By Tim Newcomb
May 12, 2014

This time of year, for runners, adventure racers and other outdoor athletes, gaining protection from the sun, the elements and the environment invariably comes at a cost in terms of staying cool. Columbia, a Portland-based apparel brand, thinks it has found a way to cut that cost with a new fabric, called Omni-Freeze Zero, that’s designed to provide a noticeable cooling effect for heated skin.

No sweat? Well, not exactly. Columbia’s design uses a “special polymer” that, when it touches moisture—such as all that sweat you produce during a workout or race—swells and cools surrounding fabric. The result is a lowering of the fabric’s overall temperature and a cooling effect for the skin. The two-year Columbia research used thermal imaging to show how the cooling was more than a simple “sensation.”

A fisherman picture wearing Columbia’s latest apparel featuring a “special polymer” that, when it touches moisture will swell and cool the surrounding fabric.

The blue-ringed polymer creation grabs the energy from the sweat to activate the movement within the fabric, which Columbia says can easily last the duration of a run. Edge’s on-the-road testing bears out the claim.

The Omni-Free Zero line, which also offers UPF 50 sun protection, comes in a ½ zip long-sleeve workout shirt, neck gaiter, arm sleeves and more. The workout gear also includes moisture-wicking materials in high-sweat zones for breathability, four-way stretch and antimicrobial treatment.

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Columbia reports that the neck gaiter and arm sleeves are proving popular with both runners and adventure racers dealing with skin-scuffing elements.

Protected and cool—it’s a welcome combination that puts one in mind of Thomas Edison’s definition of genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb

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