The list of brands that make great outdoor gear is surprisingly short and it’s no secret that both Patagonia and Columbia are pretty high up on it. But, how do you choose between these two brands when they both use similar fabrics and technologies, and they’re both in the same price range?
That’s where we come in – in this detailed comparison, we will talk about the most popular products from both Patagonia and Columbia. We’ll also discuss their in-house technologies and fabrics and how they affect the pricing. Our focus in this comparison is mostly on hiking gear, and we are going to feature some of the best jackets, pants, backpacks and gloves from both brands.
At A Glance: Best Items From Patagonia And Columbia
If that’s exactly what you’re looking for, then you’re certainly in the right place. Scroll down to read more about Patagonia vs Columbia, and find out which of the two brands is ultimately the safer choice!
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Best Hiking Pants
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Best Waterproof Jacket
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Best Insulated Jacket
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Best Winter Gloves
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Best Outdoor Backpack
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The Silver Ridge cargo pants are a great option for men who want something comfortable and breathable. They are made from nylon, but they feature some of Columbia’s best technologies like Omni Wick and Omni Shade.
The first is a moisture management technology that allows the pants to remain breathable in different weather conditions. Omni Wick works in a way that it transfers the moisture form your skin into the pants, which then evaporate into thin air. This keeps both you and the pants cool and dry, for ultimate comfort on the trails.
On the other hand, Omni Shade is Columbia’s technology that blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays, ensuring you are always protected from the sun. However, it’s also worth noting that these pants aren’t exactly water resistant, so they’re probably not a great option for hiking in wet weather. They are quick drying though, so you can get them to dry really fast. But they will absorb water instead of repelling it.
The Silver Ridge pants are regular fitting with straight legs and articulate knees, so you should have great freedom of movement in them. The only downside is that you can’t zip off the legs, which might make them slightly less convenient for hot summer days.
But they do make up for that with the amount of pocket. To be precise, these Columbia hiking pants feature a total of six pockets, which means you’ll be able to have all of the smaller stuff handy and easily accessible. And they are compatible with belts, so you can easily adjust the fit in the waist.
Patagonia makes some really good hiking pants and the Quandary ones are their top seller. The pants are lightweight and breathable with DWR coating that makes them water repellant. They also feature protection from nasty UV rays, making them a great option regardless of the weather conditions.
These hiking pants feature a curved waistband that contours to the natural shape of your hips for the best and most comfortable fit. And with the gusseted crotch the Patagonia pants allow for excellent freedom of movement, making them a great option for activities where you really need non-restrictive clothing.
They have six pockets total – two hand warming pockets, two rear pockets, one zippered pocket on the thigh and one tiny coin pocket. Out of those six, only two pockets are closed and the rest are all open pockets. They are pretty deep so it’s unlikely that items will fall out while you’re moving around, but you should still be cautious as to what you put in the open pockets.
The Quandary pants are available in three inseam lengths – 30”, 32” and 34”. There are also 10 different waist sizes to choose from, so it’s should be pretty easy to get a pair that fits you very well.
Additionally, these Patagonia hiking pants are equipped with belt loops, so even if they are a bit loose in the waist it’s nothing you can’t fix. The length is the one thing you should get right though, since there’s no way to adjust the cuffs other than have them tailored.
The Watertight II jacket from Columbia is a really good option if you need an affordable outer layer for wet weather. It retails for less than $100 and it’s usually discounted so you can easily get the jacket for just some $50 – a bargain for the Columbia quality and technologies.
The jacket is made from waterproof nylon and Columbia’s proprietary Omni-Shield fabric. Not only is Omni-Shield fully waterproof, but it actually doesn’t absorb any moisture at all. Which also means that the fabric is stain-proof, making it an excellent option for hiking in muddy areas.
Obviously the Columbia rain jacket features a hood that’s made from the same materials as the body of the jacket. It is also possible to adjust the hood, so you can really make it keep all of the wind out. The cuffs and the hem are also adjustable for both keeping the wind out and getting that perfect fit.
The interior of the Columbia Watertight II jacket is lined with breathable mesh, for excellent ventilation. If you want to wear it during rainy but warm weather, it’s great that you won’t sweat too much in the jacket. On the other hand, if you want to wear this jacket in colder weather, you will need to wear something warm underneath since it is not at all insulated.
In addition to being breathable and adjustable, the Watertight II jacket is also super packable. It folds and stores into one of its pockets and it weighs less than a pound, so it’s a great jacket to just throw in your backpack and have handy wherever you go.
