active wear Columbia vs. North Face Is There A Big Difference? (2022)
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Columbia vs. North Face: Is There A Big Difference? (2022)

There are a few iconic brands that stand above the rest when it comes to outdoor apparel brands. Still, while outdoor enthusiasts may be loyal to one brand or another, several big-name outdoor gear brands are worth considering. Here we compare Columbia vs. North Face to help you decide which brand is right for you.

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See our high-level takeaways below, or skip to our full review!

Our Take:
Columbia Logo
Columbia Product Image
4.7

thumb_up PROS


thumb_down CONS

  • check Innovative technology
  • close Less trend-setting
  • check Performance ski gear
  • check Unparalleled fishing apparel
  • check Broad lineup
  • check More classic look
The Bottom Line:Columbia is an excellent brand if you are looking for a completely waterproof jacket or in the market for truly innovative apparel to wear on the water. Several Olympic team wear Columbia ski jackets, and if the gear is good enough for them, it is good enough for you!
Jump to: Full Review

The North Face Logo
The North Face Product Image
4.85

thumb_up PROS


thumb_down CONS

  • check Strong reputation
  • close Can be pricey
  • check Designed for extreme conditions
  • check Often seen in pop culture
  • check Quality shoes and boots
  • check More trendy look
The Bottom Line: That innovative quality extends well beyond cold-weather gear into everything the brand makes. Whether you are looking for a water-resistant jacket for the rainy season, a sun shirt for hiking (that isn't fishing-focused), or bags and gear, The North Face will stand ready for extreme conditions or casual weekends.
Jump to: Full Review



Full Review:
Columbia vs. North Face

There are a few iconic brands that stand above the rest when it comes to outdoor apparel brands. Still, while outdoor enthusiasts may be loyal to one brand or another, several big-name outdoor gear brands are worth considering. Here we compare Columbia vs. North Face to help you decide which brand is right for you.

Columbia vs. North Face: Which Should You Choose?

While Columbia and The North Face might be most frequently compared because of their

jackets, both brands make plenty of high-quality outdoor apparel and gear worth considering.

There are stylistic differences between the two brands. Still, other factors are worth considering, such as The North Face’s reputation as the more expensive brand or the various fabric and insulation technologies.

Is Columbia A Good Brand?

Columbia is a reputable brand known for making high-performance outdoor apparel and gear. While Nike might be the best-known athletic clothing gear with roots in Portland, Columbia focuses on adventure gear more than Nike, which has historically thrived with apparel and shoes designed for traditional athletics.

Before Columbia became known for winter jackets and Performance Fishing Gear (PFG), they were founded as a small hat manufacturer called the Columbia Hat Company. Gert Boyle’s parents left Nazi Germany and eventually landed in Portland, Oregon, where they purchased the small hat company.

Gert Boyle took the company’s reigns in 1970 and transformed the brand into what it is today. She was known as a perfectionist and is quoted as saying, “It’s perfect. Now make it better.” That is the quality that lives on in Columbia apparel and gear today.

Along the way, new technologies were integrated into Columbia products, and the brand has even outfitted several freestyle ski teams in the Winter Olympics. Of course, while Columbia winter jackets are good enough for Olympians, the rest of their outdoor clothing and gear is also worth considering.

columbia-jackets-clothing

Columbia Jackets

If you’ve owned a Columbia jacket, you understand why the brand has such a solid reputation. Columbia jackets usually have a more classic style than what the North Face often creates, but that’s not to say that one style is better than the other.

The heaviest cold-weather jackets, such as those designed for ski and snowboarding activities, feature Omni-Heat Infinity technology. Columbia jackets featuring the Omni-Heat reflective lining are made so that the inner lining of the jackets reflects body heat toward your core.

The reflective pattern features a series of dots, with gaps between the dots, which maximizes breathability while still maximizing heat retention. Finding the best winter jackets made from breathable fabric is a must for competitive winter sports and activities.

Breathability is often diminished in waterproof jackets that are also wind resistant, but Columbia has solved this problem too. While the Omni-Heat reflective lining will keep you warm, the Omni-Tech technology is designed to be both waterproof and breathable.

The innovative Omni-Tech features allow for a waterproof jacket to keep you dry while maintaining breathability and comfort. The result of the heat retention and waterproofing technologies is a completely weatherproof winter jacket.

columbia-apparel

From Fleece To Technical Jackets

While Columbia’s jackets might be known for their technical capabilities, Columbia fleece jackets are also trendy in mild temperatures. The brand offers a jacket for every situation and preference.

