Columbia Sportswear has long been associated with value, and the Whirlibird IV Interchange upholds this reputation. It's a versatile 3-in-1 jacket that wins our Best Buy Award for insulated ski jackets. This modular jacket is very functional and works well for occasional ski resort use, featuring reasonable weather resistance and decent warmth. It doesn't have the style or refined features of the more expensive jackets, but if you are looking for a bargain, this jacket will work for skiers who get out a couple of times a year.The Whirlibird IV cannot compete with more expensive jackets in any category, but it still performs well enough that we can recommend it for those who need an inexpensive jacket and don't ski more than a week or two per winter. If you are more dedicated than that, and have the cash to spend, you will be better served by other more refined ski jackets in our review.
Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange Review
Cons: Bulky, basic fit and styling, limited weather protection
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Our Analysis and Test Results
This jacket keeps you warm and dry, and has enough features to enhance your day on the slopes. It won't provide the same style, features, or comfort as the more refined options on the market.
The Columbia Whirlibird IV is a moderately warm ski jacket compared to other jackets that we reviewed. It can't compete with the high-end down or synthetically insulated jackets. Still, it gets the job done with a burly outer shell jacket with a hanging mesh lining and a synthetically insulated inner sweater layer with an "Omni-Heat" thermal reflective material on the inside of the inner layer.
This jacket combines multiple layers into one product, with plenty of room for warm air to be trapped inside. Still, in full configuration, this jacket is not warm enough for the coldest days at the ski resort, in which case another layer has to be worn underneath. Taken apart, the shell jacket is warmer than the shell-only jackets that we reviewed because of the hanging mesh liner, which traps some air. The inner puffy sweater layer, worn alone, has a boxy fit that is drafty and warm enough only for some fall and spring days.
The Whirlibird III is moderately weather resistant. It features Columbia's OmniTech waterproof membrane, which works well. The jacket's zippers are not waterproof, including the long chest pocket zipper, which is located in an area that is most likely to get wet.
The Whirlibird IV uses a less expensive and lower quality DWR treatment. In the shower test, the DWR wore off fairly quickly, which led to the fabric getting soaked. No water made it through to the interior of the jacket, but when the outer shell is wetted out, everything feels wetter and less protective.
The Whirlibird IV's hood is fixed and can be cinched down around the face in bad weather. The hood is good enough, but it's on the small side. There is a powder skirt that helps keep snow from getting up into the jacket through the hem on extra deep powder days. The affordability of this jacket shows in its weather resistance, as it lacks the refinement and high-quality design of the more expensive models.
Comfort and Fit
Our testers did not fall in love with the fit of the Whirlibird IV. It feels boxy, unrefined, and generic. Furthermore, the 3-in-1 construction produces a bulky feel and produces friction that leads to restricted movement. There is a fleece chin guard that protects skin from the shell material and zipper closure.
Other 3-in-1 jackets on the market are more comfortable and well-tailored, but not much more so. Still, our testers disliked the fit of this jacket. It is probably the weakest aspect of this piece. However, those that find the sticker price of the Whirlibird IV appealing are probably willing to discount this shortcoming.
All 3-in-1 jackets have the ability to adjust to their surroundings with more versatility than single-piece ski jackets. If you get too hot, you can take off one of the layers, and voilà. Alternatively, the Whirlibird IV offers average-length pit zips without mesh backing that allow good airflow. The pit zips help, but they do not continue through the inner layer.
The outer shell, if worn alone, breathes well enough, but if worn with the synthetic sweater layer, does not breathe all that well, even with the vents open. The culprit may be the Omni-Heat thermal reflective fabric on the inside of the insulated sweater. The fabric traps heat well but does not feel that breathable.
Style is not this jacket's strong suit. It features a neutral style with a non-specific fit, standard length, and straight cut. Still, something about this jacket is not that appealing. One tester mentioned that they felt like a middle-schooler wearing this jacket. The wide, boxy cut even suggests that this jacket is not styled specifically for skiing, and compared to the competition, the Whirlibird IV seems to scream "beginner skier."
The Whirlibird IV has a wide array of color options, including some bright options. Furthermore, the jacket will match the style of a variety of winter situations, from cold trips to town to blustery bus stops and train platforms, to the occasional cold day at the ski area. In fact, it seems like the style of this jacket takes into account that the user will probably wear the jacket more often on the streets than the ski slopes.
The 3-in-1 system is a great feature on its own. Additionally, the Whirlibird IV features two fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, a large external chest pocket, a sleeve pass pocket, an adjustable hood, and a powder skirt. These are enough to earn our stamp of approval for ski features. Other jackets have more refined features, but at the end of the day, we never remember how many pockets we had. We remember the skiing.
The interior of the shell has a mesh pocket for goggles or snacks, and the interior of the insulated sweater has a zippered chest pocket that is accessible when using the jacket in its combined configuration. The jacket also has a drawstring hem and velcro cuff closures.
The Whirlibird IV has the best value of any ski jacket we have ever tested, and for this, it wins our Best Buy Award for insulated jackets. 3-in-1 jackets are highly versatile to start with because they include two layers that you would have to buy separately anyways. These two layers, worn in three different configurations, may not perform as well as other stand-alone pieces in any one regard, but together, they offer a lot of bang for the buck. This jacket, in particular, offers all of the above, at an unbeatable price.
We put the Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange up against the best jackets on the market. For a fraction of the price, the Whirlibird IV comes pretty close to matching the warmth, weather resistance, and ski features of these top-of-the-line jackets. That is why it has earned our Best Buy Award for insulated ski jackets. It is an all-around good ski jacket for the majority of users and budgets.
— Jeff Dobronyi