The Columbia Flashback upholds the legacy of classic windbreakers. Nothing special, and yet everything you need to block the wind, this simple jacket gets the job done — just as long as that job means tackling a tailgate, and not an alpine summit. Just don't expect to secure any personal belongings on your way into the stadium, as this jacket has only one zipper, and that's down the front. Although it is not athletically-inclined, we put the Flashback through its paces to make sure it truly "Tested Tough." It might not be as performance-oriented as other jackets in this review, but it sure is hard to match if you need to pick up a simple windbreaker at an unbeatable price-point.
Columbia Flashback Review
Cons: Billows in anything more than a breeze, lack of features
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|Pros||Affordable, large hand pockets and hood||Low price, simple and effective design, tiny packed-size, impressive DWR coating||Lightest in the category, tiny packed size, larger chest pocket||Well-ventilated, body-mapped Merino panels||Lots of zippered pockets, ease of packing, elastic brim|
|Cons||Billows in anything more than a breeze, lack of features||No feature to stow-away hood, thin material can feel clammy during high-output activity||See-through material, under-performing DWR fabric||Lack of drawcords, billowy||Goofy looking brimmed hood, swampy, lack of DWR|
|Bottom Line||Holding it down for the classic windbreaker, in style and function||The best overall value and performance in a lightweight package that sets the category standard||An ultralight jacket purposefully built for fast and light mountain missions||Packable weather protection that skillfully incorporates Merino into a well-ventilated shell||Best-in-class storage in a lightweight, ripstop-nylon shell|
|Rating Categories||Columbia Flashback||Patagonia Houdini||Distance Wind Shell||Merino Sport Ultra Light||Rab Vital Windshell|
|Wind Resistance (30%)|
|Breathability And Venting (30%)|
|Weight And Packability (20%)|
|Fit And Functionality (10%)|
|Water Resistance (10%)|
|Specs||Columbia Flashback||Patagonia Houdini||Distance Wind Shell||Merino Sport Ultra...||Rab Vital Windshell|
|Measured Weight, size M||5.7 oz||3.9 oz (size L)||3.5 oz||4.8 oz||4.7oz|
|Material||Water-repellent polyester||100% nylon ripstop, DWR finish||100% nylon ripstop, woven w/ DWR treatment (Green Theme Technology)||100% nylon outer, 54% Merino wool / 46% polyester liner, DWR coating||Hyperlite nylon|
|Pockets||2 hand||1 zip (chest)||1 chest zip||1 zip (chest)||3 zip (2 external hand, 1 internal)|
|Safety Reflective Material?||No||No (company states reflective logo on left chest, too small to really be visible)||No||Yes reflective logos on chest, back, right arm; stripes on cuffs and seat hem||Yes, reflective logo on chest and back|
|Stuffs into itself?||No||Yes, stows in chest pocket||Yes, stows in chest pocket||Yes, stows in chest pocket||Yes, stows in internal pocket|
|Adjustable Cuffs?||Elastic||Half Elastic||Elastic||Half Elastic||Half Elastic|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Our Analysis and Test Results
Rather than helping reinvent the wheel when it comes to lightweight wind jackets, the Columbia Flashback is an all-American, classic windbreaker. This jacket affords an ample fit that will easily accommodate any body type, a large hood, and deep hand-pockets to stash a hat, gloves, dog-leash, and a rain shell. The soft polyester is water-repellent, but does not sport a DWR coating, so we don't suggest wearing this jacket in much more than a light fog.
The Flashback does offer simple protection from the elements, but not much more than that. The lightweight polyester proved itself as a capable barrier in our lab testing, and successfully resisted any attempts at forcing air through the material. But field testing proved otherwise, when we found ourselves in the middle of a wind tunnel during an on-coming winter storm.
An overall baggy fit allows the Flashback to billow in a strong wind, and we found that air could easily blow up from underneath and chill our core. Without any zippers, cinches, or drawcords to lock this jacket down, we don't suggest relying on it to keep you comfortable in anything more than a stiff breeze.
Breathability and Venting
The beauty of the Flashback is its simplicity, and this quality shines brightest when it comes to breathability. Without any built-in venting, polyester jackets are notorious for feeling like a trash bag sweat-suit. However, the roomy fit of this shell offers an airiness that is a welcomed change of pace from other athletic wear, and we found that it was perfect for warm-up runs on the way to the gym.
When it comes to venting, again it's not about what was added to this jacket's design, but rather what was omitted. The large pockets are backed with mesh, and without any zippers to close them, they offer a direct line for airflow that kept our core cool when we worked up a sweat.
Weight and Packability
Although it is technically on the "heavier" side when directly compared to many jackets in this review, the Flashback still tips the scales at a remarkable weight when compared to many other jackets on the market. At a mere 5.7 ounces, this is a lightweight shell that will never break the camel's back.
Light enough to bring along for any adventure, we had to dock this jacket some points when it comes to packability — it is the only jacket in this review that does not have a zippered pocket to securely stow away at the bottom of a backpack. While we had no problem stuffing it into one of the deep hand pockets, we believe zippered pockets are a simple design addition that does not add significant cost or weight.
Fit and Functionality
Even though the Flashback is a fully polyester shell, the brushed finish is soft to the touch. The material also doesn't hug your skin, and isn't as bothersome as some other tighter fitting jackets when worn just over a t-shirt.
Cut with lots of extra-room, this jacket will easily accommodate any body type, but may leave smaller frames swimming. The overall baggy fit means that this jacket easily layers over anything — from a casual sweatshirt to the fattest puffy — making it a versatile jacket for when temperatures begin to dip in the fall. Again, simplicity rules when it comes to the design of the Flashback, and this jacket really has no features to speak of, with the exception of the mesh-backed hand pockets.
One of the few jackets in this review without a DWR finish, the Flashback is understandably at a loss when it comes to anything more than a light fog. During out shower test, water initially beads and rolls off, but pretty quickly begins to soak into the material.
On a ski tour where a storm blew in and produced light snowfall, this jacket got damp pretty quickly under the consistent precipitation. The deep hood filled with snow, and with no drawstrings to lock up the hood or neck, our base layer was pretty wet around the collar when we got back to the car.
This jacket is by-and-far one of the most affordable in our review. While we wouldn't opt to take this on our next alpine epic, the Flashback is a great option for those looking to fight off the chill of the spring and fall while out walking the dog, or running back-and-forth from the gym.
From football games to long walks on the beach, the Columbia Flashback keeps the legacy of the classic windbreaker alive. With standard performance for an exceptional price, this jacket is an easy choice if you need simple, lightweight weather protection.
— Aaron Rice