A man wearing a red Columbia Sportswear OutDry™ Extreme rain jacket stands in front of a waterfall staring at the camera. 

What Is Columbia Sportswear’s OutDry™ Extreme?

This deep dive into Columbia’s OutDry™ Extreme technology shows you how the popular waterproof-breathable gear works
If you’ve ever spent time outside hiking in the rain or exploring a wet environment, you know how important it is to have waterproof gear. But waterproof isn’t the only criteria for comfort—it needs to be breathable too, especially if you’re active. Otherwise you end up sweaty and sticky, constantly ripping off layers and putting them back on again.

This is why Columbia Sportswear’s OutDry™ Extreme (ODX) is so popular.

Debuting in 2016, OutDry™ Extreme is Columbia’s most advanced waterproof technology. The high-performance rain gear, which is waterproof and exceptionally breathable, has been a game changer for outdoor enthusiasts.

Outside Magazine called it “the most breathable rain jacket we’ve tested.” The technology has won about two dozen awards including Outside’s “Gear of the Year,” Gear Institute’s “Best In Class,” SKI Magazine’s “Gear of the Year,” Popular Mechanic’s “Editor’s Choice,” TripAdvisor’s “Traveller’s Choice,” GearJunkie’s “Top Gear Picks,” and Outdoor Gear Lab’s “Best Buy.” In fact, OutDry™ Extreme is the most awarded technology Columbia has ever launched.

“It works like the old vinyl rain slickers, except we made the vinyl layer breathable,” explained Dr. Haskell Beckham, Columbia’s VP of innovation.

The materials scientist has worked on many of Columbia’s most popular technologies, including Omni-Heat™ Infinity, Omni-Heat™ Black Dot, Omni-Heat™ Helix, and Omni-Shade™ Sun Deflector. Yet OutDry™ Extreme has a special place in his heart.

“Of all of the innovations that Columbia has launched, before or after I've arrived, OutDry™ Extreme is by far my favorite,” he says. “It just solves so many problems, such as wet out, while being inherently more environmentally friendly. It keeps you dry. It breathes well. It’s the best. I own more ODX jackets than any other piece. I just love this technology.”

We sat down with Beckham to ask him some questions and get a better understanding of how his favorite technology works.
A woman wearing a lavender colored Columbia Sportswear OutDry™ Extreme rain jacket hikes through a misty scenic area.
Columbia Sportswear’s waterproof-breathable OutDry™ Extreme is the most awarded technology the company has ever launched. 

Q: Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is Columbia’s OutDry™ Extreme technology?

Haskell Beckham: It's a special membrane that is laminated to the outside of the fabric, which is then used to make rain jackets. Over the years it has also been used to make waterproof shoes, rain pants, hats, gloves, and other outdoor gear and apparel. We sometimes call it “ODX” for short.

Q: How does Columbia’s OutDry™ Extreme work?

Haskell Beckham: OutDry™ Extreme is made with an innovative film-like membrane that allows moisture vapor to pass through in one direction while blocking liquid water intrusion (in the form of rain) from the other. By laminating the membrane to a fabric, you turn the fabric into a material with the same properties. Perspiration in the form of moisture vapor can escape from your body, but rain and liquid water can’t get in, so it’s waterproof too.

Q: How is OutDry™ Extreme different from other waterproof-breathable technologies?

Haskell Beckham: Most waterproof-breathable technologies laminate the membrane to the inside of the fabric. OutDry™ Extreme puts the membrane on the outside of the fabric. That means you don’t have to treat the fabric with a durable water repellent (DWR) because the membrane is hydrophobic. This creates a number of benefits. First, it allows for great breathability as the interior fabric manages moisture by spreading, which allows the membrane to process more. Secondly, it makes it easier to clean, which also makes it last longer. And third, it makes it inherently more eco-friendly since no water is used to color the membrane. This is all while staying highly waterproof. The technology is unique in the industry—it’s patent protected.
The logo of Columbia Sportswear’s OutDry™ Extreme technology is pictured on the sleeve of a rain jacket. 
OutDry™ Extreme achieves incredible breathability by placing the waterproof-breathable membrane on the outside of the fabric. 

Q: Let’s go through each of the benefits you just mentioned. Why exactly is OutDry™ Extreme more breathable?

Haskell Beckham: Placing the membrane on the outside means the fabric now faces the body. Your sweat glands aren't distributed uniformly across the body, so you typically have more moisture and perspiration coming off certain areas, like the center of your chest or the middle of your back. If the sweat and moisture vapor hit the fabric first, like with OutDry™ Extreme, it can disperse it across the fabric before it reaches the membrane (which can only process so much moisture vapor per unit area). This makes it easier to process and therefore more breathable. 

Q: What makes OutDry™ Extreme easier to clean?

Haskell Beckham: This also has to do with the waterproof-breathable membrane being on the exterior of the fabric. The membrane, which is easier to wipe clean as compared to a fabric, creates a barrier against soil and dirt, reducing staining. Dirt, grass, leaves, resin, and other outdoor grime can’t get between the yarns and into the fabric structure like it can with a regular fabric-outside construction, so ODX is much easier to clean and care for.

Q: How does this make the garment last longer?

Haskell Beckham: The fact that OutDry™ Extreme can often be wiped down to clean it instead of put in the washing machine means that over its lifetime it doesn’t need to be washed as often. The number of washings that a garment undergoes throughout its lifetime is what typically impacts its longevity and makes it wear out faster.

Q: Why is OutDry™ Extreme so eco-friendly?

