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Columbia Solar Polar 1/2 Zip Top

Colorado had an unseasonably warm spell in March, and I found myself running mountain trails I wouldn’t normally have access to until June. It was so unusual that I didn’t even know what to wear – a T-shirt? A long sleeve top? A thin jacket? But then Columbia’s new Solar Polar ½ Zip Top arrived on my door, and I had my answer.

The Solar Polar ½ Zip Top has the breathability of a sleeveless jersey and the warmth of a wool base layer, but, even better, it controls moisture so well I almost thought it had been woven from those little desiccant packets I find in the boxes of consumer electronics. When I wear this top I stay dry no matter how hard I’m working. Dry means comfortable, but it also means I avoid the unrecoverable chills that occur when I get sweaty in cold weather.

The Solar Polar ½ Zip Top has got to be one of the coolest running shirts I’ve ever used. The first thing I noticed about it is the mesh paneling in the armpits and along the spine. The pit panels performed as expected, with my sweat simply disappearing through the relatively large holes. But the spine mesh panel was a revelation for me, particularly when paired with the tiny hydration pack I wear for longer runs. Normally when I run with a pack, I’ve got a wet back after a half hour – but with the Solar Polar ½ Zip Top, my back remained dry the entire time. Curious if the shirt would pull double duty, I wore it as a base layer during a backcountry ski excursion. Despite lugging around heavy avalanche pack, that mesh spine panel kept me totally dry.

Another thing I love about the Solar Polar ½ Zip Top is the super ergonomic molded zipper pull on the front of the shirt. It may seem like a small feature, but to me, it's huge. So many of my other 1/2 zip tops have finicky zippers or tiny zipper pulls, making it impossible for me to unzip the shirt for ventilation while wearing gloves. I really don't like having to stop running or remove my gloves just to unzip my stop, so I've really appreciated the ease with which I can regulate my temperature with these high-performing top.

I also like the Solar Polar ½ Zip Top's constructions. Columbia uses raglan-style sleeves, so there are no seams at my shoulders. The top also has flat seams to prevent chafing. Thanks to these features my skin doesn't get irritated while I’m wearing a backpack. This is a feature that’s unfortunately and frequently overlooked in base layer product design. Other smart details include thumb loops, which prevent me from losing my sleeves when I don an outer layer; a long rear panel to keep my backside warm; reflective tape on the front panel so drivers can see me at dusk; and a 10% elastane blend to provide a little stretch and freedom of movement.

Columbia’s Solar Polar ½ Zip Top is made of a new material called Omni-Freeze ICE, which is a fabric technology activated by moisture. I noticed this interesting fabric as my testing period wore on and weather approached balmy summer temperatures. When I did start sweating faster than the top could wick and vent moisture, the Omni-Freeze ICE would actually activate and the top felt a little cooler – which in turn kept me from sweating more. Super cool stuff.

Columbia’s Solar Polar ½ Zip Top is available for men (S-XXL, in red, gray, blue, chartreuse and black) and women (XS-XL, in red, blue, white and chartreuse).

Bottom Line: I've been very happy with the performance of the Columbia’s Solar Polar ½ Zip Top. It's a real winner.-N.W. (Feb 2012)

BUY ONLINE : $70, shop at Altrec.

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