Columbia has you covered if you prefer a cold-weather jacket with down insulation. Of course, while the brand offers jackets with both down and synthetic insulation, an insulated jacket designed for peak athletic performance will usually showcase technologies that are more versatile than a down jacket might allow for.

Still, Columbia offers every versatile jacket you might need, from rain jackets perfect for light rain and generally wet weather to the game-changing Bugaboo parka.

Columbia PFG Fishing Gear

You likely know Columbia because of their jackets if you live near the mountains or in colder climates. On the other hand, if you live in warmer temperatures near the water, you most likely know Columbia because of their Performance Fishing Gear (PFG).

PFG shirts are breathable while providing UPF protection. While the shirts are designed for fishing, they are popular throughout the south (and beyond) for casual wear. Why? PFG shirts are extremely practical.

The fabric includes antimicrobial treatment that protects against unwanted bacterial growth, Omni-Shade protects from the sun, and Omni-Wick and a mesh-lined center back facilitate breathability. Plus, the fabric is quick-drying, and the long sleeve button-ups include roll-up tab holders.

Many serious outdoor enthusiasts rely on PFG button-down shirts as a go-to for casual evenings and outdoor excursions.

In some ways, it’s an odd marriage that Columbia excels at both ski apparel and fishing shirts, but outdoor adventures are the tie that binds the activities together. These are just two areas where Columbia has built competitive advantages regarding outdoor gear.

columbia-pfg-fishing

Columbia Sportswear & Apparel

While Columbia might be best known for high-quality ski and fishing apparel (which is still an odd combination, even if we understand the adventure connection), the brand has an all-encompassing lineup of gear and clothing for nearly any outdoor adventure.

Down jackets are cool, but there are few places where you can wear an insulated jacket year-round. Columbia stands ready to outfit you throughout the season and in any activity.

In addition to the high-quality snow gear and fishing apparel, Columbia also makes all the apparel you might need for camping, hiking, hunting, trail running, or even golfing. The same innovation stitched into the snow gear and fishing apparel is also stitched into all of the other clothing lineups.

Take golf, for instance. Most of Columbia’s golf polos either feature Omni-Wick, moisture-wicking as the name implies, or Omni-Freeze, a sweat-activated cooling technology that is refreshing in the high heat.

And, hey, the brand was initially called the Columbia Hat Company, so you know they have high-performance hats!

Other Outdoor Gear

Columbia also has a broad lineup of shoes, including adventure sandals, hiking boots, boat shoes, and trail running shoes. They have a more comprehensive selection of hiking boots than any other type of shoe, but that makes sense given the brand’s focus on serving the adventurer.

While they are based in Portland, Columbia isn’t Nike, which has a shoe for any and all occasions. Still, their outdoor gear game is strong. Columbia also makes backpacks, duffle bags, and even blankets and bedding. These add-on items are far from Columbia’s bread and butter.

Let’s be real to say that the apparel is innovative and built with high-quality materials and craftsmanship. Still, the selections are limited, so if you are searching for outdoor gear, you might need to check The North Face or other competitor brands.

columbia-gear

Columbia Brand Pros & Cons

Columbia is no longer a family-owned business like it once was, but many family-run ideals and traits still run strong throughout the company. Columbia is an excellent brand if you are looking for a completely waterproof jacket or in the market for truly innovative apparel to wear on the water.

My family has owned several Columbia jackets, which have stood the test of time. Still, if you are looking for equipment or technical gear outside of clothing,

Columbia is maturing in these departments, and you might look elsewhere.

SUMMARYthumb_up PROS
thumb_down CONS
  • check Innovative technology
  • close Not much everyday casual
  • check Performance ski gear
  • check Unparalleled fishing apparel
  • check Broad lineup
  • check More classic look

Is The North Face A Good Brand?

The North Face makes top-notch clothing and adventure gear designed to meet your needs in all conditions. Many fabric technologies are built with sustainability in mind, but The North Face never compromises on developing the best apparel and gear for outdoor adventures.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is blocked from the north face of a mountain. As a result, the most extreme climbing conditions are on the north face, where the routes can be cold and icy. The North Face’s name reflects the company’s passion for adventure and extreme performance.

