This winter, the folks at Columbia are aiming to help keep you warm with a shiny new technology they’re calling Omni-Heat. The idea works like this:

You know those ultra light, reflective space blankets they put in overnight survival kits to help keep you warm? Take that, cut it up, and put it inside a jacket. The theory goes that the thermal reflection will keep you 20% warmer than a regular insulated jacket, and can do it in a slimmer profile. Because the reflective fabric isn’t solid silver, heat and moisture can escape through it, too.

Columbia sent me a fleece-style cap and jacket to test out recently, and although I feel like I have to take these back to New England for the holidays to see how they really stack up to cold, I think they’re worth checking out.

On a recent hike on a chilly, windy day at Sandstone Peak, the hat definitely kept me warmer than a similar style lightweight fleece cap. In fact, I did have to take it off while hiking through the sunnier areas, but if I was snowshoeing in a cooler climate I probably could have left it on without overheating.

The jacket itself is a very stylish, slim-cut wool/poly blend that is probably better suited to snowshoeing than hiking – at least here in Southern California. But it will keep you warm without getting in the way with bulkiness, and you wouldn’t feel odd about wearing it in town either.

The only complaint I have about this – and it’s more of a fashion complaint than a functional one – is the look of the reflective layer. None of these pictures really do it justice, because it’s quite shiny indeed. If you’re wearing this around non-hikers, be prepared to explain to them that you’re not wearing a garment with a silver lame lining:

Columbia Omni-Heat can be found in a wide variety of Columbia products, including gloves, jackets, hats, ski and snowpants, and boots. Head to the Columbia Omni-Heat site for more information and lots of quirky test videos.

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