Haskell Beckham: There are lots of attributes that make OutDry™ Extreme eco-friendly compared to other waterproof-breathable technologies. First of all, no water is required in the coloration of the membrane, so that's good for the environment. Most fabrics are colored up via some sort of a dyeing process that requires water. And because it's so easy to clean, you don't have to wash it as often, which is better for the environment as well. Plus, it doesn’t need any DWR on the outside. There's a big push in the industry to get rid of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are used for DWRs, but because the exterior membrane is already hydrophobic, we don’t have to use those chemicals in our ODX jackets. The exterior membrane keeps the rain out, making Columbia’s ODX jackets among the most waterproof jackets on the market. With increasing regulations around the use of PFAS in DWRs, the outstanding waterproof performance of our membrane-outside ODX jackets should attract even more attention.
A man wearing a white Columbia Sportswear OutDry™ Extreme jacket paddles away from the camera in a canoe. 
In addition to being exceptionally breathable, OutDry™ Extreme is eco-friendly. No water is required in the coloration of the membrane and it’s free of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Q: Why does rain gear need to be breathable?

Haskell Beckham: The human body is mostly water. On average, 60% water. So you're constantly giving off moisture vapor whether you realize it or not. You notice it when you’re active because the moisture starts forming on the surface of the skin—you start to sweat. But even before you get to that, your body is constantly giving off moisture. That moisture needs to go somewhere for you to be comfortable. If it can't evaporate and leave your skin, you become uncomfortable pretty quickly. And the warmer it is, the more uncomfortable you become.

So you need more than just waterproof gear. You could wear a plastic garbage bag and that would be waterproof. It might keep you dry, but you'll overheat because the moisture that's coming out of your body can't escape. The plastic bag would be a barrier to moisture vapor transfer. Rain gear needs to be breathable so the moisture vapor from your body can get out.

Q: What does “wetting out” mean? How does this relate to ODX?

Haskell Beckham: “Wetting out” is a term that describes what happens when the fabric on the outside of a traditional waterproof-breathable jacket absorbs rain and gets wet, which adds weight, feels cold, and makes it more difficult for moisture vapor to escape. Wet out often happens, for example, when the DWR has failed. Columbia’s OutDry™ Extreme technology was invented to solve this wet-out problem. With a hydrophobic membrane on the outside, ODX doesn’t wet out, and therefore maintains its breathability.
Two hikers wearing orange and red Columbia Sportswear OutDry™ Extreme rain jackets walk in front of a beautiful waterfall with lush green ferns around them.
With a hydrophobic membrane on the outside, ODX can’t wet out, making it drier and more comfortable.  

Q: What is the history of Outdry™ Extreme technology?

Haskell Beckham: Waterproof-breathable membranes have been in the industry for a long time. The two-layer construction of the membrane and the fabric laminate was created and introduced to the outdoor apparel industry back in the seventies. In 1991, we developed our own version called Omni-Tech™. But then in 2016, Columbia’s innovation team blazed a new path by asking the question, “Why does everybody put the membrane on the inside of the fabric? Why not put it on the outside?”

Q: Why didn’t other brands do this?

Haskell Beckham: Great question. The reason why Columbia was able to create this technology is because our membranes are tough. They're made out of a tough material called polyurethane, that we modified to withstand the abrasion that the exterior of a jacket gets if you're going to use it for hiking and the outdoors.

Q: Why didn’t people put the membrane on the outside to begin with?

Haskell Beckham: Another great question. I think it’s just one of those innovations where after the fact we said, “This is amazing. Why didn’t we do it sooner?” I remember the day I learned about the idea. My jaw hit the floor. Such a great idea. It solves so many problems. I asked the same question. “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” It’s how rain jackets should have been made all along. But that’s how really good innovation happens—when people are curious and ask questions, “Why are we doing this? Why don't we do that instead?”

Q: Why does OutDry™ Extreme look different from other waterproof technologies?

Haskell Beckham: With the membrane on the outside, it simply appears different from a fabric, which the traditional waterproof-breathable jackets have on the outside. We also use visible seam taping on the outside, further adding to a unique appearance for our ODX jackets. Some of the designs have been high in contrast in terms of color between the seam taping and the membrane. For example, maybe the seam tape is dark and the membrane is lighter. In other designs, the membrane and the seam taping are very similar in color, so it’s a little bit more subtle. Some versions of the technology are glossy, while others are more matte. We’ve experimented with different styles and continue to try out new ones.

The glossier versions look similar to the old vinyl rain jackets. For that reason, perhaps some people don’t appreciate that they’re still extremely breathable. The shiny exterior may make them think of those old yellow rain slickers. But OutDry™ Extreme is among the most breathable waterproof technologies on the market. It is top-of-the-line, high-performance rain gear.

Q: What are other benefits of OutDry™ Extreme?

Haskell Beckham: Well, it's comfortable, right? Because it’s so breathable. The typical industry term is WPB, for “waterproof-breathable.” But with OutDry™ Extreme, we should flip that. It should be thought of as “breathable-waterproof.” The emphasis is on the breathability. Yes, it is fully waterproof. But you also stay comfortable because the material breathes. The fabric is on the inside so it absorbs your moisture. It takes it out of the microclimate between your skin and the fabric so you don't feel nearly as clammy. So there are a lot of advantages to wearing these ODX jackets. You stay more comfortable longer, even when being active outside. 

Q: What types of garments and outdoor gear feature OutDry™ technology?

Haskell Beckham: The type of garments and footwear that feature OutDry™ Extreme vary from season to season, but it can always be found in some styles of Columbia’s rain jackets. ODX is Columbia’s pinnacle technology solution for keeping consumers dry and comfortable when it’s wet and nasty out.
Ready to upgrade your rain gear? Give OutDry™ Extreme a try.