Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange - Women's Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Inexpensive, three jackets in one, warm, comfortable
Cons: Not very stylish, hood not helmet compatible, two layers don't work well when zipped together
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We love the three different options of the 3-in-1 model and found that the Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange actually functioned better as two separate jackets rather than one. The jacket covers other necessary requirements, like zippered hand and chest pockets, but misses the mark on a non-removable powder skirt, non-helmet compatible hood, and clunky design. Fortunately, it's adequately weatherproof and impressively warm.
The Whirlibird proved relatively water-resistant during our test. It uses OmniTech waterproof shell materials, and we were impressed with the bombproof seam sealing. This jacket had velcro attachments on the flap covering the main zipper, which was a feature that came in handy when the weather was windy and wet. Unfortunately, the hood is small and ill-fitting, which meant that we had a hard time zipping the jacket up enough to protect our chin and face.
Comfort and Fit
The Whirlibird is pretty comfortable and allows for good mobility while carving turns on the ski hill. Although Columbia's sizing is usually more relaxed, this year our smaller testers fit the size medium better, and it felt snug on our normal size medium folks. Consider sizing up if you like the extra room (or like to stuff your pockets full of snacks!) The 3-in-1 nature of the jacket tends to feel bulky while skiing, but is quite comfortable with less exertion.
This jacket doesn't win rave reviews in the style department. It's fairly basic both in design and options. We did appreciate that the inner insulated layer was basic black in the version we tested; however, the inner lining of the insulated layer was a crazy disco-patterned silver. Not quite the style we're looking for in a ski jacket, but slightly forgivable since it was located inside the jacket.
The Whirlibird has a removable interior synthetic jacket that uses Columbia's unique Omni-Heat reflective technology to keep you warm. We were skeptical at first because it looks like a flashy gimmick — but it seems to work. We stayed very warm in this jacket.
The inner jacket is made from synthetic insulation and is lined with tiny aluminum dots that are designed to reflect your body heat back in towards you, similar in function to a foil space blanket. Heat loss through radiation is not the significant method of heat loss when skiing — convection through wind and conduction through sitting on a chilly chairlift are the most likely ways to lose 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 either way, we stayed toasty.
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. We do like that you can always remove the inner insulating layer on warmer days.
The Omni-Heat system's tiny dots are supposed to allow moisture to move out between them for breathability (so it is 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.
The Whirlibird has some decent ski features, but they get lost in the 3-in-1 construction. The non-removable powder skirt on the outer shell is covered up by the insulated layer. There is only one interior zip pocket on the inner layer, but there is not a goggle pocket in the interior jacket. Columbia has moved the Whirlibird's goggle pocket to the interior of the shell, which doesn't make sense if you're wearing both layers.
We think that its layers work well separately. The shell is a fantastic wind and water-resistant layer to wear on a warm day, and the interior layer is a warm and cute jacket to wear around town for après-ski activities, but together they make the jacket less functional. When the internal layer is zipped in, it makes the powder skirt impossible to use. We think that Columbia probably had to sacrifice some ski-specific features given the inherent heft and bulkiness of the 3-in-1 design.
The Whirlibird is a good value for a warm and basic ski jacket. It's not great for someone looking for something super ski-specific, however, because it can't be everything to everyone. We do think it's a great value if considered as two separate jackets.
For an inexpensive ski jacket, the Columbia Whirlibird IV Interchange will keep you warm and dry in a simple and straightforward package. We felt that its two layers work better individually than they do together, and that the jacket felt clunky when both were worn together. Nevertheless, for the price, this jacket performs well and is a great entry point for someone just starting out who's not quite sure what's most important to them in a ski jacket.
— Betsy Welch