Gear Reviews: Best Gear of the Columbia Sportswear 2013 Spring Preview Event and Beyond

My Arizona gear collection provided by Columbia.
The most memorable pieces of my trip to Sedona and Havasu Falls with Columbia and the #OmniTen crew didn't involve gear, but that's essentially why we were all there in the first place. We got a glimpse of Columbia's Spring 2013 line as well as popular products from 2012. This gear roundup features some of my favorites, my almost-favorites, and stuff Columbia really needs to make with Omni-Freeze ZERO fabric.

Women's Freeze Degree Zero Crew - I touched on the shirt during an intro post, but with several days of testing, I can confidently say it's an amazing product. The shirt kept me more comfortable than I thought possible under the near-paralyzing Arizona sun during full days outdoors, even in the incredible heat wave we're in the middle of in Pennsylvania right now.

The super soft fabric's cooling effect is more than noticeable. Rinsing out the shirt in the bathtub after mountain biking, I could feel the fabric cooling off to the point where my hands started to get chilled. I've never liked sweating, but this could be the only shirt that makes me want to sweat more. I'd love to see it in different colors, (outdoor white clothing never stays that way for long), and even in a v-neck. The shirt runs a little small, but it's meant to be next to skin. I sized up from my typical medium to a large and wish I hadn't.

On the bike with the Treadlite 16
and Freezer Zero Crew. (Heidi Henry)
Treadlite 16 Backpack - Though not a women's specific pack, I loved the Treadlite 16. It felt roomier than a 16L pack should and has plenty of storage options, including space for a 3L hydration pack. The front and side pockets were great for storing just about anything and there are built in loops for carrying ice tools or trekking poles. It's not often you find a daypack of this size with compression straps, but having them makes a huge difference in fit. The Treadlite 16 has a rescue whistle built in to the sternum strap buckle, just in case. The rugged Tarmaq bottom and ripstop fabric construction allowed the pack to take a beating in Arizona on our mountain bike ride as well as on hikes here in Eastern Pennsylvania. The only thing I'd change is to add padding to the waist belt and a velcro strap to hold a hydration bladder hose. Overall, I love it, and lucky for all of us, it's available now.

Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter - Of all the items Columbia gave us to test, this is my number one. It's incredibly versatile and can be worn around your neck to protect you from the sun, as a headband to tame wild camp hair, even over your mouth and nose to protect you from wind and dust. But that versatility is something that all buffs and neck gaiters share; what sets the Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter apart is the fact that it actually cools you off. If I found myself overheating on our Havasu Falls trip, I'd just dunk it in water and put it around my neck to instantly feel cooler. I'll definitely get good use out of this piece of gear.

Decked out in the Trail Dryer Hat, Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter and Freeze Degree Zero Crew in Supai, AZ. (Heidi Henry)

Trail Dryer Hat - I don't typically wear hats, unless it's winter and they looks like this. But with the Arizona sun beating down on my scalp all day for three days in a row, I had to. If I'm going to break my usual paradigm, it might as well be with something cute and functional. The Omni-Freeze ZERO lined sweatband helped keep my head noticeably cooler than it was when I took the hat off, and the velcro back adjustment helped me get just the right fit. The only problem with wearing a hat when you're not used to it is the potential for losing sunglasses every time you throw the hat off. (Thank you, Nancy, for finding mine!)

Stuff That Didn't Make the "Best of" List

#OmniTen Member Katie Boué demonstrating
how the Baroness 35 works as a daypack, too!
(Heidi Henry)
Women's Baroness 35L Pack - I love the name, the color of the pack and how durable it feels. It comes with an attached rain cover and is ergonomically designed for a woman's frame. I love that you can access the bag's main compartment two ways as well as the presence of a roomy hydration bladder sleeve. But there was one seemingly small thing that didn't work for me. Though I love that the pack has them, the placement of the mesh pockets on the waist belt caused chafing on my arms as I walked. I didn't think it would be an issue, but the chafing got painful toward the end of the trip. Also, if you've got a 26" waist or smaller, the waist belt is likely going to be too big for you. (I don't have that problem.) Overall, I'll use it again, but won't be using the mesh hip belt pockets.

Women's Back Up Passo Alto Short  - The "back up" part of the name refers to a design feature as part of the waistband that keeps these shorts from sliding down your backside while you're in the middle of an activity. And it works. Even three hours of sitting on a mountain bike was no match for the Back Up waistband. The shorts are stretchy and move with you, and the placement of the pockets makes them pretty flattering. However, the normal size was a bit too tight on my legs and going up a size meant sacrificing the fit of the rise.  There's a small internal adjustment string that I found unnecessary, and the positioning of the button made the shorts stick out a bit just below my bellybutton. I might wear them again, but they're not among my essentials.

Sporting the Baroness 35L and
Viva Bonita Boardshort at Mooney Falls.
Women's Viva Bonita Boardshort - These shorts are adorable, and with five color options, there's sure to be one that fits every wardrobe. I got to test out the "winter green jakarta grille print" pair and they dried as quickly as Columbia promised. The 3" inseam is perfect for a pair of board shorts. However, the drawstring doesn't actually tighten the shorts - it's all for show - and the material isn't as soft as I'd like it to be when it's dry.

Stuff Columbia Really Needs to Make with Omni-Freeze ZERO Fabric:
  • Sports bras - The company doesn't currently make sports bras; you can't be everything to everyone, right? But a few of us ladies noticed we didn't get the full cooling effect across half of our upper body because part of it was covered with the same bras we've always worn during outdoor activities. There's serious potential for an NHO with Omni-Freeze ZERO, but I'm willing to deal.
  • Boy shorts - I can't speak for the guys, but I know I'd kill for a pair of Omni-Freeze ZERO unmentionables. Every year, I try to last past Memorial Day Weekend in Philly without putting the AC unit in the bedroom window. I'd last a lot longer lounging around in those. (Lucky for me, Columbia's GM of Apparel Merchandising says, "We are using ZERO in women's boy shorts, they are in our performance layering line." Sweet!)
  • Socks - The 2013 version of the Powerdrains, among other footwear, will be lined with the Omni-Freeze ZERO material. But if I'm wearing socks, which I do even with the Powerdrains, it might not help much. Columbia, dear Columbia, please make Omni-Freeze ZERO socks so I can use the pint of sweat my feet produce every day.
  • Tank tops - Not the kind with a shelf bra, assuming the sports bras happen, but a nice, lightweight racerback tank top. I'd wear it to CrossFit every single day.
What else would you suggest Columbia make with Omni-Freeze ZERO? Any of these items appeal to you? Tried any of the items that are currently available? Leave a comment!


Ann said…
when will all this gear be coming into stores?  I think I need to pick a few items!
Ha, I have a similar post in the works :) good call on an Omni-Freeze Zero sports bra though! THAT WOULD BE AWESOME AND I'D BUY 85!!!!! :)
Katie Levy said…
you'll definitely need a few items :) and in the meantime, you can test out all of my stuff, too! some things are available now, and if they are, I mentioned it in the post. everything else is out in spring 2013.