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Reviews > Clothing > Shirts > Columbia OmniFreeze ICE SST Top > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Columbia OMNI Freeze ICE Baselayer SS Top

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - May 12, 2012

Field Report - September 4, 2012

Long Term Report - November, 2012

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 58
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 230 lbs (104 kg)
Email address: kwpapke at gmail dot com
City, State, Country: Tucson, Arizona USA

My backpacking background locales are a combination of Minnesota where I have lived most of my adult life, and Arizona where I moved to take a new job about three years ago.  I have always been a "comfort-weight" backpacker, never counting grams, but still keeping my pack as light as easily attained.  I need to stay as cool as possible when hiking in the Sonoran desert, and I sweat profusely, so I'm always on the lookout for apparel that will improve my thermal comfort on the trail.

Initial Report

Product Information

Manufacturer: Columbia Sportswear Company

Manufacturer's photo

Photo courtesy Columbia Sportswear

Model:
Men's Baselayer Lightweight Short Sleeve Top
Year of manufacture: 2012
MSRP:
US $ 55.00
Manufacturer website: http://www.columbia.com
Color tested:
White, also available in Black and Compass Blue
Materials:
90% polyester/10% elastane
Sun Protection Factor
Not listed
Size tested:
extra-large, also available in extra-small, small, medium, large and extra-extra-large
Weight:
Listed: none listed

Measured: 163 g (5.75 oz)

The features listed by the manufacturer include:
  • 4-way stretch.
  • Anti-microbial.
  • Flat seaming to prevent chafing.
  • Mesh panels at the shoulder tops and armpits for ventilation.
  • Flat-filament (Omni-WickTM) fabric.
  • Omni-Freeze ICETM cooling: from the manufacturer's videos I gleaned that this is an endothermic chemical reaction when the chemistry is wetted, typically with sweat.

Specifically not a feature of this product is Columbia's Omni-shadeTM sun protection, nor does the manufacturer supply an SPF rating for the shirt.

Initial Inspection

PackagingPackaging: I normally only comment on product packaging in my test reports if there is something distinctive about it.  In this case, the unusual plastic case that the shirt came in is shown in the photo at left.  It sure looks like it would make it easy to stock shelves, but if I was looking to buy this shirt in a store, it certainly would make it difficult to try the shirt on for size.

I do have some concerns about the environmental impact -- I weighed the container and it was about 75% of the weight of the shirt, so it almost doubles the amount of material consumed.  It is recyclable however.

Color: the fabric color is a brilliant white.  I selected this color for the reflectivity; the temperature difference between white and dark-colored clothing amazes me when I go out in the Arizona summer sun.  It will likely show dirt horribly after a few days on the trail, but frankly during the summer months I'm much more concerned about keeping cool than I am about how I look.

Feel: the shirt has a nice soft feel to the touch.  The afternoon I received it I wore it to run an errand - the temperature was about 90 F (32 C) and the humidity was 5 % RH.  After about an hour my skin felt a bit prickly underneath, which is not uncommon with wicking fabrics in such warm and dry conditions.  My skin almost gets overly dry as the sweat is wicked away rapidly from the surface.

Fit: when available from the manufacturer I normally buy a Large Tall size due to my very long torso.  The Columbia shirt has an athletic cut to it, and is quite long, so the Extra Large size fit me absolutely perfectly.  There is enough fabric length in the torso that I can tuck it into my pants if I wish, but not so much that it will bunch up.  It felt nice and loose around my chest, but not baggy.  The shoulders fit perfectly.

The shirt is cut to be a little longer in the back than the front.  This will serve nicely to help prevent it from slipping out of my pants if I decide to tuck it in.

Finish: I did find one or two untrimmed seam threads, but a quick snip with a shears and they were gone.  Upon inspecting the fabric I could find no snags or sewing issues.


MeshFeatures: the photo at right shows a section of the inside back collar which demonstrates several key features:
  • Blue trim color.  Unlike the manufacturers photo above it is visible only on the inside of the garment.  The outside is all white.
  • The mesh fabric on the collar and upper shoulders.  The same mesh appears to be used in the armpits.  It looks like it will ventilate very well, but will allow sunlight to peek through the holes.
  • The substantial yet very flat seams between the mesh and the main shirt fabric.


Care Instructions

Care instructions

I found the care instructions printed on two hefty labels attached to an inside seam near the bottom of the shirt.  They were printed in about seven languages, which is why the labels were so substantial.  I'm pondering whether to snip them off to save weight and the possibility of chafe, but I don't want to end up with a frayed mess, so I'll hold off until I see if it is an issue.

The care required for cleaning is not atypical for my other white polyester garments.  I did not see on the website how many times I should be able to wash the shirt before the Omni-Freeze active functionality is impacted.

Trying It Out

The next morning I went out for a 30-minute run with the shirt.  It was about 9AM, temperature about 80 F (27 C), humidity 10% RH.  I worked up a pretty good sweat, but the shirt was nice and cool.  I did not have a recurrence of the prickly feeling from the prior day, I suspect because I was sweating enough to keep my skin moist.  It dried very quickly after I completed my run.

