There have been relatively few advancements with regard to athletic apparel since 1996 when Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour, realised the potential of moisture wicking fabrics. He noticed that whilst his cotton shirts would retain sweat, his compression shorts remained bone dry.

He adapted the use of synthetic fabrics such as polyester and lycra from compression shorts into a variety of other garments, including shirts, socks and even shoes. Since then, the trend has taken off with major manufacturers like Puma, Adidas and Nike all jumping aboard. Over two decades later, and with the market saturated, is there still room for improvement? Columbia Sportswear seems to think so.

Today we take a look at Omni-Freeze ZERO, the newest edition to Columbia sportswear’s 2013 line of athletic apparel. The Omni-Freeze brand was first released in 2012 with the launch of Omni-Freeze ICE. This year’s newest entrant, the ZERO, ups the ante by taking the company’s vision of next-generation sportswear by embedding it with their own proprietary cooling technology.

What Are ‘Wicking’ Fabrics & Why Are They Used?

Sweat has always played an important role in regulating the body’s temperature through a process known as evaporative cooling. Simply put, evaporative cooling describes how the body uses the evaporation of sweat, to lower core body temperatures.

Here, sweat acts as the medium through which heat is transferred. Since humans no longer walk around naked, this process is impeded by overlaying garments. The sweat becomes trapped between the skin and clothing where it pools, creating an excess of heat resulting in discomfort.

Traditional technical apparel helps to combat this problem by drawing the sweat away from the skin and dissipating it over a large surface area to reduce the damp and sticky feeling associated with hydrophilic (water loving) fabrics like cotton.

However, wicking materials contain a woven, hydrophobic (water hating) repellent like polyester. The capillary action of wicking materials helps draw moisture away from the skin but because of their hydrophobicity, they are unable to retain moisture. This causes sweat to bead to the surface of the fabric, making it much more readily available for evaporation – increasing drying time, heat dissipation and cooling.

How Omni-Freeze Is Different

In addition to containing the aforementioned wicking capabilities of most other sportswear, Omni-Freeze ICE and ZERO take additional steps to increase their cooling abilities:

  • ICE: This product line contains a chemical known as xylitol, which is embedded into the fabric in the form of crystals. When these crystals come in contact with water, such as that found in your sweat, they dissolve absorbing heat in an endothermic reaction. The same process happens when you suck in air whilst chewing xylitol containing gum – that’s where the cooling sensation comes from.
  • ZERO: Contained within its polyester fabric are thousands of blue 3.81mm hydrophilic polymer rings (a men’s size medium contains over 41,000 of them). Through a concerted effort, the polyester spreads the wearer’s sweat throughout the shirt, whilst the rings (using the bodies heat) absorb moisture, turning into goose bump like three dimensional doughnut shapes.

    This helps to produce what Columbia calls a ‘prolonged cooling sensation’ by essentially amplifying the process of evaporative cooling, holding onto and lengthening the time it takes sweat to evaporate. The exact composition of these polymer rings remains a secret, but tests revealed that the shirt is up to 10 degrees cooler against the wearer’s skin compared to other fabrics.

Omni-Freeze ZERO Ad

The Gear

Readers in the US can shop the full Columbia Omni-Freeze ZERO range on the brand’s official website at For our UK readers, check out the range available to buy from online retailers below:

  • Columbia Mens Coolest Cool Jewels 6 Shorts – BlackColumbia Mens Coolest Cool Jewels 6 Shorts - Black
  • Columbia Mens Coolest Cool Short Sleeve Top – Hyper BlueColumbia Mens Coolest Cool Short Sleeve Top - Hyper Blue
  • Columbia Mens Coolest Cool Sleeveless Top – BlackColumbia Mens Coolest Cool Sleeveless Top - Black
  • Columbia Mens Coolest Cool Long Sleeve Top – WhiteColumbia Mens Coolest Cool Long Sleeve Top - White
  • Columbia Coolhead Ballcap Iii Cap – Hyper BlueColumbia Coolhead Ballcap Iii Cap - Hyper Blue
  • Columbia Mens Coolest Cool Short Sleeve Top – BlackColumbia Mens Coolest Cool Short Sleeve Top - Black

As the line is still relatively new we can expect an increase in the depth and breadth of the collection, most notably the future addition of traditional (non-compression) shorts; this missing piece seems to be one caveat of the Omni brand.

Undoubtedly this technology will be adopted by other brands as time goes on, but for now Columbia is the only place to where you can grab them. So, if you’re looking to upgrade your training wear, or just wanting to try something new, Columbia sportswear’s next generation Omni line is a great place to start.

If you own or have tried any of the new Omni-Free lines, let us know how they compare to other brands such as Nike and Under Armour in the comments section below.