California’s Great Central Valley, with its rich agricultural land, diverse climate and topographically flat valley floor, is known as the breadbasket of the world. Come summer, the Central Valley is also a virtual oven, infamous for heat waves spanning several weeks with temperatures regularly reaching 105°F. With temperatures that high, you can literally cook an egg on the asphalt.
Training in this type of heat can be daunting leaving outdoor enthusiasts and athletes alike searching for new performance gear and techniques to help keep them cool and reduce the physical stress of training in such harsh conditions. When Columbia Sportswear introduced our team an opportunity to review the Solar Polar Short Shirt featuring Omni-Freeze technology, ideas of running through hell while cloaked in ice danced in our head.
Columbia’s line of Omni-Freeze Ice clothing is intended to put the power of cooling and wicking on your side so you can conquer your adventures on even the hottest of hot days.
The Ice Solar Polar shirt utilizes Columbia’s state of the art technologies, most prominently Omni-Freeze Ice and Omni-Wick.
Omni-Wick technology moves and disperses sweat away from the body for quick evaporation. This is aided in the Polar Short Sleeve shirt by strategically placed air vents that together are intended to keep you significantly cooler during hot weather or vigorous adventures.
Columbia’s Omni-Freeze® consists of specially shaped flat yarns that facilitate the release of heat, and feel cooler to the touch. The specifically shaped yarns, when woven or knit together, create Omni-Freeze, which transfers heat from a surface at a faster rate than traditional fabric. These fibers are also infused with a chemical that reacts with liquid to produce a cooling effect.
The technology is lab proven, and all reads well in Columbia’s brochure, however, for our field team the Omni-Freeze Ice simply didn’t work as advertised.
It’s worth noting that we doubled our efforts on the Omni-Freeze Ice shirt. Over the course of a longer than usual review period the Omni-Freeze Ice was with us on runs over sizzling asphalt, hikes through sun-baked canyons, bike rides on long stretches of torrid tarmac, trail runs in the high desert, and then all over again. Unfortunately, time and again our experience with the product did not prove the results anticipated or expected.
As much as we wanted the fabric to work, our team all shared the same experience: in the middle of our training session we found ourselves hoping, wishing the Omni-Freeze would kick in- It never did. While the Omni-Freeze Ice did feel “slightly” cooler to the touch on the exterior of the shirt, it did not provide any noticeable cooling on the interior. In fact, our field testers felt that the Solar Polar actually retained more heat than other technical shirts while not providing the same level of air flow and breathability as other technical shirts.
Columbia’s Omni-Freeze arrived on our doorsteps with promises of icy coolness during our hot summer adventures. Unfortunately, for our team, the real world performance of the Omni-Freeze Ice shirt was no better than those technical tees that you get with your paid race entry to the local 5k. With all of the hype and a $60 price point, we expected to be virtually frostbitten even in 90 degree heat. Unfortunately in the end the shirt did not perform in the field in a way that would allow us to recommend this product, especially at the $60 price tag.
Spring 2013 Columbia will release their new Omni-Freeze Zero lineup. Unlike Columbia’s Omni-Freeze – based on an endothermic reaction to create a cooling effect – the new Omni-Freeze zero employs a “mechanical” reaction as opposed to a chemical one. Columbia provided us two Omni-Freeze Zero sleeves to sample the new technology, and at this point we can report it’s very promising.
Manufactured by Columbia Sportswear, Omni-Freeze Ice is available on a variety of garments, including hats, baselayers, jackets and pants ranging from $25-100. Available at Columbia.com and online retailers everywhere.