It will not be easy for me to ascertain objectively just how much the Omni-Freeze feature is contributing above and beyond the normal evaporative cooling exhibited by wicking fabrics.  All I can say from my first experience is it was very comfortable.

Summary

I am excited to get the Columbia shirt out into the backcountry and put it through its paces.  Some initial reactions include:

Kudos:

  • Good fit.
  • Pleasant color.
  • Very cool on a hot day.
  • Quick drying.

Concerns:

  • My biggest worry is the lack of sun protection.  I may have to wear this shirt as a true baselayer beneath a long-sleeved shirt to protect my shoulders.
  • It'll be interesting to see if it feels prickly out on the trail, or whether I'll be able to sweat enough while backpacking to keep my skin happy.

Field Report

Field Conditions

Date
Location
Trail
Distance

Terrain/ trail type
Weather
Altitude range
May 28, 2012
Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, Arizona

Finger Rock

6 mi
(9.7 km)
Very steep high desert canyon

Sunny, 62-84F (17-29 C), 7-15% RH
3100-5465 ft
(945-1666 m)
June 3, 2012
5.1 mi
(8.2 km)
Sunny, 62-74F (17-29 C), 11-19% RH 3100-5200 ft
(945-1585 m)
June 15-16, 2012 Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, Arizona Samaniego Ridge
8 mi
(13 km)
Sky Island ridgeline Sunny, 60-85 F
(16-29 C), 5-25% RH
5000-7100 ft
(1520-2160 m)
June 21-23, 2012 San Francisco Peaks in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona Mt Humphreys
25.6 mi
(41.2 km)
Forests to mountain peak tundra Sunny, 50-80 F
(10-27 F)
8050-12562 ft
(2450-3830 m)
July 27-28, 2012 Santa Rita Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, Arizona Vault Mine
5 mi
(8 km)
Sky Island canyon Partly cloundy, 60-85 F (16-29 C), rain at night 5500-7300 ft
(1675-2225 m)

Finger Rock Trail

This was a morning conditioning day hike up one of the most challenging canyons in the Tucson area.  I didn't want to get a sunburn, so I wore the shirt as a baselayer beneath a long-sleeved nylon hiking shirt.  The combination worked quite well.  I noticed the cooling effect primarily on my low back when I would stop for a break -- the air is so dry this time of year, that sweat only accumulates between my pack and my back.  I was not too warm despite wearing two layers, it will be interesting to see how this combo works out as the temperatures rise.

I did a slightly truncated version of this hike the following weekend.  This time I was at the trail head early enough (6AM) that I figured I would be in the shade most of the time so I did not wear another shirt over the top.  This felt a little cooler, especially when I stopped for my break at the midpoint of the trek.  I did notice it got snagged a few times, but from what I could tell no permanent damage resulted.

Samaniego Ridge

On Samaniego RidgeThe Samaniego Ridge trail is one of the less-used paths in the Catalinas, as it is poorly maintained and has a reputation for difficulty which is well-earned.  The northern trailhead is also notoriously hard to get to as a high-clearance 4WD vehicle is required.  Fortunately my Jeep Wrangler is up to the challenge, and I arrived at the trail hard late Friday afternoon.

It is now approaching the summer solstice, and here in southern Arizona the sun is extremely intense - the skin can get a serious burn in just 15 minutes.  Since this hike had a little altitude the situation is even more serious, so as can be seen in the photo I wore the shirt beneath a long-sleeved hiking shirt.  Only a very little bit of the shirt neckline is visible.

The shirt worked well in this warm-weather baselayer configuration.  When I arrived at my campsite I peeled the long-sleeved shirt off and set up camp in short sleeves, as the sun was getting pretty low in the sky.

The shirt performed well: it wicked sweat, did not get soiled at all, though it did get a bit crusty with salt from evaporated perspiration.  The crust washed out nicely when I did laundry on my return.

I had a reasonably heavy pack, just under 40 lbs (18 kg), but had no problems with chafing at the pack strap areas.  The shirt is smooth, and so far does not cause abrasion problems.

Mt Humphreys

This was a 3-day 2-night backpacking loop hike consisting of the Kachina, Mt Humphreys and Weatherford trails in the San Francisco Peaks, including a summit of Mt Humphreys.  As in my prior hikes, the shirt was worn beneath my hiking shirt, so I couldn't get a good picture of it.

Once again it performed excellently as a baselayer.  On the long drive home (5 hours) from the trailhead, I took off my hiking shirt and just wore the baselayer in the car.  I had the air conditioning turned off for quite some time due to the mountain driving, and external temperatures were hovering at around 100 F (39 C).  Though of course in Arizona it is a "dry heat", I was still comfortable in my vehicle at this temperature with the baselayer.

I have washed the shirt after every use, this last one being no exception.  I was surprised when I returned from the hike how clean it looked, despite the dusty conditions.  It does wash up nicely, though I am careful to put it in with the "whites", and air dry it.

