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Columbia Whirlibird III Interchange - Women's Review

A screaming deal for two jackets that can be worn in three combinations, the Whirlibird will help you perform out on the ski hill.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $199 List | $139.30 at Amazon
Pros:  Great value, two jackets in one, warm, comfortable
Cons:  Not very stylish,hood not helmet compatible, two layers don't work well when zipped together
Manufacturer:   Columbia
By Jessica Haist ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 13, 2018
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 11
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 7
  • Comfort and Fit - 20% 7
  • Style - 20% 7
  • Warmth - 15% 8
  • Ventilation - 15% 6
  • Features - 10% 8

Our Verdict

The Columbia Whirlibird III is a great choice because it is comfortable and you get a lot of bang for your buck with this product. This is the fifth iteration of the Whirlibird we've tested, and it continues to perform well at a fantastic price, which is why it wins our Best Buy Award. We like how the layers perform individually but found that they don't work in combination quite as well we would hope. Columbia has upped the Whirlibird's game by including pockets in the inner jacket layer as well as the shell, which puts it head and shoulders above The North Face ThermoBall Triclimate. This jacket wins our award due to its style, versatility, multiple wear options, and for being one of the least expensive jackets in this review, making it a great value.

If you want a budget ski jacket but aren't into the 3-in-1 design, have a look at the Armada Stadium, another Best Buy Award winner. It costs a bit more but also performs a step above the Whirlibird III. It also has the looks to stay fly all over the mountain.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $139.30 at Amazon$384.97 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$799 List$319.97 at Amazon$207.93 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Great value, two jackets in one, warm, comfortableStylish, quality materials, lightweight, useful ski featuresStylish, form fitting, good ski features, comfortableStylish, great ski features, inexpensive, more versatile than an insulated ski jacketInexpensive, warm, stylish
Cons Not very stylish,hood not helmet compatible, two layers don't work well when zipped togetherExpensive, afraid the potential lack of breathability could affect the down insulationExpensiveHeavy for ski touring, no insulationFits a bit snug around the hips, non-removable powder skirt
Bottom Line A screaming deal for two jackets that can be worn in three combinations, the Whirlibird will help you perform out on the ski hill.This super warm and comfortable jacket has all the features you need for a cold day at the resort, and looks good too.A high performance ski jacket that is stylish but comes with a high price tag.This super stylish jacket wins our Top Pick Award for style, and has an affordable price tag!This resort ripper will help you shred the slopes with style and ease, at a great price!
Rating Categories Whirlibird III Interchange Primo Down Jacket Arc'teryx Tiya Flylow Billie Coat Armada Stadium
Weather Resistance (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
Comfort And Fit (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
Style (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
9
Warmth (15%)
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
4
10
0
8
Ventilation (15%)
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
7
Features (10%)
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
8
Specs Whirlibird III... Primo Down Jacket Arc'teryx Tiya Flylow Billie Coat Armada Stadium
Weight (in pounds) 2.44 lbs 1.89 lbs 1.65 lbs 1.56 lbs 2 lbs
# of Pockets Shell: 5, Liner: 3 2 hand, 1 chest (with internal media), 1 sleeve, 1 internal stash, 1 internal drop-in 2 hand, 1 sleeve, 1 internal zip, 1 internal drop 2 hand, 1 chest, 1 sleeve, 1 internal 2 hand, 1 chest, 1 sleeve, 1 indernal drop-in
Main Fabric Legacy Dobby 72% Nylon/ 28% Polyester. 2-layer, 70D 100% recycled nylon GORE-TEX N70p GORE-TEX with 3L tricot technology 3-layer nylon Dobby Intuitive fabric 100% Nylon
Insulation Thermarator 800-fill-power Traceable Down insulation Coreloft synthetic insulation (80g/40g) N/A 80g Polyfill in body, 60g in sleeves
Waterproofing Omni-Tech DWR DWR 20k/20k waterproof breathable membrane DWR
Unique Features 2 jackets in 1, Sleeve pocket, internal goggle pocket RECCO reflector, Touch Point System embeds cord locks in the hood and hem, media pocket with cable routing RECCO Reflector RFID pocket, headphone port Sleeve pocket, internal goggle pocket, wrist gaiters
Hood Option? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pit Zips? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cuff construction Velcro Velcro Velcro Velcro Velcro with wrist gaiters
Ski features Powder skirt, pass and goggle pocket Powder skirt is detatchable with webbing to connect to pants, google and pass pockets Powder skirt, goggle pocket, helmet compatible hood Removable powder skirt, helmet compatible hood, Pass pocket Powder skirt, pass and goggle pocket, jacket/pant interface

Our Analysis and Test Results

This 3-in-1 model has three different wear options: the outer layer can be worn alone on warm days when you only need a shell to protect you from the wind and can layer under it. The interior insulation layer can be worn by itself around town to keep you warm, and both can be worn together for the exceptionally cold and windy days on the slopes. Major changes to this model's design this year is that the hood is no longer removable, which we think is a good change, and Columbia has changed the front zipper materials and construction from a waterproof zipper to a non-waterproof zipper covered by a flap of material.

Performance Comparison


The Columbia Whirlibird III takes our Best Buy Award for a versatile and inexpensive choice.
The Columbia Whirlibird III takes our Best Buy Award for a versatile and inexpensive choice.

