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Tested: Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero

columbia omni-freeze zero

Walking through Dick’s Sporting Goods earlier this Spring, I had the chance to participate in a live product demonstration, and there was no way I was passing it up. Unlike the free junk food samples in Sam’s Club, what this sales associate held in her hands actually looked like it could improve my athletic performance!

I guessed that the product was some sort of summer arm sleeve – an “arm cooler” rather than the traditional arm warmer. I was right. Kind of.

It wasn’t a true arm sleeve so much as it was a long sleeve of fabric cut into little forearm-length sections for in-store demos.

As I pulled the sleeve up my arm, she told me all about this new material called Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero which would react with your sweat to cool you down.

“Yeah, that’s called evaporation,” is what echoed through my head.

Just as I was wondering how many times I’d have to ride up the escalator before breaking a sweat and seeing if the product worked, she pulled a small spray bottle out of her bag and began to coat my sleeved arm with a strong mist of water.

“Do you feel it getting colder?” she asked immediately.

“Yeah, it feels like someone sprayed cold water on my arm,” I replied with a grin.

It couldn’t have been more than 10 seconds before my grin shifted to a look of surprise and bewilderment! Somehow, my arm started to get cold. Really cold. Like, ice pack cold!

I couldn’t believe how well it worked, so I graciously accepted another free sample for my other arm and headed out for my afternoon kayak trip. I wanted to see what happened with real sweat in real conditions, rather than water from a spray bottle.

And I’ll get to those test results later. First, let’s talk about the Omni-Freeze Zero product line.

This new line from Columbia, featuring shirts, shorts, underwear, bandanas, and more, hit store shelves in early Spring 2013. As it says on the labels, these garments offer “sweat activated cooling.”

How Does Omni-Freeze ZERO Work?

wearing neck gaiter

Somehow, the little blue rings contained in the fabric react to moisture and lower the temperature of the shirt. They’re made of some type of hydrophilic polymer which actually absorbs sweat, rather than simply wicking it away. As they absorb sweat, they swell up (going from rings to doughnuts,) and they use some of your body heat for that process.

At least, that’s what Popular Science tells me. I’m not a chemical engineer!

I like to think of it as enhanced evaporation. (Wonder if I can get that phrase trademarked for a future CoachLevi.com clothing line?)

The coolest part is that because these are part of the fabric and not some type of coating, you can wash the shirt as much as you want without it losing its effectiveness.

What Did I Get To Test Out?

I talked to Columbia, and they didn’t have anything cycling-specific for me, but they made some suggestions. I ended up getting a box containing a $75 long-sleeve half-zip shirt, $30 neck gaiter, and $30 arm sleeves. Awesome!

The arm cooling sleeves look great for riding, and the rest seems ideal for hiking and trail running, and maybe kayaking as well. (It’s just too bad I missed the launch party and grand unveiling!)

The first thing I noticed was quality craftsmanship. It’s the little things. For example, the zipper pull tab features a Columbia logo.

And it’s a “hidden zipper” so it won’t rub against your neck! It’s lined for comfort along the length of zipper, and it works.

Those are just a couple examples of the quality touches you get that show you how detailed Columbia is with their products.

From past experience, I’d say that durability shouldn’t be a concern, but these are thin performance fabrics, so don’t expect them to handle extraordinary abuse.

As far as fit and sizing, this is where you have to watch out.

Columbia has many shirts with similar names that have different cuts and styles. I was under the impression that this was going to be a compression top, but it definitely is NOT. I wouldn’t call it baggy, but it’s not compression. My size Medium isn’t even tight or fitted. I could easily wear a Small, but I chose Medium since the reviews on Columbia’s site talked about how tight it was.

If you wear a medium race-cut cycling jersey, consider a size Small Omni Freeze Zero shirt. (Trust my opinion as a fellow endurance athlete.)

The arm sleeves, on the other hand, those are tight! My arms are tiny and just barely support size small arm warmers, but the S/M for these is perfect. These must be compression because they’re tight, take some time to get in place, and they stay in place during workouts. Also great is how the sleeves are very long and cover my entire arm.

I didn’t see a sizing chart specific to the sleeves, but I’d say if your biceps are 14″ or bigger, choose the L/XL size.

The neck gaiter only comes in one size, so that’s easy!

columbia omni-freeze zero arm sleeves

Real Life Omni-Freeze Zero Testing

This past summer wasn’t exceptionally hot, but I did some testing and formed some opinions anyway.

wearing shirt

Freeze Degree 1/2 Zip Long-sleeve Shirt

This shirt is made of a neat material that’s thin and soft and seems to be comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.