Patagonia’s Calcite jacket is an excellent option if you want something entirely waterproof. It is made from Gore-Tex, which is the absolute best fabric on the market in terms of waterproofing and breathability. This jacket is made from a lighter variant of Gore-Tex that’s more packable than the classic version, so the Calcite is a jacket you can carry everywhere.
It features a helmet compatible storm hood with a laminated visor and it’s actually a decent option for the slopes. You’ll just need a warm middle layer underneath the Calcite jacket, since it doesn’t feature any insulation.
This Patagonia jacket is equipped with venting pit-zips that are coated with DWR, for ultimate protection from the weather. Also, the Gore-Tex membrane is exceptionally breathable, so you really don’t have to worry about sweating in this jacket. Especially with those zips that let you air it out in case you ever get too warm.
Both the cuffs and hem are adjustable, not just for securing the best fit but also for excellent windproofing. When it comes to protection from the elements, the Calacite jacket is an absolute champion.
However, that amazing performance comes at a pretty steep price, especially when you compare it to the option from Columbia that’s usually on sale for just $50. This jacket is about five times more expensive, and it’s purely your decision whether or not that Gore-Tex membrane is worth it.
The only downside of the Calacite is the amount of pockets. There are only three zippered pockets on the jacket (one chest, two hand warming), and no internal pockets whatsoever. Which means that you’re very limited in terms of how many items you can have on your person at all times. But, at least you can be certain that anything you put in those pockets will be entirely protected from the elements, thanks to the waterproof zippers.
The Alpine Action jacket is one of Columbia’s all time best selling winter jackets. It is heavily insulated, waterproof, breathable and incredibly lightweight for the amount of protection it offers. On top of all that, this jacket features a retail price of under $200, which is pretty insane for the level of quality you are getting.
The jacket is critically seam sealed, so there’s no way any water will be able to penetrate the shell. That also means that it retains heat a lot better than jackets that aren’t seam sealed, especially with the Omni-Heat lining.
Additionally, this jacket has two ways of keeping you warm – one is the synthetic insulation inside the jacket and the other is the excellent Omni-Heat lining. The lining consists of tiny reflective dots whose sole purpose is to reflect your own body heat. It actually works incredibly well, and it’s one of the main reasons why this jacket is able to keep you warm even when it gets really wet.
Columbia’s Alpine Action jacket also features a removable storm hood that’s helmet compatible and a snow skirt, making it a decent option for the slopes. Both the cuffs and the hem are adjustable so they can keep all the wind out, ensuring you are as warm as you want to be. Should you want to let out some of that hot air inside the jacket, just loosen up the hem a bit and let it escape.
Another thing you’ll love about this jacket is the amount of pockets it has. There are two sets of zippered pockets on the front (chest and hand warming), and also multiple open pockets in the lining. This includes a dedicated goggle pocket, so there’s certainly enough room for the items you might consider necessary on the slopes.
Surprisingly, Patagonia doesn’t have that many jackets that are both insulated and waterproof. They have some great 3-in-1 options that can do both, but I wanted to focus more on plainer jackets because of the weight. The Snowshot is one of their best versatile options, which features a waterproof shell and synthetic insulation for protection from different weather conditions.
This Patagonia jacket has a two-layer H2No shell that keeps it entirely waterproof. It is insulated with Patagonia’s synthetic Thermogreen insulation, which is actually pretty new on the market. It performs very well, but it’s still not as great as Primaloft Gold, which they tend to use in their jackets that focus on warmth.
The Snowshot is more than suitable for the slopes with its helmet-compatible hood, powder skirt and internal goggles pocket. This jacket is also equipped with a hidden RECCO reflector, which is a nice feature to have if you want to feel extremely safe in your jacket. But it’s also one of those things that you’re most likely never going to get any use out of, and I certainly hope that’s the case.
Other excellent features of this jacket include pit zips for better breathability and articulated arms for full range of motion. The Snowshot jacket also features lined hand warming pockets, one of which actually allows for a media cord, as well as an extra zippered pocket on the chest. And that’s in addition to the internal drop-in pockets that are best for gloves or goggles.
Without a doubt, this is an excellent jacket. But it will cost you – the Snowshot is a pricey garment, with a price point that’s about double the one of Columbia’s Alpine Action jacket. If you’re trying to stay on a budget, it might be best to go with Columbia when it comes to insulated and waterproof jackets.