Weather Resistance


The Whirlibird proved relatively water resistant during our test. Its shell materials are inferior to the Gore-Tex Patagonia Primo Down Jacket - Women's and uninsulated shell jackets like the Arc'teryx Sentinel materials for water resistance, though. The new design of the flap covering the zipper did a good job of keeping breezes out on our way down the hill, but we had a hard time zipping up the collar if we had any extra layers around our neck like a buff or neck warmer.


This jacket's hood does not quite fit over a ski helmet, and this continues to be one of the major disappointments of this model, meaning we have trouble keeping it on when skiing downhill. Admittedly, we reserve wearing the hood for when it's nuking out, or bitterly cold, but we certainly appreciate it being an option when we need it. We like ski jackets with hoods because they add an element of protection and warmth. Detachable hoods add extra weight and bulk with snaps and zippers, and we have never thought "gee I wish this ski jacket didn't have a hood!" In fact, we've felt the opposite about non-hooded jackets. Thankfully the Whirlibird III's hood is no longer removable. If you are looking for a jacket that has a removable hood check out the Columbia Alpine Action Omni-Heat jacket.

The Whirlibird's hood doesn't quite fit over a ski helmet perfectly and the collar is really tight on our face when zipped up with the hood up.
The Whirlibird's hood doesn't quite fit over a ski helmet perfectly and the collar is really tight on our face when zipped up with the hood up.

Comfort and Fit


The Whirlibird is pretty comfortable although the shell material this year seems thicker and stiffer than in previous years. It still 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 to stuff your pockets full of snacks.


Style


This model is perhaps the three-in-one jacket with the most styled that we tested. We thought that both the interior and exterior jackets look good and function great individually, and especially like wearing the cozy interior jacket around because it is warm and fits well. The Snowbelle is a very roomy jacket, and the white color we tested it in was not practical. However, there are new colors to choose from in that model now.


The cut of the jacket is a bit boxy but allows for space to put things in your pockets without looking strange. We're a bit less crazy about the colors and patterns it comes in this year.

We like the versatility of the two separate layers  and we think the inner jacket is pretty cute!
We like the versatility of the two separate layers, and we think the inner jacket is pretty cute!

Warmth


The Whirlibird has a removable interior synthetic jacket that uses Columbia's unique Omni-Heat technology to keep you warm. We were skeptical at first because it looks like a flashy gimmick — but it seems to work. We stayed 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 ways most likely to steal 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 we stayed toasty.

The Columbia Whirlibird III has decent ski performance and is comfortable out there on the slopes.
The Columbia Whirlibird III has decent ski performance and is comfortable out there on the slopes.

We are not sold on the durability of the liner material and are afraid that the little silver dots will wear off eventually, but in our testing so far they have held up. The Whirlibird has 80 grams of insulation. It's warmer than the Patagonia Snowbelle 3-in-1, but not quite as warm as Patagonia Primo Down.

Ventilation


The Whirlibird is somewhat breathable, although we still worked up a sweat occasionally in it. One point of frustration with this jacket and the other 3-in-1 models like the Patagonia Snowbelle is that it has pit-zips for ventilation, but you cannot vent the interior jacket.


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.

This model has mesh-lined pit-zips for ventilation which are not super effective because they don't vent through the inner layer.
This model has mesh-lined pit-zips for ventilation which are not super effective because they don't vent through the inner layer.

One advantage to a 3-in-1 type jacket is that you can just take the insulating layer off if it's warm outside. We think the shell Patagonia Untracked Jacket has the best ventilation of all the jackets we tested.

Ski Features


The Whirlibird's ski features work well if you plan to use both layers at the same time. There is an 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 seems to make more sense.


The shell also has a powder skirt and two handwarmer pockets. We were pleased to discover that there is now a pass pocket on the shell's sleeve as well now.

The Columbia Whirlibird's layers function best if they are used separately and the inner jacket is zipped up to itself.
The Columbia Whirlibird's layers function best if they are used separately and the inner jacket is zipped up to itself.

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 layer 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. The Whirlibird and the other 3-in-1 style jacket, the Patagonia Snowbelle 3-in-1, has this issue too. The North Face ThermoBall Triclimate does not have any special ski features, and so this is less of an issue. This problem can be easily solved if you zip each layer to itself and do not attach them and in this case, the snow skirt is accessible to use and wrap below the inner layer.

The Whirlibird's inner jacket has an inner pocket but there is no headphone gasket.
The Whirlibird's inner jacket has an inner pocket but there is no headphone gasket.

Best Application


This jacket is meant for skiing at the resort in all different types of climates. On a warm day leave the inner layer in the car (to change into for après ski), on a colder day wear them both together.

You'll fit right in at the resort in the Whirlibird III.
You'll fit right in at the resort in the Whirlibird III.

Value


The Whirlibird is the best value of the jackets in this review, retailing for around $200. It is two separate jackets (that can be worn together) for a single low price. The Flylow Billie Coat is also a good value if you are looking for an inexpensive shell ski jacket and the Armada Stadium also wins a Best Buy Award because it is a very stylish insulated ski jacket at a great price.

Conclusion


For a versatile and inexpensive ski jacket, the Columbia Whirlibird III will serve you well. Its two layers work better individually than they do together, but have enough warmth and ski features to keep you functioning on the mountain. For less than half the price of our Editors' Choice winner, the Whirlibird will still get you out on the hill and keep you warm and dry, which is why we give it our Best Buy Award.


Jessica Haist