Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Comfortable, warm, looks good, inner layer is good for around town
Cons: Two layers do not work well together: snow skirt doesn’t work with inner layer, no access to interior pockets, thin hood material
Best Uses: Resort skiing and snowboarding, short back country ski trips
The Columbia Whirlibird jacket is our favorite of the three-in-one type jackets we tested since it is the most comfortable and stylish. It is very similar in function to the Columbia Bugaboo Interchange - Women's, but we think the Whirlibird fits better and is more flattering. We really like how the layers perform individually, but found that they don't work in combination quite as well.
This jacket won our Best Buy award due to its style, versatility, multiple wear options, and it is also one of the least expensive jackets in this review, making it a great value. To see how the Whirlibird stood up to the rest of the jackets we tested, check out our Best Ski Jacket for Women review.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
A three-in-one jacket, this piece allows for more versatile layering options than a stand alone jacket, which in turn makes it a great deal, and earns it our Best Buy Award. This jacket has three different wear options: the outer layer can be worn alone on warm days when you only need a wind layer, the interior insulation layer can be worn by itself around town to keep you warm, and both can be worn together for the especially cold and windy days on the slopes. When the two layers are zipped together we can't use some of the important ski features, such as the powder skirt and goggle pocket. The interior jacket is our favorite to wear around town and for après-ski happy hours.
We took this jacket on an overnight ski tour to test its versatility, and found that it worked relatively well. The exterior jacket was adequate as a shell when we were working hard, although it was still heavier than a regular hard shell – see our Buying Advice for more about this.
The Whirlibird has a removable interior synthetic jacket that uses Columbia's unique Omni-Heat technology to keep you warm. We were skeptical at first because because it looks like a flashy gimmick – but it seems to work. The inner jacket is made from synthetic insulation, and is lined with tiny aluminum dots that are designed to reflect your own body heat back in towards you, similar in function to a foil space blanket. Heat loss through radiation is not the major method of heat loss when skiing - convection through wind and conduction through sitting on a chilly chair lift are the ways most likely to steal heat. That being said, we are not sure if it was those reflective dots that kept us warm, or if it was the combination of the thick synthetic insulation and the wind resistant outer shell, but we stayed toasty. We are not sold on the durability of the liner material, and are afraid that the little silver dots will wear off eventually, but in our testing so far they have held up.
The Whirlibird's outer shell has a cozy fleece lined collar, chin guard, and hand warmer pockets. It also has a removable hood that we think is somewhat unnecessary. We like ski jackets with hoods because they add an element of protection and warmth. Removable hoods just add extra weight and bulk with snaps and zippers, and we have never thought "gee I wish this jacket didn't have a hood!" In fact, we've thought the opposite about non-hooded jackets.
We found this jacket to be relatively water resistant during our test. Columbia uses their multi-layer Omni-Tech system to keep you dry. We found that the Columbia Bugaboo jacket material seemed slightly more water resistant and a little more durable, but neither tested as well as the Gore-Tex Patagonia Primo Down Jacket - Women's jacket for water resistance.
The Whirlibird is somewhat breathable, although we still worked up a sweat occasionally in it. One point of frustration with this jacket is that it has pit-zips for ventilation, but you cannot vent the interior jacket. This is just one example of the two layers not working well together, and we discovered a few occasions that this happens. The Omni-Heat system's tiny dots are supposed to allow moisture to move out between them for breathability. (So it is slightly more breathable than an actual space blanket!) We are not sure if the silver dots facilitated moisture transfer or not, but the synthetic material seemed to wick moisture away sufficiently. One advantage to a 3-in-1 type jacket is that you can simply take the insulated layer off if it's warm outside. We think the Arc'teryx Meta has the best ventilation of all the jackets we tested apart from a removable inner jacket.
The Whirlibird has several great ski features. The most notable were the thin, comfortable wrist gaiters and large goggle pockets on this jacket. We also think that its individual layers work really well separately. The shell is a great wind and water resistant layer to wear on a warm day, and the interior layer is a warm and cute layer to wear around town for après-ski activities, but together they make the jacket less functional. When the interior layer is zipped in, it makes the powder skirt less functional and awkward to use. The Whirlibird and the other 3-in-1 style jacket, the Columbia Bugaboo Interchange - Women's both had this issue. This problem can be easily solved if you zip each layer to itself and do not attach them together, although Columbia did not intend for you to wear them this way. Columbia has solved one problem with the latest version of the Whirlibird, moving the large mesh goggle pocket from the shell layer to the insulated layer, but they have created a new problem. Now the shell layer has no interior pockets when you choose to wear that layer on its own, which is annoying. They have also removed the zippers from the pockets of the interior layer, and we wish they hadn't because it feels like everything will fall out of them the way they are. We also wish that the hood was made out of a thicker material or lined with insulation like the Primo Down, because it is pretty thin material.
This jacket was the most stylish of the three-in-one jackets. We thought that both the interior and exterior jackets looked and functioned great individually, and especially liked wearing the cozy interior jacket around because it was warm, fit well, and had nice wrist gaiters. The cut of the jacket is a bit boxy, but allows for space to put things in your pockets without looking strange. We like the colors it comes in more than the Bugaboo jacket, but we aren't convinced on the plaid.
Comfort and Fit
The Whirlibird is the most comfortable of the three-in-one jackets we tested. It allows for good mobility while carving turns on the ski hill. Columbia's sizing is more relaxed, and our medium testers fall well within the medium specs. You should be able to order the jacket in your usual size if your measurements fall in the right category, with room to spare for extra mid-layers.
This jacket is meant for skiing at the resort in all different types of climates. On a warm day leave the inner layer in the car (to change into for après ski), on a colder day wear them both together.
The Whirlibird is the best value of the jackets in this review. It is two separate jackets (that can be worn together) for a single low price. The Flylow Jane is also a good value if you are looking for a single layer ski jacket.
For a versatile and inexpensive ski jacket, the Whirlibird will serve you well. Its two layers work better individually then they do together, but have enough warmth and ski features to keep you functioning on the mountain. For less than half the price of our Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia Primo Down Jacket- Women's, the Whirlibird will still get you out on the hill and keep you warm and dry, which is why we give it our Best Buy Award.
The Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1 is the men's version of this jacket. It is very similar in function to the Bugaboo Interchange, but we think the Whirlibird fits better and is more flattering.
— Jessica Haist
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Most recent review: March 10, 2015
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