A man in a blue Columbia Sportswear Omni-Tech™ jacket zips up his coat in front of a mossy cliff with a pretty waterfall in the background.
TECHNOLOGY

What is Columbia Sportswear’s Omni-Tech™?

The fabric technology is used in jackets, rain pants, shoes, and gloves to make them both waterproof and breathable
BY RACHEL CAVANAUGH
Waterproof outdoor gear isn’t just about keeping you dry. Whether you’re hiking, trail running, skiing, or fishing, your outdoor clothes also need to be breathable so you can sweat in them without getting damp, sticky, and uncomfortable.

Columbia Sportswear’s Omni-Tech™ gear is designed to do just that—block out the rain while giving you enough ventilation to sweat comfortably and regulate your body temperature without having to constantly peel off layers.

To get a better understanding of how the waterproof technology works, we reached out to Dr. Haskell Beckham, Columbia’s Vice President of Innovation. As a longtime innovator, the materials scientist has helped develop many of the brand’s most popular technologies, including Omni-Heat™ Infinity, Omni-Heat™ Black Dot, Omni-Heat™ Helix, and Omni-Shade™ Sun Deflector.

In our interview below, Beckham answers your questions and explains all things Omni-Tech™.
A close-up shot of a red Columbia Sportswear Omni-Tech™ jacket.

Q: Let’s start with a simple definition. What exactly is Omni-Tech™?

Haskell Beckham: In the world of outdoor apparel, Omni-Tech™ is a technology developed by Columbia Sportswear that’s used in jackets, shoes, rain pants, gloves, boots, and other high-performance gear. Unlike traditional rain gear, Omni-Tech™ is both waterproof and breathable.

Q: How does Omni-Tech™ work?

Haskell Beckham: The secret sauce is a unique membrane that lets moisture vapor escape while blocking liquid water from getting in. The membrane, which is very thin and very light, is laminated to the inside of the fabric, making the garment exceptionally breathable while retaining its waterproof qualities.

Q: Why is it important for waterproof gear to be breathable?

Haskell Beckham: Your body is constantly giving off moisture. The more active you are outside, the more moisture your body gives off. So when you’re hiking or skiing, for example, you’re giving off a lot of moisture, and that moisture has to go somewhere. If it gets trapped inside your clothing, you become cold and uncomfortable. So you really need something that allows the moisture to get through and get out of the garment.
A woman stands on a hiking trail wearing a white Columbia Sportswear Omni-Tech™ jacket and laughing.

Q: Is Omni-Tech™ fully waterproof?

Haskell Beckham: Yes, because as a membrane, water can't get through it.

Q: What is the Omni-Tech™ waterproof rating? 

Haskell Beckham: Waterproof ratings are typically communicated via something called the “hydrostatic head pressure.” That's the pressure required in order to push water through the material. For Omni-Tech™, those numbers are very high. They usually range in the thousands of millimeters up to 10,000 or 20,000 millimeters, depending on the garment.

Q: Is Omni-Tech™ warm?

Haskell Beckham: Omni-Tech™ is warm in the sense that it keeps the rain out, which helps keep you warm. It’s typically used for thin rain shells, which are not insulated, but we do have some insulated jackets and gloves with the technology. In those cases, the degree of warmth depends on how much insulation the garment has behind the fabric membrane laminate.
A woman wearing a red Columbia Sportswear Omni-Tech™ jacket pulls up her hood in a rainy forest with trees in the background.

Q: What is OutDry™ Extreme?

Haskell Beckham: OutDry™ Extreme, also known as ODX, is another patented waterproof technology that Columbia Sportswear uses in jackets, pants, shoes, and gloves. It’s made with the same special membrane as Omni-Tech™; however, the ODX film is laminated to the outside of the fabric instead of the inside. This gives OutDry™ Extreme the added advantage of being less susceptible to wetting out.

Q: What is “wetting out”?

Haskell Beckham: Waterproof fabrics are typically treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating. With time, this coating begins wearing off, particularly in high-friction areas like on your shoulders where your backpack rubs. When this happens, water can get into the fabric. It doesn’t penetrate through to your skin, but it feels heavy and decreases breathability. At some point, as water absorbs into the fabric, the moisture vapor from your sweat can no longer escape and you feel damp and wet. Plus, since water has a higher thermal conductivity than air, heat can escape more easily. At that point, you're basically wearing a sheet of water. This is called “wetting out.”

Q: How do advanced waterproof technologies like Omni-Tech™ or OutDry™ Extreme change your outdoor experience?

Haskell Beckham: When your jacket material is lightweight and breathable, you can do more—ski farther or hike farther—while conserving energy. You won't pick up extra water when it’s raining, so you’ll be dry and happy, allowing you to stay outside longer and have more fun.
Ready to go explore? Check out our full Omni-Tech™ collection.