Gear Review: Columbia Sportswear Women's Heat 360 1/2 Zip Long Sleeve Top

Staying warm in Upstate New York.
Layering can be tricky. There's a delicate balance between creating the right mix of clothing to stay warm and ending up looking like Randy from A Christmas Story

Perfecting that layering system can be the key to staying comfortable and the system will likely change depending on the activity you've got planned. Layering system components that can help you regulate your body temperature are key, and it's great to have versatile pieces that will work for a number of different activities. Columbia provided me with the Women's Heat 360 1/2 Zip top and it's been a great fit for my layering needs.

The Women's Heat 360 1/2 Zip is one piece in Columbia's line of products featuring Omni-Heat technology. The thermal reflective layer (read: a bunch of little silver dots) printed on the inside of the garment is designed to maintain warmth and prevent heat loss by reflecting and retaining the warmth our bodies naturally generate.

The inner lining also makes use of Columbia's Omni-Wick technology to keep moisture away from the body. The 1/2 zip feature lets you unzip a bit if you start overheating, or zip all the way up for extra warmth. The top is lightweight and designed with four-way comfort stretch. It's meant to be worn alone, or as a component of that ever so important layering system. The top is designed with an athletic fit, which keeps it from being too bulky. My normal size fits snugly, but still leaves plenty of room for a long sleeve base layer underneath. The smooth reflective layer even prevents the top from bunching when I put it on over other layers. The top moves with you, which makes it significantly more comfortable.

The different colored panels and stitching add a form-flattering touch to the Heat 360 1/2 Zip and the aqua haze color is beautiful. (I might need to get it in red, too!) But the best part? The top will keep you as warm as Columbia promises it will. I stayed comfortable hiking in 30-40ºF temperatures with only a tank top underneath and made it part of my layering system for outdoor scenarios during Wilderness First Aid training on a chilly northeastern Pennsylvania weekend. The sleeve pocked is large enough for an iPod or small phone, which can be great if you anticipate taking the top running.

My only issue with the top is the placement of the seams on the forearms. The seams started to rub against my bare skin when I wore the Heat 360 over a tank top, and I don't see those seams having any particular function. Other than that, the top is soft and comfortable. If you're on the shorter side, (I'm 5'8"), you might find the sleeves a bit too long, but they fit me well.

Overall, the Heat 360 1/2 Zip Top is a great lightweight layering piece. It will keep you warm, cozy and looking stylish during outdoor activities of all kinds. And luckily for all the guys out there, Columbia made a version for you too!

Disclosure: Columbia provided Adventure-Inspired with a complimentary Heat 360 1/2 Zip Top free of charge for this review, For more information about the Adventure-Inspired gear review policy, please click here.

UPDATE 12/29/11: I took the fleece out on the Pinchot Trail trip and discovered a likely unintended benefit of the Omni Heat lining - the printed dots make the inside of the garment slippery. This means that when I put it on over other long sleeved shirts, everything stays put. It's uncomfortable to layer pieces and have them bunch up, but thanks to the Omni Heat dots, the top moves easily with any layers I put under it. I'd imagine this would be a benefit with any of the Omni Heat products.