Vault Mine Trail

Columbia ICE on the Vault Mine Trail

Finally, I had a chance to wear the shirt on a backpacking trip without a long-sleeved shirt over the top.  I left late in the afternoon, and hiked back in the cool of the morning.  The weather was exceptionally humid for Arizona, and I arrived at my campsite on Friday night with the shirt dripping wet with sweat.  As is visible in the photo above, the trail is on a substantial grade, and the climb up to Agua Caliente Saddle was relentless.

I hung the shirt overnight from a suspension rope on my hammock, but it did not dry completely because it rained quite hard that night.  When I put the shirt on in the morning after breakfast it was a little damp, but my body heat seemed to dry it out within minutes.

The shirt got snagged a number of times on branches that obstructed the trail, but no damage was sustained.

Non-Hiking Usage

I wore the shirt on several morning road bike rides and 45-minute runs.  It performed very well as an ordinary athletic shirt, though all such uses were early enough in the morning that sun protection was not a factor.  The humidity has been quite high for Tucson during the second month of use, and especially on my runs I was literally dripping sweat when I finished.  I continue to be impressed with the quick drying times for this shirt.

Summary

The Omni-Freeze short-sleeve top has been an excellent performer in situations where I have not needed sun protection, or where I was willing and able to wear it as a baselayer beneath a garment that provided sun protection.  It wicks exceedingly well, is smooth to the touch, and keeps me as cool as I have been in a shirt.  For a bright white shirt worn in dirty, dusty conditions it has cleaned up immaculately.

I cannot say objectively how much the Omni-Freeze technology has contributed above and beyond the natural evaporative effect.  If I can figure out some what to measure it during the Long Term test period, I will do so.

This concludes my Field Report.

Long Term Report

Field Conditions

Date
Location
Trail
Distance

Terrain/ trail type
Weather
Altitude range
September 23, 2012 Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, Arizona Pima Canyon Trail
7 mi
(11.3 km)
Sky Island canyon Partly cloudy, 78-91 F (26-33 C), 15% RH
2700-4200 ft
(820-1280 m)
October 14, 2012
Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, Arizona Mt Lemmon Trail
3 mi
(5 km)
Sky Island mountain top
Clear, about 60 F (15 C)
8000-9000 ft
(2400-2700 m)
October 21, 2012
Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, Arizona Linda Vista Trail
3 mi
(5 km)
Mountain foothills
Clear, about 70 F (21 C)
2800-4000 ft
(850-1200 m)
October 27, 2012
Tortolita Mountains near Tucson, Arizona
Alamo Springs Trail
5.6 mi
(9 km)
Canyon rim and wash
Clear, 55-75 F (13-24 C), 20% RH
2800-3900 ft
(850-1190 m)

Pima Canyon Trail

The sun is now low enough in the sky that I have no concerns with using the shirt for several hours with nothing over the top.  This hike is also up a canyon bottom, so for most of it I was in the shadows.  The main test for the Omni-Freeze on this outing was snag resistance.  The trail was very overgrown after a wet monsoon season here in southern Arizona, and I was constantly catching the shirt on overhanging acacia and other shrubs.  The good news: no damage sustained.

The weather has also dried up enough where the shirt is not soaked while I am hiking.  That is one of the variables hiking in this area: wicking shirts stay pretty dry due to the rapid evaporation even when the temperatures are still pretty warm.

Mt Lemmon Trail

This was a pleasant stroll to catch a bit of the fall color at the mountain summit.  I began the hike with a long-sleeved shirt over the top of the Omni-Freeze, and removed the over-shirt at the halfway point.  My temperature was pretty much optimal along the entire hike.

Linda Vista Trail

On the Linda Vist TrailA pleasant Sunday morning hike up the bajada at the foot of Pusch Ridge.  On the top I wore only the Omni-Freeze as pictured in the photo at left.  We were in the shadow of the mountains almost all morning, so it was fairly cool, but with the substantial altitude changes of the trail I still managed to work up a sweat which the shirt handled nicely.

Summary

I have gotten great use out of this baselayer.  In addition to the hikes listed above I have used it numerous mornings as a running top, which is when I sweat the most.  It has laundered well, remaining bright white after dozens of washes.  It has been very durable, surviving many snags without a run nor pulled thread.

Positives:

  1. Nice smooth feel
  2. Wicks extremely well, keeps me cool
  3. Durable
  4. Cleans up nicely, especially for a white garment

Improvements:

  1. Some SPF would make it more versatile as a T-shirt without the need for an overshirt.  I realize this might compromise performance in some way, but it might be worth the tradeoff.

Future use: I intend to continue to use this in hot weather as a cool, wicking shirt for conditions where sun exposure is not critical.


Many thanks to Columbia Sportswear and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.

Read more reviews of Columbia gear
Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke

Reviews > Clothing > Shirts > Columbia OmniFreeze ICE SST Top > Test Report by Kurt Papke



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