Table of Contents
- 1 Overview of Columbia Sportswear and The Northface Brands
- 2 How did Columbia get started?
- 3 How did The North Face get started?
- 4 Key Differences Between Columbia and The North Face
- 5 Most Popular Designs from Each Brand
- 6 How do I choose?
Overview of Columbia Sportswear and The Northface Brands
The outdoor clothing industry has exploded over the past few decades. With more Americans wanting to get outside, the need for high-quality, durable gear has increased dramatically. While people have varying opinions and preferences when it comes to outdoor gear, they certainly look for something that will keep them warm, dry, and safe in the wilderness.
Columbia Sportswear and The North Face are two of the best-known outdoor apparel brands that specialize in hardy, warm winter jackets, raincoats, shirts, hiking pants, hiking boots, and the like. Each notable company has gained a cult-like following since its inception and continues to innovate and inspire. Here’s what you need to know about Columbia and The North Face.
How did Columbia get started?
If you’re looking for an outdoor apparel brand with a compelling story, this is it. In 1937, Gert Boyle’s family settled in Portland, Oregon after fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany. They purchased a small hat manufacturing operation and named it Columbia Hat Company. When Boyle’s parents died, they passed the business on to her husband, and she inherited it after his death, in 1970. From there, Gert Boyle transformed the tiny operation into the behemoth outdoor gear company it is now.
Columbia has won numerous awards throughout its decades-long life in the outdoor world, including an award from National Geographic for its innovative Omni-freeze ZERO technology and textiles. The company sponsored the U.S. Olympic ski team during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. It has made a huge splash in the fishing world because of its Performance Fishing Gear (PFG) line and continues to make strides in creating outerwear that reflects and retains body heat while using minimal materials.
How did The North Face get started?
Named for the most challenging side of the mountain, The Northface was founded by two enthusiastic young climbers and hikers, Susie and Doug Tompkins. The Tompkins lived in San Francisco and created a mountaineering store that became a hub for some of the world’s best climbers. In 1969, The North Face created one of the first internal frame backpacks, which would open up the possibility to explore many more miles of terrain, on your own two feet.
Since then, The Northface has been on the cutting edge of outdoor gear and conservation, repurposing surplus materials, advocating for the protection of wild spaces, and creating lightweight takes on traditional gear that inevitably help people continue exploring. You’ll find The North Face half-dome logo on tents at Annapurna base camp, on Olympic skiers’ hooded jackets, and on decades-old rucksacks that have seen their fair share of desert nights.
Key Differences Between Columbia and The North Face
Despite being two of the largest outdoor gear outfitters in the industry, worldwide these two brands have some very key differences.
Columbia Sportswear boasts a more classic style that fits a greater variety of body shapes and sizes. The colors they use are typically earth tones, neutral shades, or one bright color as seen in its PFG line. Columbia’s shirts, pants, and outwear are looser fitting when compared to The North Face’s slimmer fitting styles. The North Face often incorporates trendy colors, designs, or patterns in its textiles. Because The North Face gear is often meant for more technical activities, it is usually made to be tighter and brighter.
Both brands have long prioritized creating high-tech, functional outerwear and, because of this focus, Columbia and The North Face have created their trademarked technologies.
- Omni-Tech. This is a breathable, waterproof, and windproof fabric meant for sailors, fishermen, windsurfers, and anyone who spends time on the water or in the wind. Omni-Tech was developed specifically by Columbia to make their outdoor sun gear stand apart from the rest and offer superb protection against skin cancer, windburn, and sunburn.
- Omni-Wick. This technology is used in Columbia’s high-intensity athletic wear to help wick away moisture, keeping the wearer warm and dry. Used in underlayers like long underwear and running clothes, Omni-wick is efficient at helping garments dry quickly while keeping the person wearing them well insulated and protected.
- OutDry. A barrier used in cold-weather clothing and rain gear, OutDry heat binds to the fabric, making the garment waterproof.
- Omni-Freeze. The Omni-Freeze technology incorporates flat yarn that allows the wearer to cool down quickly while staying protected from the sun.
- Omni-Shade. A line of UV-protection clothing offers the wearer peace of mind no matter how high the sun rises in the sky. The protective barrier keeps the sun’s harmful rays from penetrating through clothing and damaging skin cells.
The North Face Technologies
- DryVent. The North Face incorporates trademarked DryVent technology // fabrics engineered to be fully waterproof, windproof and breathable. The outer face of the textile is treated with a durable water repellent finish that helps form droplets and repel water from the surface. Each multi-layered textile is engineered to allow water vapor to pass through from the inside to the outside
- FlashDry. FlashDry technology is one of the most efficient forms of moisture management. The North Face guarantees that it will never wash out or wear out. Made for clothing that gets wet, FlashDry aids in evaporation so you and your clothing can get back to being dry.
