If it keeps you warm in space, it surely will keep you warm right here on Earth.
That is the thought behind Columbia Sportswear’s line of Omni-Heat products and their newest Black Dot line — the first external thermal shield built to protect from the cold.
Celebrating ten years overall of innovating apparel and footwear, Columbia’s patent-pending Black Dot technology enhances heat absorption from scattered or direct sunlight on the outside of the apparel. On the inside of the apparel, more Omni-Heat elements reflect body heat and encourages heat retention.
Canadian Geographic spoke with Haskell Beckham, senior director of innovation at Columbia, about their new line and got a sneak peek of the newest products.
On Columbia’s innovation
If you look back at the last ten or so years when it comes to innovations, we really are a leader in the industry. We focus on creating innovations that are also visual — consumers can recognize this as different and then recognize that it works. Behind all of this is a team of designers and researchers, who work together to analyze the data and come up with the proof that this does work.
Some people are familiar with our Omni-Heat Reflective products, they’ve been around since 2010 and it was actually inspired by NASA — mylar films, space blankets. It all has its basis in the aerospace industry. They had to insulate space craft with a different mechanism, which is this reflective heat technology.
Columbia figured out how to apply aluminum in the form of little dots so a fabric can still act and breathe like a fabric. The silver dots reflect and help retain body heat while being highly breathable so it’s not like wearing a plastic bag.
In 2018 we introduced Omni-Heat 3D and Omni-Heat Black Dot is the next evolution, the culmination of years and years of research and the understanding we’ve gained on how things like metals act in reflecting and retaining heat.
On the basics of insulation
We all really talk up our different kinds of insulation — down, stretch, panel. You know there’s lots of different types, but it’s really all forms of trapped air — a great thing to wrap around you for a jacket. Omni-Heat Reflective was introduced as a new way to insulate because it directly reflects the heat coming off your body. We applied it as liners in jackets and we’ve continued to innovate since then.
The bigger the temperature difference the faster you lose heat. The layer that has the biggest difference in temperature is the shell. We realized we were ignoring the layer that matters the most.
On the newest line
The Black Dot line is a unique aesthetic … Once we started to focus on the shell, we realized that metals have a low emissivity (layers of metals). If it’s hot, they don’t emit radiant heat as much as fabrics and polymers.
We recognized pretty quickly that selling a shiny silver jacket might be limited in terms of consumer acceptance. A designer said ‘Well why don’t you paint those silver dots black?’ So we figured out a way to put a black coating on top of aluminum to make sure the emissivity stays low. It can absorb solar radiation, convert it to heat and then conduct that down into the jacket to the person, to keep them warm.
It’s an industry first, in terms of the technology — common in the construction industry but we’ve applied it to a jacket. The consumer benefit is they get increased heat retention.
Andrew Lovesey and Angelica Haggert were provided the Dawn Watch model from Columbia’s Black Dot collection, to put the technology through its paces and provide an honest review for Canadian Geographic.
Angelica: When I took the jacket out of the package I didn’t think there was any way it would keep me warm. It’s so lightweight and thin! Nothing like winter jackets I’ve owned before. Once I put it on and wandered outside I was shocked at not only how instantly warm I was, but how comfortable the jacket was — and how easily it cut the wind and cold from outside.
Andrew: First impressions are everything and, much like Angelica, I was shocked by the lightweight composition of the Dawn Watch jacket. After spending one week wearing Columbia’s new Black Dot technology — and having not yet tested the garment in sub-zero temperatures — I am compelled to confess that it may be one of the warmest jackets I own. Which is jarring, as it’s not packed full of down.The performance of the piece certainly exceeded my expectations: The innovation team at Columbia has somehow managed to transform the outer shell of a jacket into a moving heat magnet. To actually feel the garment absorb radiant heat was the ultimate treat.
Angelica: It’s my first winter in Ottawa, having just moved from the most southern part of Canada and I have to say, I was nervous about the winter ahead. I should have known — I actually already owned an Omni-Heat rain jacket! Now that this winter jacket’s on my coat rack, I’m ready to tackle Ottawa’s snow and cold! I’m not sure if the $400 price point would have made my radar otherwise, but now that I’ve worn it I would definitely have spent this on it myself.
Andrew: I’m always looking for ways to capture warmth during the colder months and have quite the collection of parkas, anoraks, windbreakers and ski jackets. Shockingly, I’ve never owned such a lightweight, but warm jacket. Although this is my first encounter with Columbia’s groundbreaking Omni-Heat technology, I am indisputably a convert. If the $400 price point seems daunting to casual wearers, step into the sun and you’ll understand why.
Learn more about the Omni-Heat Black Dot technology
Purchase your own Omni-Heat Black Dot jacket here.