Clothes can make you look cool. But can they also make you feel cool?
Reducing body heat is the goal for exercise garb-makers, who are weaving extra-light fabrics and building in lots of mesh so sweat evaporates faster. A few have even added compounds that they claim can interact with perspiration to raise the chill factor; both Columbia and Mountain Hardwear, for example, have covered their products in tiny blue rings that swell when they meet sweat to deliver a “cooling sensation.”
How do such garments fare in D.C.’s summer heat and humidity? “If you’re sweating a ton, you are going to surpass any kind of wicking capability,” says exercise physiologist Michael Bergeron, executive director of the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute.
To put the garb to the test, I took the advice of Mike Hill, director of sports performance for Georgetown University: If it makes you feel cooler, that’s what counts. I tried out the garments during the July heat wave and in hot yoga.
Quasar Running Cap ($30) places its cooling rings across your forehead and sports ample side vents. But D.C. humidity left the cap utterly soaked. I couldn’t wait to yank it off. (Note: Mountain Hardwear spokesman Robert Fry notes that its line works better in dry heat. The company’s next goal is to engineer garments designed for denizens of the super-sticky Eastern Seaboard, he says.)
The Craft Cool Mesh Superlight Singlet ($40) promises 6 degrees of cooling on your skin — and your money back if it’s not “the best cooling product you’ve ever worn.” Its trick: lightweight mesh with “big holes” to pull “perspiration vapor” off your hot body. The gossamer thin top was an ace performer, happily wicking away sweat for 40 minutes before declaring, “I’m soaked, deal with it.” We also tried New Balance’s NB ICE short sleeve ($40), which felt silky smooth and airy at first, thanks to vents and “Nano Jade Powder,” a “natural ingredient” made from jade that supposedly lowers fabric temperature. (New Balance claims it’ll feel 85 degrees when it’s 89 degrees outside.) The shirt turned into a wet suit in 25 minutes.
To test the cooling power of Columbia’s Freezer Zero Sleeve ($30 a pair), I ran with one arm sleeved and one naked. Both limbs sweated prodigiously. The sleeveless arm felt a tad cooler because of a slight breeze and because it was not encased in a sleeve that grew so wet it had to be peeled off much as a surgeon peels off a latex glove. Plus, those sleeves can weigh you down: A single soaked sleeve clocks in at 0.2 pound.
Coolest Cool Shorts ($25) are magical underwear, endowed with Omni-Wick Technology (to get rid of your sweat) and Omni-Freeze ZERO fabric (which combines with sweat to keep the shorts cool). They grew damp but never got soaked, dried out quickly, and were odor-resistant to boot.
Cover up with The North Face’s GTD Men’s Shorts ($40), whose mesh side panels enable your thighs to bask in a breeze and whose “Flash-Dry” technology embeds volcanic minerals in the fabric, which aid in wicking sweat to the surface of the garment where it can more easily evaporate. The shorts kept me cool and dry, but the panels mean no side pockets, just a butt pocket — not the most convenient place to store a snot rag.
When clothes fail, turn to Nathan’s Fire & Ice Bottle ($12), which boasts double-walled construction to keep water cold. After 75 minutes in mid-90s temps, the water in the 20-ounce Fire & Ice bottle was 69 degrees vs. 80 for the water in a regular bottle. My gullet could feel the difference. Plus, studies show a good way to keep cool is to drink icy beverages before and during exercise to lower core temperature, delaying heat exhaustion.