Columbia has introduced what it claims to be a new revolution in sports clothing. A special fabric called Omni-Freeze Zero uses your sweat as a cooling agent. When mixed with the fabric, your sweat actually makes it cooler to the touch.
In 2009, Columbia introduced the original Omni-Freeze fabric, which reportedly disperses body heat faster using a special weave. Omni-Freeze Zero stays even cooler, by using your body chemistry to create a cooling effect.
Sweat itself is the body's intrinsic cooling mechanism. Simply stated, sweat keeps you cool through the process of evaporation. The problem is that humans don't like to walk around naked, so instead of evaporating into the atmosphere like nature intended, sweat drips and pools into our clothes, where it feels hot and uncomfortable. Traditional sports apparel has long aimed to combat that warm, damp, sticky feeling by pulling moisture away from your body and allowing it to dissipate.
Instead of just wicking away perspiration, Omni-Freeze Zero puts it to work. Your sweat (or moisture in general) reacts with the specially designed polymer contained in the visible rings in the material to create a cooling effect. The rings actually swell like goose bumps and create what Columbia classifies as a "prolonged cooling sensation."
"Historically, outdoor and athletic brands have looked at sweating as a problem … something to be wicked away with so-called ‘technical,’ decades-old polyester fabrics," said Mick McCormick, executive vice president, in a statement. "Omni-Freeze ZERO is an entirely new approach. We see sweat as a renewable resource that will allow athletes, outdoor enthusiasts or anyone that spends time in hot, humid conditions to sweat smarter, staying more comfortable."
When we first saw Omni-Freeze Zero, we had a case of déjà vu. Not a full year ago, Columbia introduced Omni-Freeze Ice, a fabric that ... wait for it ... creates a cooling sensation when sweat or moisture hits it. So what exactly is new here, besides the "Zero" name and big, rhetoric-filled press campaign?
We emailed that question to a Columbia public relations rep, who explained: "There is a different construction method, and the wearer will notice the difference between the two. With Omni-Freeze Zero the wearer will feel an enduring and long-lasting cooling feeling - it's a prolonged cooling effect that is always kind of there because the polymer dots will stay swelled."
Columbia even goes so far as to say that some of its athletes prefer wearing Omni-Freeze Zero garments over removing layers of clothing.
Outside of that, Columbia is keeping the details of Omni-Freeze Zero closely guarded. From official information and early reports, it sounds as though Zero essentially amplifies the effect of natural evaporative cooling. Instead of letting sweat take over your clothing, or attempting to pull it away, the new fabric works with sweat to maximize its cooling properties. If it works half as well as Columbia wants us to believe, it could be an effective approach that's quickly mimicked by other apparel manufacturers.
Omni-Freeze Zero will find its way into Columbia's line next spring. It will be used in 40 styles of shirts, headwear, accessories and other gear for both men and women, as well as in Columbia's Powerdrain shoe line.
Columbia brand Mountain Hardwear will also use the technology, though it will market it under its own nomenclature: Cool.Q.Zero.