There are plenty of ways to stay warm. Luxurious scarves. Furry hats. Festive sweaters. And, now, USB-powered jackets that keep you toasty(er) with electricity. Columbia Sportswear's Omni-Heat line of outdoor gear is hinging on this novelty. Worth it? Mostly.
The $850 Omni-Heat Circuit Breaker Softshell, out in October, does what it says: With the aid of two boxy warming elements and a heat-reflective lining, it keeps your slight frame warmer than you would be otherwise. The heat packs are charged via USB—and plugging your jacket into your computer is a grin-inducing, geeky thrill. (There's a wall adapter too). Walking down the sidewalk with the jacket turned on and then with the jacket turned off (let's all please note that we're living in an era in which you can turn on your jacket), the difference was there. With the heaters set to the highest of the three variables, I was comfortably warm, and appreciably more so than I was with the jacket switched off. Not ass-heating car seat warm, but certainly warmer.
And heating wackiness aside, it's an overall solid jacket. A plethora of pockets, comfortable synthetic fill, and plenty warm even when in low-tech mode.
You look very, very goofy wearing this jacket. The button on the front? It lights up. In multiple colors. There's a "stealth mode" that runs the button without the light, but it requires a button press combo that I forgot while out in the field. Which is my fault, but worth keeping in mind if you don't want a bright LED on your chest. Which you probably won't, because everyone will stare at you. And that reflective lining? It's looks like what I imagine they buried Michael Jackson in—every time you take off your jacket, it's revealed the world, along with a few other red indicator LEDs concealed inside the lining. This is not a jacket for the inconspicuous. Also, it's heavy. [Columbia Sportswear]