The Coolest Way to Sweat: A First Look at Columbia Sportswear's Omni-Freeze ZERO

A first look at a fabric designed
to use your sweat to cool you down.
Humans have been wearing clothing for a very, very long time. But most of the clothing we have is designed to keep us warm. If we're cold, we put clothes on. If we're hot, we take clothes off.

But, what if you're Dakota Jones or Max King, running 42 miles from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and back, and taking your shirt off means frying under the hot Arizona sun? What if you're a construction worker stationed outdoors in the summer heat? What if you're just a normal girl who likes to play outside, but can't stand how uncomfortable it is to endure the sweltering, humid east coast summers?

A few days in advance of the official press release, Columbia announced the culmination of four years of research and development - Omni Freeze ZERO. Small blue rings, the color of cool, embedded in Omni-Freeze ZERO fabric are made of a special cooling polymer that is actually designed to cool you off while you sweat.

When exposed to moisture, the rings swell, creating an instant cooling sensation that lasts until the moisture evaporates. One single yard of fabric has 40,000 rings on it, but is still incredibly soft and comfortable next-to-skin. It's shaping up to be one of the most innovative advancements in technology the industry has ever seen.

Half of the #OmniTen decked out in Omni-Freeze ZERO,
all prepped for a day of testing.
Columbia's PIT (Performance Innovation Team), the research division of the company, used a variety of testing methods to see if the technology actually worked. They found that sponsored athletes reported feeling cooler and more comfortable in Omni-Freeze ZERO than they did wearing nothing at all. They tested the fabric using thermal imaging, proving that the fabric temperature actually drops when water is added to it.

Dan Hanson, Columbia's VP of Global  Marketing, called sweat "the currency of the active," a currency that we typically waste by wicking it away, but that Columbia believes we can actually use to cool us down. It makes perfect sense - we sweat to control our skin's temperature, and by wicking it away using traditional polyester wicking materials, we're wasting the sweat. In their spring 2013 line, Columbia will be introducing a variety of products using Omni-Freeze ZERO - everything from shoes to shirts, even hats and neck gaiters.

But does it really work? As part of the #OmniTen team, I'm among a small group of "normal" people who got to test out Omni-Freeze ZERO in Sedona today on (what was to me, because it's been a while,) a long mountain bike outing in the stunning area surrounding Sedona, Arizona. (Trip report to follow!) It's just plain ridiculously hot here in the summer, which makes it a perfect place to try a technology like this.

The site of my first day of testing, near Bell Rock in Sedona!
I could absolutely feel a cooling sensation when the fabric got wet. It was almost a little unnerving, especially when I washed the shirt Columbia provided us with at the end of the day and felt it get colder by the second in my hands. But it's especially dry here, and as soon as the water/sweat evaporated while I was on the bike, the cooling sensation dissipated. However, the material is so super soft and comfortable that even without the cooling sensation, I loved wearing it this first time.

I'll be putting the technology through its paces over the next few days and every chance I get to see if it holds up over time, and if it really makes a difference in how I feel about exerting myself in the heat. Next up, we're headed to Havasu Falls, and I'm excited to see if the technology makes a difference when we're out hiking in the Arizona heat all day. Stay tuned!

What do you think? Could this be a solution to a significant issue, a design flaw the industry has perpetuated? Or are you skeptical? Leave a comment!


Anders Dahl said…
Great info.
What is the difference between Omni-Freeze ZERO and Omni-Freeze ICE?
Katie said…
Glad it was helpful, Anders! Omni-Freeze ZERO makes use of these small blue dots I described in the preview that actually lower the temperature of the garment. From what I understand about Omni-Freeze ICE is that it's a chemical fabric treatment. Hope that helps!
Anders Dahl said…
I believe I read on another blog, that Omni-Freeze ZERO replaced Omni-Freeze ICE. I can't find any mention of ICE on Columbia's site.