Here Comes the Snow!

If you live in Asia or the Middle East, snow jackets are like an alien subspecies. Most of us in these tropical lands are clueless as to what jacket to buy, even though everyone is universal in their desire to get the best quality for the best price.

Asian tourists make a staggering amount of trips overseas. Chinese tourists rule the roost of course, but Indians, Thais and Vietnamese aren’t far behind. And when they travel during the Christmas holidays, particularly to Europe and the US, they are confronted with the vexing question about winter gear.

For women, jackets are arguably the most important winter packing essential. Having road-tested a variety of hiking gear here, I chose two jackets from Columbia Sportswear company for a trip to Nepal.

Columbia is a family owned company based in one of my favorite American cities: Portland, Oregon, known for its unpredictable weather and excellent farmer’s markets.

I spent ten days in the region tasting food and wine.

The two jackets I picked were from the 3-in-1 interchange jacket collection.

Women’s Snow Rival Interchange Jacket, priced at $330.

Women’s Whirlibird IV Interchange Jacket priced at $199.

3 in 1 Interchange jackets aren’t new or exclusive to Columbia. North Face has them for instance.

In all instances, it means pretty much the same thing. An insulated inner layer that can be worn by itself on cool days, a waterproof outer shell that can be worn by itself on rainy days. The third part of the 3 is that you can wear both together for maximum warmth.

The differentiation between brands comes from the heat technology they have developed.

As a feminist, I like Columbia because, unusually for a sportswear brand, the face of the company is a feisty grandmother named Gert Boyle.

The daughter of holocaust survivors, she inherited the company from her father. Now her son and grandson run it. It is family owned and run, and features women of color in the catalogue, all of which matter to me.

The fun of these jackets is the combinations they allow. On a trip to Nepal, I amused my sherpa guides by coming in different avatars through the day. Both layers at dawn and after dark, the inner insulated shell in the early and late part of the day and the shell under the midday sun that played hide-and-seek with the rain. The Whirlibird is terrific for base level climbs at lower altitudes. It does a decent job of keeping the moisture out and the inner shell is good enough for midday treks. Once you get higher though, and start hitting snow, you probably want to switch to the Snow Rival

A good ski jacket (or winter jacket) keep the snow and moisture out, while retaining heat. The holy grail is three words: waterproof, breathable, and convenient. The under-arm vents, for instance, are terrific to let out the heat generated while climbing or skiing, without unzipping the front. The Snow Rival Interchange jacket offers high-quality insulation. Columbia has invented this fancy-sounding Omni-heat technology which functions like a reflector, allowing people to generate their own warmth as it were.

Every large sportswear brand has developed similar proprietary heat-generating techniques. Columbia’s version works brilliantly for high-altitude climbs and ski trips.

Once you get over insulation, it is all about details. Pockets seem to be a big one. But for Asian folks who wear these insulated jackets on winter trips abroad, these don’t matter as much, laden as we are with back packs filled with flasks of hot water and spicy snacks.

That said, both these jackets have pockets galore, both inside and outside- for keys, wallets, passports and cash.

The hood doesn’t detach, which may drive Westerners nuts, but suits cold- and wind-averse Asians. Other details include the pull-out internal cuffs for additional warmth in the hands, an adjustable peripheral hood which is great for changeable weather, and the draw cord to tighten the hem.

Bottom line: if you need protection on a long climb, layering is still the golden rule. With these 3-in-1 Interchange jackets, you can choose one depending on altitude of the climb. If you are going to Ski Dubai, choose the Snow Rival. If you are climbing the lower Himalayas, the Whirlibird might be enough. Once winter sets and if you are not on a climbing expedition, I would take both.

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