Included in our pile of gear to test, during the backpacking trip along Yosemite's North Rim earlier this summer, was the Solar Polar 1/2 Zip top from Columbia. Featuring Columbia's new Omni-Freeze ICE technology, the shirt kept me cool everyday of our trip, as well as for weeks afterwards hiking through both Germany and California.
Columbia's Omni-Freeze ICE technology uses your own sweat to keep you cool. When moisture hits the chemically treated shirt, you feel an instant cooling sensation on your skin, as the temperature of the fabric is lowered quite a few degrees.
Columbia has not revealed exactly what is the chemical used in the Omni-Freeze ICE treatment, but my guess is Xylitol. Xylitol is the key ingredient behind the Icefil fabric making the rounds in the cycling industry (think Descente Icefil Jersey), as well as in the soon to be released Sherpa Adventure Gear summer active wear line.
In Yosemite, the days we hiked were quite hot, so I welcomed the cooling sensation felt mainly where I sweat the most- under my arms and stomach. When we hiked underneath Yosemite Falls on the first day, the mist hit the entire shirt and I felt an instant drop in temperature.
Where the Omni-Freeze ICE really seemed to excel was when you stepped into the shade, popped off your pack, and a nice breeze hit. You would instantly be cooled, almost to the point that you were too cold and had to step back into the sun.
I normally prefer long sleeve shirts for the sun protection when playing outside all day. The Solar Polar 1/2 Zip also features Columbia's Omni-Shade technology, offering UPF 50 sun protection, even for the back of your hands.
Keep in mind, with a long sleeve shirt, you may not feel the cooling sensation from the Omni-Freeze ICE in places you don't sweat much like the back of your arms. The Solar Polar 1/2 Zip is very form fitting, so you might want to order a size up if you are looking for something a little more loose and breezy to help with cooling. The Omni-Freeze ICE technology will also be found in a short sleeve T-shirt and tank version, perfect for high intensity activities where you may not need as much coverage.
Xylitol is naturally anti-microbial, so after wearing my shirt for four days straight, I may not have been completely stink free but at least didn't horribly offend the tourists on the Yosemite Valley shuttle bus heading back to our car.
Bottom Line: The Solar Polar 1/2 Zip and other apparel featuring Columbia's new Omni-Freeze ICE technology offer a great way to stay one step ahead of the heat during you summer activities. If you have to wear a shirt, why not wear one that is going to help cool your skin by a few degrees.
In both a men's and women's version, the Solar Polar 1/2 Zip ($70), Baselayer Lightweight Short Sleeve Top ($55), Insight Ice Tank ($40), and the Men's Airgill Chill Long Sleeve Shirt ($110) will be available for order January/February 2012.