was designed for my frame and the width is easily adjustable with Velcro tabs. The elastic bands around the ankles kept snow out of my boots while I was skiing, dogsledding, snowshoeing, and diving in and out of our makeshift shelters on the first day of competition.

Wearing my Turbodown jacket, Veloca Vixen pants and Bugaboot Original Tall Omni-Heat Boots 55' off the ground.
(D. Creech)
The pants are flexible enough to allow freedom of movement, even while I stretched and swung on the high ropes course on the second day of competition. Overall, I’m impressed and will definitely wear these again. My only issue was waterproofing; after sitting on a snowmobile for half an hour, I couldn’t decide if my legs felt wet because I’d been sweating, or if the pants weren’t completely waterproof. Time will tell!

The only other item I wore in every single part of the #OmniGames competition was the Women’s Bugaboot Original Tall Omni-Heat boots. I’m not much of a stylish boot gal, but love the way these look, fit and feel. They’re also functional. The full grain leather construction kept water out while the Omni-Heat lining kept warmth in, even while I was standing outside watching the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup Moguls Competition in whipping winds at Deer Valley. The Omni-Grip outsole kept me feeling solid on snowy ground and walking tightropes 55 feet off the ground.

Two Items I Could Live Without

Kristie making the Parallel Peak Interchange Jacket look good! (D. Creech)
Though I expected to fall in love with the Bugaboo Interchange Glove, particularly the touch screen liners, but I just…didn’t. In addition to being tall, I have (relatively) long fingers and found the outer gloves too short. The wrist strap, which can be tightened for a secure fit, hits an inch above my wrist. Regardless, I wore both the liners and the outer gloves during competition for proper testing, and was generally happy with how they performed.

The outer gauntlet, which was easy to tighten and loosen, kept snow out of my sleeves. The synthetic grip palm made it easy to hang on to everything from twine to ski poles, and the nose wipe was a welcomed feature to find. I found that unlike the outer layer, the touch screen glove liners fit perfectly. They didn't, however, work 100% of the time when I tried to use my iPhone with them on. The Bugaboo Interchange Gloves definitely have potential, but aren’t the right gloves for me.

As I watched my roommates try on their Parallel Peak Interchange Jackets, I had high hopes for mine. It’s a three-in-one jacket designed to keep you warm and dry. With pockets galore, there’s room for everything you could possibly need to carry. The reviews on Columbia’s website made it sound like the best jacket ever, but I’d brought my Millenium Flash along just in case. As it turns out, I’m glad I did. The Parallel Peak jacket just plain didn’t fit. The sleeves were too short on both the shell and inner layer and it was much too tight on my shoulders – another frequent problem I have. I looked like Randy from a Christmas Story in it. It looked great on some of the other #OmniGirls, but I stuck with other layering systems for our time in Utah.

One Piece that Blew My Socks Off

Staying warm waiting my turn for the
low ropes course. (G. Begin)
As I mentioned earlier this week, all four seasons of the #OmniTen got a sneak peek at a technology not available to the general public until September of 2014 – Turbodown. Dubbed “down on steroids,” it’s a performance enhanced down technology designed to combine the comfort and warmth of down fill with Columbia’s Omni-Heat synthetic fill, which responds better than down in wet conditions.

As soon as I put my Turbodown jacket on the morning the technology was revealed to us, I had to take it off. It was just too warm. Too warm, in fact, to wear as part of most of my layering systems unless I had plans to stand around outside. I was comfortable standing still watching the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup Moguls Competition in 10-20ºF temperatures with a fleece and baselayer underneath, but a little chilled with just the Midweight ½ Zip top underneath while waiting for my turn on the ropes courses.

In addition to being innovative and functional, the Turbodown line will also be affordable. Come September, Columbia will release vests and jackets in Gold, Platinum and Diamond categories priced from $130 to $325.

If you’ve been keeping track, this post marks the end of my contribution to the final #OmniGames challenge – storytelling. And as Charles Dickens said, “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” I’m so grateful to have had the chance to see so many warm, familiar faces in Park City and to call those I had the opportunity to meet for the first time my new friends. I’m also grateful to be a part of the #OmniFamily, a family of people who embody what Columbia embodies – a fervent passion for the outdoors, Trying Stuff, and making the outdoor world a whole lot more fun.


Heidi Henry said…
As always, excellent gear write up Katie!!
Stu said…
Turbodown sounds like my kind of jacket material. Might have to hold off on that new jacket purchase until Sept!
Katie said…
You won't regret it, Stu, that's for sure! I wish the jackets came out sooner!
Alain said…
The small area should be at the harness and the large gate opening area should be attached to the belay device...In your picture if you catch a fall the belay devices wire loop gets jammed up...try it! You only use the orientation in the picture with a gri gri...
Nick said…
It says right in the instructions you can use it that way. Because of the small size of the area in the bottom, its way easier to anchor yourself with it reversed as well.

My question is, what happens to the gate if you accidentally load it with both the rope and the belay loop inside the top part...