Finding the best winter gloves for you is not really an easy task. There are so many different options out there from warm and fuzzy liners to fully waterproof bulky mittens that you need to know exactly what you are looking for. And that’s why I really like the Bugaboo gloves from Columbia – they’re a bit of both.
These are actually 3-in-1 gloves that consist of a warm liner and a waterproof but breathable shell. You can wear either pair on their own, or you cam combine them for the ultimate effect. On top of that, the outer shell of the gloves actually features Columbia Omni-Heat reflective lining, so you know that those will be warm even if you don’t wear the fleece liners.
Another great thing about these gloves is that they actually feature tiny pockets. They’re mostly designed for heat packs, but you can use them for whatever you like, whether it’s an extra SD card you don’t want to misplace or just some spare cash you want hidden away.
The Columbia gloves also feature extra long gauntlets, a removable safety leash and easy one-hand hem adjustment. Overall, they’re definitely one of the best and most versatile pairs of winter gloves you can get your hands on, especially for the price.
The Peak Mission gloves from Patagonia are a great versatile option if you’re not sure whether you need regular gloves or mittens. They do both, and they do it incredibly well.
These are actually regular gloves that have a hidden pocket that holds the mitten cover. They are highly breathable knit gloves that are very comfortable and great for all high-output activities. The mitten covers are both wind and water-resistant, making them an excellent option for unpredictable weather.
The thumbs and index fingers of the Peak Mission gloves are touchscreen compatible, so they’re a great option if you usually use touchscreen devices on the trail. But only the regular gloves are compatible with touchscreen – the mitten covers lack this feature, so bear that in mind.
The mittens are coated with DWR for good water resistance, but they won’t be entirely waterproof. Also, there’s no insulation in these gloves – all the warmth comes from the fabric, so they might not work as well if they get wet. And the cuffs aren’t adjustable – they are stretchy and they will keep the wind out, but you won’t be able to tuck your sleeves inside them.
Columbia uses their advanced in-house technologies in all of their products, including travel bags and hiking backpacks. So, if you want a bag that’s just as water resistant as a rain jacket, the Northport backpack will not disappoint you. It features Omni-Shield water repellency that basically eliminates the need for a rain cover and performs very well in all weather conditions.
The pack is equipped with a foam padded backpanel and contoured shoulder straps, for excellent carrying comfort. There’s no breathable mesh on the backpanel though, which means that the bag doesn’t have the best ventilation features.
Also, the Northport does not have a sternum strap or a hip belt, which is likely to be a problem if you fill it up to capacity. There’s nothing to transfer the load away from your shoulders, meaning that you will feel the entire weight of the bag. And that’s not something you want on long hikes.
The good news is that those are the only two downsides of the bag – everything else about it is excellent. It features multiple compartments with internal pockets and organizers, a dedicated 15” laptop sleeve and stretchy side pockets. The frontmost compartment is equipped with a carabiner, while the front panel boasts a bungee cord for bulkier clothes you want easily accessible.
On top of that, the pack features two attachment points on the shoulders straps, which you can use to attach a sternum strap. Or just for stuff you want extra handy like sunglasses and a hydration bladder tube.
The Chacabuco backpack is very similar to Columbia’s Northport in terms of design, size and total capacity. It’s even priced very similarly to the Northport – the difference is some $20, but Patagonia’s backpack actually justifies the slightly higher price tag.
For one, it features breathable mesh all over the backpanel and shoulder straps for excellent ventilation in warm weather. And it comes with a sternum strap so you will be able to secure it on your torso. You still don’t get a hip belt though, which is a shame considering this backpack is even bigger and heavier than Columbia’s option.
The Chacabuco is made from recycled nylon with DWR coating for water repellency. DWR does a pretty good job at keeping items dry, but it’s not quite up there with Columbia’s Omni-Shield tech – if you primarily need a backpack to use in wet weather, Columbia still has the upper hand there.
This Patagonia backpack also features multiple compartments with a variety of pockets and internal organizers, as well as a dedicated laptop sleeve for 15” devices. Its sleek and stylish design is great for various settings, making this one of the best packs you could take straight from work to the trailhead.
This bag also boasts a bungee cord at the front panel for stashing away spare layers of clothing, two stretchy pockets on the sides and even compression straps that let you tighten up the bag when it’s not filled to capacity.
