Unless you have been wandering the backcountry for the past few months, you have probably heard all the hype surrounding the launch of Columbia's new Omni-Freeze ZERO technology. During our trip to Havasu Falls and for the rest of the summer, I have been testing out my apparel featuring the new cooling technology in everything from dry desert air to hot and humid conditions in the Alps.
Omni-Freeze ZERO cooling technology is made highly visible by tiny blue rings embedded into the apparel fabric. These rings contain a cooling polymer that quickly swells and absorbs your sweat, harnessing the powerful cooling property of evaporation to help reduce your skin temperature.
Hiking through the extremely dry, hot conditions of the Grand Canyon, your sweat evaporates so quickly it is hard to tell if the cooling technology is really working. Only when you get the occasional chills running up your spine, leaving you to first think that you might have hit the initial stages of heat stroke, do you quickly realize it is just the Omni-Freeze ZERO technology at work. I wore a lightweight merino wool shirt for one of the days in Havasu to see if I could notice the difference. I was definitely wetter (my sweat did not evaporate as quickly from the wool) and much warmer.
In hot and humid conditions, such as those I encountered in the Alps this summer and here in Northern California, your sweat does not evaporate quite as readily. When you are working hard, it can be tough to quantify just how well the cooling technology is working but you do feel the difference from wearing a regular performance shirt. Even without the added cooling benefit, the Freeze Degree shirt fabric is so soft against the skin that it is a delight to wear.
For me, the cooling effects became most noticeable when the Freeze Degree Short Sleeve Top, or better yet, the Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter get completely wet. Those little polymer rings soak up multiple times their weight in water to keep that evaporative cooling machine going for a long time. There were points in Havasu where I was absolutely freezing walking through 100 degree heat with a wet shirt and neck gaiter.
If you are curious about the difference between Columbia's Omni-Freeze ICE technology from the summer season just passed and the new Omni-Freeze ZERO, unlike xylitol based cooling technology, where the cooling lasts only as long as the endothermic reaction, the Omni-Freeze ZERO technology offers a more prolonged and concentrated cooling sensation.
In terms of fit, I find most of Columbia's next to skin apparel a bit tight for my usual size, with the next size up typically too big. However, when it comes to cooling apparel, a snug fit is probably a good thing as you will better feel the cooling effects where the fabric touches your skin.
Bottom Line: Even if Omni-Freeze ZERO only cools you down a few degrees, that's a few degrees cooler than you would be with a normal synthetic performance shirt. The comfort of the fabric alone makes the Columbia apparel worth buying. The Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter is an absolute must.