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Hands-on Gear Review
Columbia Steens Mountain 2 Review
Cons: Poor warmth-to-weight ratio, bulky, not good for layering
Bottom line: Though inexpensive, this basic fleece jacket feels soft and comfortable.
The Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0 is the least expensive jacket in this year's selection. Can a $60 jacket keep you warm? Yes! Much to our surprise and delight, this fleece kept our testers as warm as jackets that cost over four times as much. However, this bulky, bare bones jacket couldn't match the breathability, comfort, or layering ability as our Best Buy Award winner, the Marmot Reactor. We wouldn't recommend this jacket for any high octane, backcountry pursuits like alpine climbing, but it will keep you warm on shorter, casual outings or around town use.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
For $60 the Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0 gets you a jacket made from 100% polyester MTR filament fleece with two cozy, zippered handwarmer pockets. Additionally, snug elastic cuffs and a hem cinch help to trap in heat and keep out cold drafts. Due to its bulky cut, this isn't our favorite piece for layering, but it gets the job done around town and on short hikes if you need a fleece for not a lot of dough.
The chart below highlights the Steens Mountain's Overall Performance score, allowing you to compare it with the rest of our fleece jacket fleet.
This mid-weight fleece kept our testers warmer than the Black Diamond Coefficient Hoody and the Marmot Reactor. The 100% polyester MTR (maximum thermal retention) fleece gives this jacket a similar feel to The North Face Denali 2, but it's much thinner, and about half as warm. The rolled elastic cuffs and stretchy bungee cord hem cinch are amply tight, keeping the hot air in and the cold breeze out. This fleece has a long cut, extending the warmth well below the waist.
This jacket didn't score well in the comfort metric due to what our testers felt was a strange cut. A size small engulfed our lead tester, the long arms bunched up around the cuffs, but when fully zipped, the collar pressed firmly and uncomfortably against his throat. A larger, beefier tester who fit better into this fleece could barely close the zipper all the way. A warm collar is a nice feature when you're sitting on a chair lift with the cold wind blowing in your face, but not when it's so tight it restricts your movement. We prefer a slimmer fitting jacket like the Marmot Reactor since it's more thermally efficient and better for layering. The Marmot fleece has a soft feel against our skin, and the microfleece lined handwarmer pockets kept our hands warm and toasty.
The Steens Mountain 2.0 is uniformly thick over the entire jacket. This simple design keeps the price down but doesn't breathe well like gridded fleece like the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II or jackets with breathable side panels like those featured on the Patagonia Better Sweater Hoody. This is fine if you're on a chilly morning bike ride and you want to keep the wind out, or if you're fishing in a cool mountain stream, but if you're running or hiking quickly uphill, you're going to sweat.
The bulky cut of this jacket doesn't lend itself to layering. Under multiple layers, the bunching up of the fabric on the sleeves is noticeable and annoying. Under a hardshell or an appropriately sized wind layer our testers weren't bothered as much, just make sure your shell is big enough to accommodate this bulky fleece. Those looking for a fleece as a sleek mid layer that will fit comfortably under a shell and a belay parka will be better suited by the Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody or the Patagonia R1 Hoody.
This fleece won't keep you dry in a rainstorm, but it did resist being penetrated by precipitation better than some of its more breathable competitors like the North Face Fuseform Progressor Hoodie and the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II. Light drizzle beads up on this fleece, but heavier rain will soak through. It did not perform as well against the elements as the thick, DWR treated The North Face Denali 2. Without thin gridded areas for breathability, the Columbia Steens does a nice keeping out the breeze, again, much better than the more breathable models, but it is a fleece, and its design is geared towards insulation, not wind resistance.
Tipping the scales at 16.1oz, this fleece is light and packable, much more so than the 24.7oz The North Face Denali 2. The Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man Grid II is 2 ounces lighter but feels warmer than the Steens Mountain 2.0 because it is constructed with a loftier, more thermally efficient fleece material. Lightweight models in our review include the Patagonia R1, Black Diamond CoEfficient Hoody, and the Marmot Reactor.
The bulky look of the sleeves and shoulders on this jacket didn't earn it very many style points in minds of our testers, but they're primarily scrawny climber types. If you've got broader shoulders and longer arms, you're likely to make this fleece look a lot better than we did. It looks completely at home next to the campfire as it does around town or out at the bar. If style is high on your list, we'd recommend the Patagonia Better Sweater or the The North Face FuseForm Progressor Hoodie; if performance and style take the cake, consider the Arc'teryx Fortrez.
This jacket doesn't layer or breathe as well sleeker, more technical options like Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody or the Patagonia R3 hoody, but its insulating properties and casual styling make it a fine choice for day hikes, fishing trips, car camping, or staying warm while working in the yard on a crisp fall day.
For $60, you can pick up this fleece for the same price as a fancy dinner, which we think is awesome, considering that this fleece will actually keep you warm. It doesn't score as well as the Best Buy Award winning Marmot Reactor which we wouldn't hesitate to bring on a ski tour in the backcountry or our next alpine mission, but if you're just looking for something to keep you warm in the front country on the cheap, look no further.
If staying warm and saving money are your primary concerns, then the Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0 will deliver. Though not a weather resistant or warm as The North Face Denali 2, you can get the Steens for around one fifth of the price. We don't recommend it for backpacking, ski touring, or climbing because it isn't breathable, and the bulky cut makes it difficult to wear underneath multiple layers.
— Matt Bento
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