Both of these brands have developed their own technologies and fabrics when it comes to waterproofing and breathability. By manufacturing their own fabrics, they are able to offer lower prices, but can their proprietary technologies really compare with the top options on the market like Gore-Tex and Primaloft?
Also, it is worth noting that Patagonia doesn’t just rely on their own technologies. They often use Gore-Tex and Primaloft in their premium products, and they even combine them with their own materials and insulation. But those items are usually pricier than the ones that use Patagonias proprietary fabrics and technologies, so bear that in mind.
So, who has better in-hours fabrics? Well, that’s harder to determine than you might think – both brands did a really good job at developing their own technologies and fabrics and it’s actually really close. Also, it’s ultimately going to come down to personal preference.
For me, Columbia’s Omni-Heat reflective lining is just the bomb when it comes to warm without bulk. The technology uses tiny silver dots to reflect heat, so you are able to stay warm in a thin and lightweight jacket. They usually pair the lining with down or synthetic insulation, depending on whether or not we’re talking about items for wet weather.
With Patagonia, it’s a bit different. They do have their own type of synthetic insulation, but their most popular products are the one that use Primaloft or down. Patagonia feature their H2No waterproof fabric a lot in their items – it performs extremely well, but it’s not quite up there with Gore-Tex. However, the H2No products are normally about $100 cheaper than the Gore-Tex ones, so you know what to do if you’re shopping on a budget.
Size variety is very important and I think you will agree that Columbia just straight out beats Patagonia in this aspect. With Patagonia clothing, you will most likely see standard sizes up to XXL, and maybe an XS. Which is okay for the average brand – manufacturing clothes in plus sizes tends to be a lot more expensive for them, hence the lack of inclusivity with most outdoor gear brands.
However, Columbia is a whole different story. Their clothes are usually available in plus sizes – at the very least you will see 3XL, and more often than not they even go up to 6XL. If you are a plus sized hiker, Columbia is the brand that’s more likely to carry your size.
When it comes to pants, both brands usually offer several length options. But, whereas Patagonia gives you Short, Medium and Tall options, Columbia does proper inseam lengths so you can really get that perfect pair of pants for your body. If you’re shorter or taller than the average person, it’s more likely that Columbia will offer a pair of pants that’s just the right fit for you.
Neither of these two brands is exactly cheap, but they’re not outrageously expensive either. In fact, their items are similarly priced – pants are normally in the $50-100 range, lighter jackets are up to $150, and the best jackets that are waterproof and insulated are in the $200-350 range.
If you are looking for the best value, both Patagonia and Columbia are great options. With lots of similarly priced products, it’s ultimately going to come down to the specific item you are looking to buy. From there, see which brands offers all the features that you are looking for at a more attractive price tag – either way, you will hardly be disappointed with your purchase.
Patagonia and Columbia both make some really great outdoor gear. They even make items that look similar, perform equally well and have nearly identical price tags. So, how on Earth are you supposed to choose one or the other?
Well, it will heavily depend on the exact item that you are looking to get. And if want to get one of the products featured in this review, we’ll make it even easier for you!
When it comes to jackets, it really depends on the exact kind of jacket you need. I would recommend the Columbia Alpine Action jacket, simply because the Omni-Heat reflective lining is so amazing. It does an excellent job at retaining heat and it is able to do that without adding any extra bulk to the jacket. Plus it is waterproof, breathable, insulated and has plenty of pockets for stuff you want to have handy at all times. But honestly, it all comes down to personal preference and the brand that just suits your own style better.
In terms of backpacks, Patagonia wins this one by a mile – their Chacabuco pack is not only well made and versatile, but it is also one of the most comfortable bags they manufacture. The back system is heavily padded and covered with breathable mesh for excellent comfort and ventilation, while the sternum strap ensures the bag stays put while you’re wearing it. On top of that, the backpack features multiple compartments with internal pockets, for easy organization of your stuff. Whether you want to hit the trails or just walk around the city, the Chacabuco remains an excellent option.
If you need good winter gloves it’s really a no-brainer – go with the Columbia Bugaboo. They are affordable, breathable, insulated, waterproof and you’re technically getting three pairs of gloves for the price. The fleece liners are warm and lightweight, so they’re a great option when you just need a little bit of warmth. If you want full protection from the elements, just put on the waterproof outer shell and you are all set!
Head over to Amazon or Patagonia’s site to see more photos and the exact prices of all of the product featured in this comparison. And if you still haven’t found that one thing you’re looking for, check out our related posts for ideas on other excellent outdoor brands that rarely disappoint!