Cool to the Touch: Columbia's New Fabric Takes on Heat

Monday May 12th, 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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