I did one short bike ride in this shirt, but mostly I used it for running, kayaking, or casual wear (yeah I wore it to the bar once, and it didn’t seem out of place.)

The shirt was comfortable for everything, and allowed great freedom of movement during paddling, but it didn’t do anything special to impress me. I blame this on having a size too big for me, though. The fabric can’t really do its job if it’s not touching your skin.

I even wore it for a flight in a small aircraft (a Piper Warrior III, to be specific,) which was by far the hottest, most uncomfortable situation the shirt faced. Sadly, when you’re inside a hot, stuffy plane, in the August heat, no fancy shirt is going to cool you down!

Freezer Zero Arm Sleeves

I wore the sleeves a lot! Just about every time I went riding or paddling this summer, I had the sleeves on. They kept my arms cool, and more importantly, helped me avoid a farmer’s tan!

They were definitely most useful when the temps climbed above 85 degrees.

wearing neck gaiter

Freezer Zero Neck Gaiter

I’ve never actually owned a neck gaiter before, but once I got into the habit of wearing this one, I was pleasantly surprised at how useful they are!

Mostly, I used it to keep the sun off the back of my neck. It’s loose around my neck, but tall enough that even when it bunches up, it covers the exposed area of the back of my neck. It did a much better job than self-applied sunscreen would have!

If you’re not breathing heavily from strenuous activity, just out in the sun, you can pull it up to cover your nose and ears. This is great during kayaking and fishing.

Honestly, you can cover your entire head and still have some visibility in the sunlight. Useful for leisure activities such as sunbathing. Do not try that if you’re moving though!

Pro tip: You can easily dunk the neck gaiter in water, then put it on. Oh yeah, that feels good!

columbia omni-freeze zero arm sleeves

[Notice with the arm sleeves turned inside out, you get a better view of the blue circles.]

What was the best use for the Omni-Freeze Zero garments?

In general, the best use is when you’re doing something and sweating the whole time. Sure, these are great quality products that you could wear all the time, but to get the benefits that you pay for, you need to sweat a lot.

If it’s under 80 degrees, or you’re getting random splashes of water on you during paddling, it’s just another wicking t-shirt. You need to provide the fabric with a moderate but consistent supply of sweat (or water) to keep it activated.

omni-freeze zero indoor training

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be used indoors! Soaking the neck gaiter in cold water pre-ride is amazing, and the combination of wet sleeves and a fan really does provide some extra cooling effect.

neck gaiter on max

Too bad dogs cool off differently than humans. This neck gaiter, with a couple leg holes, would be perfect to keep the sun off Max!

My final verdict is…

Overall, just what you’d expect from Columbia – a high-quality product at a high price.

I can confirm that the claims are real. However, don’t expect miracles, and don’t get your hopes up on an Omni-Freeze Zero cycling kit.

But if you deal with serious summer heat, especially drier air like in the Southwest, the slight difference in cooling might be worth the extra money.

Official website: www.Columbia.com

Buy online: www.Amazon.com (the shirt) | www.Amazon.com (the arm sleeves)

Product Review Details
Company: Columbia
Product: Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero
Reviewed by: Coach Levi
My Rating: 4.0 out of 5
Date last updated: 2014-08-11
Obtained Product: Free sample from company.
CoachLevi.com Advertiser: No.

Click here if you would like to get your product reviewed on CoachLevi.com.

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Levi Bloom is an experienced endurance athlete who has been training and competing for over 17 years. A former Cat 1 road and mountain bike racer (professional class on the regional circuit), he is now a cycling coach (USA Cycling Level 3 Certified) and sports nutrition coach (Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certified).

7 Comments
  1. If youre not wearing a helmet you can cover your entire neck and over your head, leaving only your face exposed. Ideal for afternoon fishing.

  2. Do they have any arm warmers I can wear outside in this weather? I spend more time in the tree stand nowadays but still enjoy the bike.

  3. @Denny

    If they have any in their Omni-Heat line up, I haven’t seen them. Might need a full base layer instead!

  4. How do the sleeves compare to those De Soto arm coolers? (The De Soto sleeves are even more expensive, mind you.)

    • @Meghan

      I think the Omni Freeze sleeves are far superior!

      The De Soto arm coolers were a good idea, but I don’t think they do anything other than keep the sun’s rays off of your arms. There’s no other cooling functionality. And yeah, I see they still sell for over $30, so the Omni Freeze is the way to go!

  5. OK nice, but is omni freeze, particularly the sleeveless type, effective cycle riding colder wheather conditions? +40 TO +30

    • @Roberto

      Good question. Do you mean effective as a baselayer? As in, will it still wick your sweat away from your skin in those low temps?

      I would think so, but I haven’t personally worn omni-freeze as a base layer.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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