The Omni-Freeze ZERO sweat-absorbing rings (left) and the Freeze Degree Short-Sleeved Crew
Last month, Columbia Sportswear and its subsidiary brand Mountain Hardwear unveiled a new technology that will serve as the cornerstone of both company’s spring 2013 apparel lines. Designed to be the ultimate solution to living the active life in hot climates, the advancement involves laminating small blue polymer “sweat-activated” rings on the inside of polyester apparel. As you exert yourself, these donut-shaped rings absorb your sweat and then the shirt drops in temperature, cooling off the wearer before the moisture evaporates. Columbia calls it Omni-Freeze Zero, and Mountain Hardwear dubs it Cool.Q ZERO, but the innovation is the same—and it marks the first time a tech feature will be highlighted by both brands.
The specific science behind the cooling sensation remains a tightly-guarded secret, but we’re happy to report that it works. We tested out several pieces of Omni-Freeze ZERO apparel while mountain biking in Sedona and on a multi-day backpacking foray into Havasu Falls, Arizona. In those arid climes, our sweat typically evaporated before the rings could fully absorb it; but we did notice cooling in less-vented areas like the small of the back, and when we soaked a neck gaiter made out of the material, it kept our neck and head refreshed and cool in the punishing mid-day Arizona sun.
But back in the over-humid heat wave that plagued the Mid-Atlantic in late June, the shirts really performed. We were noticeably cooler anywhere the Omni-Freeze ZERO fabric touched our sweat-drenched skin, including running, hiking, and biking in 100+-degree temps with record-break humidity. Treadmill runs echoed our in-the-field testing, though the shirts become a bit too stretchy when they were fully saturated.
This innovation may be a seismic shift for the outdoor industry. In addition to uses in the active wear, Omni-Freeze ZERO and Cool.Q ZERO could have far-reaching applications, including in travel apparel, EMT and rescue worker uniforms, and pretty much any situation where hot temperatures are a reality.
We’ll continue to test out these products throughout the summer and report back. Right now, the Freeze Degree Short-Sleeved Crew (which combines the Omni-Freeze Zero tech with panels of Columbia’s Omin-Wick tech) and the Freeze Zero Neck Gaiter (pictured above) are tracking as must-haves.