Magic Material? Clothing said to 'Cool Wearer with Sweat'

Glowing walls of sandstone tower over and surround Sedona, Ariz., a high-desert outpost famous for the metaphysical effect it has on people. Cults have gathered here, and New Age believers are known to hike the hills in search of spiritual vortexes rumored to exist above town.

It was on the outskirts of Sedona this weekend that Columbia Sportswear and its subsidiary brand Mountain Hardwear gathered a group of journalists for an open-air press conference at a ranch.

Omni-Freeze ZERO from Columbia.jpg

New category of clothing? Tiny polymer “donuts” add cooling effect

The occasion was a New Age announcement of sorts, the debuting of a fabric technology purported to offer “a whole new category of clothing” that features sweat-activated cooling properties and will “improve the way people live around the world.”

Those quotes belong to Mick McCormick, a VP at Columbia, who stood on a stage under desert stars and in front of a PowerPoint screen. He gestured to graphs and images of athletes sweating on a slide. “The world is hot and getting hotter, forget your politics,” he said.

But the night’s news had little to do with climate change. Trail runners and hot-weather hikers were more the concern for Columbia and Mountain Hardwear, who for the first time teamed up to co-launch a technology that will be used in both brands.

polmer dots.jpg

Close up: Omni-Freeze ZERO pattern on shirt

The magic stuff will be called Omni-Freeze ZERO from Columbia, and Mountain Hardwear will dub its iteration Cool.Q ZERO. Both names denote a technology that will debut in spring of 2013 and use tiny donut-shape accents laminated on polyester to “suck, swell, and expel” as an athlete sweats, thus providing a cooling effect, the company reports.

High secrecy surrounded the sucking/swelling donut shapes on the to-be-released shirts and other products previewed in Sedona. But Woody Blackford, an executive who focuses on product development, told me the polymer comes from a product used in industrial water-filtration processes. (That is all he would say.)

Unlike Columbia’s launch of cooling clothing last year, which was based on an endothermic reaction that issued a cooling effect, the new stuff for next season employs a “mechanical” reaction as opposed to a chemical one. “There is a latent heat absorption that sets it apart,” Blackford said.

Essentially, as Blackford explains it, the donut shapes suck up sweat and then react to the moisture. On a molecular level, things stir around and jingle in the polymer donuts to a point where the resulting reaction pulls heat from your skin. In addition, the sweat-filled donuts also aid in wicking sweat, Blackford continued, adding extra cooling via evaporative effect.

Columbia and Mountain Hardwear plan to make many products for next year with the polymer donut technology built in, including polyester-based running shirts, arm wraps, shoes, shorts, hats, and handkerchiefs. Columbia’s McCormick believes the resulting product crush will be so influential that outdoor brands as well as the likes of Nike, Under Armor and other athletic-apparel giants will be left in the dust. “Athletic apparel has been pretty much unchanged in a lot of ways since the 1970s,” he said. “Omni-Freeze ZERO is a huge paradigm shift.”

sedona vortex.jpg

Formations above Sedona, Ariz., where metaphysics are purported to override reality

McCormick is a passionate guy about his company and he is known for his stage drama. (See our article “Columbia calls ‘B.S.’ on Outdoors Industry” as example A.) But after trying out an arm sleeve at the Sedona conference I can say the effect of Omni-Freeze ZERO is noticeable immediately once sprayed with water. Air felt cooler on my skin.

Tomorrow we head into the desert to try out Omni-Freeze ZERO and Cool.Q ZERO products in their intended setting. The temps look to be pushing past 90 degrees and with sun — perfect for testing clothing that’s purportedly “activated” and cooled by sweat. I just hope the vortexes above town do not interfere with our results.

Update: Ran 17 miles today (!) through the desert on a tough trail run in clothing made from this material. I wore the Mountain Hardwear version. First impression = good! It’s a slick formula. The cooling effect is noticeable, especially in the wind + the shirts are top notch for running-wear in general — comfy and highly-wicking. Also, unlike last year’s launch of a similar line by Columbia, these ones can get wet, wick and dry, and then produce the “cooling effect” again and again all in the span of a single outing. It was sunny, dry, and in the 80s on our desert run today. I look forward to testing the shirts in more humid climates, but was impressed today on this first real test. Stay tuned for a detailed blog post soon.

—Stephen Regenold is editor of Connect with Regenold at or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

Posted by Rob - 06/09/2012 03:38 AM

Isn’t this what x-bionic have been doing for the last 5+ years

Posted by Mattias - 06/09/2012 06:21 AM

This is was sweat if made for in the first place. Your body sweat to cool down. If you run in a cotton t-shirt it will cool you down. Less tech…more run.

Posted by Editor - 06/09/2012 04:44 PM

Added an update at end of the post above. Ran 17 miles today in this clothing…

Posted by Editor - 06/09/2012 11:22 PM

Some test results (from a desert run):

Posted by whiskers - 06/11/2012 07:01 AM

Mattias – that’s true, but cotton is heavy when wet. Any evaporative action will cool you off. To be honest, I have my doubts about this working better than just plain old synthetic materials such as polyester. Same goes for other marketing efforts such as Nike’s CoolMax, etc.

Posted by Joe - 06/11/2012 12:15 PM

Sounds like more dubious gear tech. Maybe it’s me, but it sure seems like GearJunkie is a little too quick to serve as companies’ mouthpiece for paid press trips around the country. The article could at least note that human sweat was designed to do exactly what Columbia’s “new innovation” is doing here, not to mention the other brands that have similar cooling fabrics. A little skepticism and analysis mixed in with company exec/PR quotes would go a long way.

Posted by jpea - 06/12/2012 08:49 AM

I think the fact that Mountain Hardwear adopted it as well lends a decent amount of credibility. Even though they’re owned by Columbia, they seem to have kept up their quality that many have come to expect from them…

Posted by wojtek - 07/06/2012 02:32 PM

The initial effect pretty much resembles rubbing with some ointments, like BENGAY® ZERO DEGREES™.

What is interesting the sensation does not disappear immediately after taking the shirt off.
Will post a video review from my bike ride.

Posted by David - 08/12/2012 07:38 PM

After seeing a product being worn in South America last year called CoolCore Comfit, I believe made in the US it uses no chemicals and has a knit micro architecture that whe I wore in high heat heavy humiditymtomwork just wonderful.
Can.t find it locally here in Texas

Posted by Rebecca - 08/17/2012 06:40 PM

I wore a short sleeved Omni-Freeze shirt today for a 30 mile bike ride in coastal NC. Usually I have sweat running down my back, legs, arms and face. Plus I’m hot and worn out. Today I was warm and was sweating but it was not running all over my body. I kept waiting for the tiredness to set in from the heat and dehydration, but it never did. I don’t know if other fabrics can do this, but I want a wardrobe of the stuff.

Posted by wojtek - 09/13/2012 06:20 AM

I realized that size matters.
The T-shirt Columbia gave me is too big and cooling effect is almost non existent. Arm coolers fit well and are in close contact with the skin. Uploaded a short video on YouTube:

Posted by ellaava - 12/08/2012 03:14 PM

the Sportswear Columbia T-shirt has long been a leader in outdoors apparel and gear. and the quality and workmanship in their products is renowned. and the best think is that Every item is designed and tested for performance and endurance. this is all verity is very nice and with affordable price.

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