- WindWall. Any mountaineer worth their salt will know that wind can be a killer in the backcountry. TNF’s trademarked WindWall technology cuts down drastically on windchill but still allows breathability and flexibility.
- Gore-Tex. A pioneer in dry outerwear, The North Face makes exceptionally water-repellent gear using Gore-Tex fabric. To stay 100% dry, utilize this fabric.
Fortunately, both companies place a high priority on sustainability and environmental accountability. The North Face helped pioneer RDS certification – or the Responsible Down Standard. Columbia Sportswear offers down jackets and down vests that are RDS certified.
Each company uses recycled materials when possible and offers programs that repair or reuse gently used clothing. The North Face’s Clothes the Loop initiative gives customers multiple options for ensuring their clothing doesn’t end up in a landfill. Columbia gives back to the planet in several ways but mainly through nonprofit partnerships, like the one with Planet Water and the National Park Foundation.
Pricing is a big differentiator between these two clothing companies. The North Face is certainly pricier than Columbia Sportswear, making it harder for many to access its gear. Columbia offers a wider array of items at different price points, enabling more people to have access to safe, quality gear.
Columbia Sportswear’s top-selling women’s down jacket retails at most for $160, depending on color and season. One of The North Face’s comparable women’s down jacket retails for a minimum of $250. A Columbia full zip fleece sells for $60 while its North Face equivalents list for $99 – $179. Winter jackets, soft shells, and hard shells retail along similar price points, respectively.
Both of these companies are widely sought out for their best-selling insulated jackets, base layers, and advanced technology they incorporate into casual wear and technical wear. Because The North Face was designed with alpine climbing in mind, it’s a better brand overall in the outerwear category.
In short, The North Face is known for being more expensive. Popularity may cause some uptick in price points because of its brand recognition and notoriety amongst many outdoor enthusiasts. However, they are also known for making higher-quality pieces that can last a lifetime, if taken care of properly.
Columbia Sportswear is known for being widely accessible and affordable, thus encouraging more people to opt outside. They’ve received accolades for body positivity and body inclusivity. However, because it is made a little more cheaply, people who opt for Columbia gear should consider reading reviews for each product to understand more about its durability and longevity.
Availability in Stores
Overall, both brands are widely available now in most outdoor retail shops. In most cities, Columbia clothing will be easier to find at stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Jax’s, REI Co-op, and Walmart. The North Face is more likely to work with smaller, locally-owned outfitters and retail shops, like your mom-and-pop ski store or a chain of regional sporting goods stores. The North Face certainly offers a wider selection of its products online than it does in stores.
Most Popular Designs from Each Brand
Each brand has gained a cult-like following for certain key pieces. The North Face’s Base Camp Duffel is one of its most popular items and for good reason, it’s been helping extreme adventurers explore with their most precious items since 1978. The company’s 1996 Retro Nuptse Jacket is a favorite among skiers and winter enthusiasts, offering warmth, comfort, and a fun throw-back to late 90’s alpine style.
Columbia’s water and sun gear has found its way into the hearts of fishermen and women young and old. Its PFG Bahama sun shirt is a fan favorite and those who spend time out on the water know not to leave home without it. When out on the trail, you’re sure to see your fair share of Columbia hiking boots, known for their flexibility, comfort, and affordability, this boot can take you most anywhere.
How do I choose?
You can’t go wrong by purchasing gear from either company. You really should consider figuring out your outdoor needs before deciding who to purchase your gear from. Avid fishers, rafters, kayakers, sailors, and generally anyone who spends time on coastal or inland waterways would likely opt for Columbia Sportswear outerwear and sun protective shirts, hiking pants, and hats.
Those who spend time in the big mountains, like the Rockies, and Sierra Nevadas, or overseas in the Alps, Himalayas, and the Andes would likely choose the North Face when sourcing insulating layers like down jackets, hats, and long baselayers. They prioritize protecting mountaineers against the elements, spending decades researching and designing everything an explorer would need, from approach shoes to a wool beanie.
Consider the risk of your adventure and decide how you want to splurge or save. The North Face will almost always be more expensive, yet offer high-quality gear and protection. Columbia Sportswear can get the job done while keeping you warm, dry, and shaded but its gear may not stand the test of time, or look as flashy as The North Face.
You can’t go wrong with either of these outdoor apparel brands. You are supporting groups that advocate for the ethical treatment of animals via RDS, actively work to reduce clothing in landfills through sustainable recycling practices, and protect outdoor spaces like State and National Parks.