Given the company’s name, it is no surprise that, like Columbia, The North Face is best known for performance jackets designed for retaining body heat. And while both Columbia and The North Face make great jackets, The North Face (sometimes shortened to TNF) jackets carry a little extra prestige.

Undoubtedly, The North Face is a pricey brand, but the price reflects the innovation and quality, and outdoor enthusiasts tend to love TNF jackets, apparel, and gear.

north-face-jackets

North Face Jackets

While the Denali jacket is a mainstay casual jacket in student and young professional closets everywhere, it is meant for moderate-cold weather. But with a name like The North Face, you better believe the brand has options for the most extreme temperatures.

When your temperatures drop below freezing on the summit, you might like the Summit Down Hoodie, a hooded jacket featuring water-repellent ProDown insulation. The down insulation is specifically designed to retain its loft in wet conditions.

This North Face jacket is just one example from many showcasing the brand’s commitment to extreme performance. Sometimes that performance is athletic execution, such as in the case of the Down Hoodie, and other times that might just be cold-weather performance, as with the Expedition Parka.

Like Columbia, The North Face has developed innovative technology to drive warmth and performance. Take the Triclimate Jacket, a windproof and waterproof jacket that combines a breathable shell with an insulated zip-in jacket. It’s the ultimate in versatility and reflective of so many other North Face jackets designed to perform in all conditions.

Sustainability

While all North Face jackets are designed for exploration, the North Face has focused much of its research and innovation on sustainability in recent years. Many North Face jackets are made with recycled materials, and the brand goes out of its way to highlight sustainable products and explain why those products are sustainable.

Consider the Summit L5 FUTURELIGHT jacket, built with recycled content but designed to be the most advanced breathable-waterproof jacket in The North Face’s stable. The jacket is made with woven-in Spectra, which is an abrasion-resistant yarn.

That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. On The North Face’s website, you will notice that many jackets feature the “Exploration Without Compromise” badge. Any product on the website featuring the badge is made with more than 75% recycled, regenerative, or responsibly sourced renewable materials (measured by weight).

You might assume that products featuring the “Exploration Without Compromise” badge might be few and far between, but you will be pleasantly surprised how many of the brand’s products are made sustainably.

The ThermoBall jackets feature synthetic insulation technology, but because of responsible sourcing and manufacturing, they feature the sustainability badge. The same is true of the ever-popular Denali, which we mentioned earlier. The Denali jacket features a 100% recycled body fabric.

If you care about responsible choices and sustainability, considering The North Face is a must.

north-face-competitors

North Face Sportswear & Apparel

While The North Face and Columbia have very different personalities, their product lineups are very similar. There are two significant differences. First, The North Face has historically placed more products that might be classified as “streetwear,” though Columbia is admittedly catching up in that category.

The other difference is that The North Face doesn’t have a fishing-focused lineup, such as Performance Fishing Gear (PFG) offered by Columbia. Still, The North Face offers apparel and gear for most other outdoor activities, including camping, climbing, hiking, trail running, general training, and snow.

One thing worth mentioning is that while The North Face doesn’t have a direct PFG alternative, they sell items like a long-sleeve sun shirt. We appreciate it is branded as a general sun shirt rather than a fishing shirt because, well, we don’t fish. As popular as the PFG shirts are, they also ostracise a demographic that doesn’t identify with fishing.

More Outdoor Gear

The North Face has a solid collection of camping gear, including tents and sleeping bags. How serious is the camping gear? You can order left-handed or right-handed sleeping bags, so it is easy to get in and out of the bag. That is pretty serious.

Some Kazoo Sleeping Bags are rated to zero degrees and built with a hoodie, ensuring you stay warm even in the most seriously cold conditions. And heck, the sleeping bag even features a limited lifetime warranty.

The duffel bags are also very popular, right up there with duffle bags from Baboon To The Moon. Have you never heard of Baboon To The Moon? They make fun duffle bags that are very high quality and very popular with frequent travelers and road trippers.

north-face-backpacks

North Face Brand Pros & Cons

Over the years, The North Face became a fashion style symbol more so than some of its competitor brands, but function was never sacrificed for fashion and form. There is a reason so many accomplished climbers and mountaineers are loyal to The North Face. They’ve designed gear that will make you look good and feel good while getting the job done.

