Sweat shouldn't be a problem, according to Columbia Sportswear. While the activewear market currently offers a limited array of moisture-wicking fabrics, what hasn't been tapped into is the idea of perspiration as a renewable resource. In that vein, Columbia aims to transcend what they see as dated polyester blends for an entirely new technology that takes advantage of sweat to aid in temperature control. Launched this week, the technology behind Omni-Freeze Zero is a project four years in the making. The material boasts a special polymer that doesn't get rid of sweat, but absorbs it into visible—and graphically pleasant—little blue rings for an actual cooling effect.
When exposed to moisture the polymer rings swell like goose bumps for an instant and enduring cool-down. Available for spring 2013, Omni-Freeze Zero will be incorporated into tops, jackets and other activewear layers as well as neck and arm sleeves. The idea, says Woody Blackford, the head of Columbia's "Performance Innovation Team", is to change how people move in the heat. "In general, people remove clothing layers to stay cool," he points out, "but sponsored athletes using Omni-Freeze Zero have noted that in hot, humid conditions, this is the first technology that feels cooler and more comfortable than wearing nothing at all."
I recently put a range of Omni-Freeze Zero gear to the test in Sedona, Arizona. On a fully sun-exposed hike and hour-long yoga session on a red rock plateau in 101-degree weather, though the atmosphere skews dry to begin with, I was well aware of my sweat-free state. Not only did I stay dry, but the fabric felt silky and comfortable against my skin. Fearing the hi-tech "cooling" sensation would feel strange against my skin or that I'd be soaked in a cold sweat proved unfounded—I simply felt naturally comfortable and still nicely warm from my workout.
Also part of the current offerings, and available in updated styles for Spring 2013, are Columbia's unrivaled high-back ladies' bottoms—shorts with a substantial rise in the back that offer ample coverage and seem slimming at the same time—and the Drainmaker and Powerdrain will be updated to version two with 30% more drain ports and greater traction for trekking through wet conditions. Our fellow campers who hiked through a creek reported back amazing drainage capabilities (AKA dry feet).
Columbia's Omni-Freeze Zero technology will be available in Spring 2013 online and in stores wherever the brand is sold.