That innovative quality extends well beyond cold-weather gear into everything the brand makes. Whether you are looking for a water-resistant jacket for the rainy season, a sun shirt for hiking (that isn’t fishing-focused), or bags and gear, The North Face will stand ready for extreme conditions or casual weekends.

SUMMARYthumb_up PROS
thumb_down CONS
  • check Strong reputation
  • close Can be pricey
  • check Designed for extreme conditions
  • check Often seen in pop culture
  • check Quality shoes and boots
  • check More trendy look

Columbia vs. North Face Jackets

In comparing Columbia vs. North Face, the most obvious point of comparison is the jackets. Columbia offers innovative technology, such as gold dots that reflect heat toward the body. On the other hand, The North Face features responsibly sourced down insulation that maintains its loft regardless of wet weather or harsh conditions.

Somewhat surprisingly, Columbia has closed the gap when it comes to high-performance snow and ski gear. However, long-term outdoor enthusiasts are often still loyal to either The North Face or Patagonia. The reality is that almost all of these jackets will have similar basic features, such as zippered hand pockets and an interior security pocket.

The differences primarily come down to budget, style, and general preference. While the tides have started to turn, Columbia jackets are often more traditional and a little less expensive. You may get a little more variety with The North Face, but you will pay for the reputation. Still, the differences between the two brands are marginal at this point.

We prefer The North Face because of the extremely high quality designed to withstand the craziest conditions, but Columbia isn’t that far behind.

north-face-gear

Alternative Outdoor Brands

While Columbia and The North Face are leading makers of outdoor clothing, they aren’t the only names in the game. There are several other brands you might consider if you aren’t sold on Columbia or North Face.

Patagonia

Patagonia is a unique brand that uses Black Friday to encourage customers to get outside and buy less stuff. That might seem counter-intuitive, but sustainability and responsibility are at the heart of everything they do.

Patagonia is still a privately held company, so it can still follow bold ambitions. Sure, they want to sell products, but they build their products to be long-lasting and will even repair some clothing and apparel as needed. So when you buy new clothing, they want you to buy from Patagonia, but they want that to be a less frequent occasion.

Patagonia clothing, and their jackets, can be expensive compared to some other brands, but the quality is top-notch. Patagonia clothing fills a large portion of my personal closet.

Marmot

Marmot may be less widely known among the common population, but it is a famous brand among outdoor adventurers. The brand has never focused on going mainstream. Instead, they stick to their roots in focusing on mountain and other outdoor gear, with design features focused on making outdoor adventures a little more comfortable.

For instance, while GORE-TEX is seemingly everywhere at this point, Marmot became the first outdoor apparel brand to use GORE-TEX in their gear (way back in 1976!). Marmot may be for you if you are looking for performance gear that is a little off the beaten path.

columbia-jackets

Columbia or North Face?

Columbia has named quite the string of technologies, such as Omni-Tech (waterproof and windproof yet breathable fabric), Omni-Wick (designed to wick moisture), OutDry (an absolutely waterproof barrier), and Omin-Freeze, Omni-Shade, Omni-Shield, and Omni-Wind.

Still, much of The North Face’s outdoor clothing features similar functionality, even without the specific names. From a strictly subjective standpoint, it feels like many of the named Columbia technologies are necessary to close a perceived gap between Columbia and brands such as The North Face.

It’s a perceived gap, though, and the reality is that Columbia has caught up in most ways. In the case of Columbia’s technology which uses gold dots to reflect heat toward the body, Columbia might even be ahead.

So, what does this all mean? Columbia and The North Face both make high-quality apparel and gear. You might be able to find some Columbia gear that is more affordable than gear and clothing from The North Face; however, any deciding factors in comparing Columbia vs. North Face will likely come down to preference.

north-face-tents

More Than Just Good Quality Jackets

While Columbia and the North Face sell top-quality jackets, the brands are much more than that. Columbia Sportswear has a little bit more classic styling, while The North Face is a little more fashion-forward.

The North Face also has a more serious collection of tents and sleeping bags, and North Face duffle bags are also very popular.

On the other hand, Columbia’s PFG shirts are so popular that they barely have any competition.

When it comes to jackets, the performance gap is much smaller. We recommend The North Face jackets in most instances due to their intense focus on sustainability and the attention to developing gear that will withstand the most extreme conditions.

After all, The North Face name says it all.

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