I’ve been so busy the past few months that I’ve developed a bad habit: stopping by the gym on my way home from errands and exercising in my street clothes (and shoes). Kind of ironic since I made fun of adults for doing the very same thing when I was a kid. At any rate, I’ve been trying to step out of the 70’s by keeping an exercise top in my bag so I can at least exercise in more comfort. Columbia’s Freeze Degree III Short Sleeve Top has been my savior during this extra hot summer.

This high-performing lightweight top is made out of strategically placed panels of fabric that wick away sweat and magically make my skin feel cooler. I purposely don’t read labels before I test products so I won’t be influenced by performance claims, so I was surprised and a little confused when it felt like my shirt was getting cooler as I get deeper into my workout. I was sweating like crazy, but I definitely felt a chilly feeling under my Columbia Freeze Degree III Short Sleeve Top. It felt fabulous, and it kept me on the exercise bike an extra 15 minutes (I’m just getting started with a “get back into shape” campaign, so adding 15 minutes is a big deal to me).

Since I’ve been lazy and exercising in cotton tops, the Columbia Freeze Degree III Short Sleeve Top was a real wake-up call to remind me that technical fabrics can make a huge difference in my comfort when I exercise. I tend to sweat very heavily, even when I’m only exercising at a moderate pace. Add to that outdoor temperatures in the 90’s and a gym with no air conditioning or fans, and I’ve been overheating on most days, then cutting my workouts short. Now, with this fancy, air-conditioned top, I stay cool for the duration of my workout. I’m sort of amazed. It’s not that I haven’t tested lots of gear that performed well; it just seems a real novelty to have a top that makes me feel cool when I’m supposed to be hot.

Made primarily out of polyester, with a touch of elastane that gives the the Columbia’s Freeze Degree III Short Sleeve Top some stretch, this magic top employ’s Columbia’s Omni-Wick EVAP™ Pinhole Mesh and Omni-Freeze ZERO™ Softie Strech Jersey (which provides the cooling feeling when activated by my sweat). Sweet. The shirt is constructed out of several strategically placed panels, with flat seams to prevent chafing. It does a great job of wicking away sweat. The top is also treated to prevent bacterial growth (and odors), but I’m pretty stinky and end up wearing it only twice between washings.

The Columbia Freeze Degree III Short Sleeve Top is available in women’s sizes XS-XL, in Harbor Blue, Foxglove, Coral Flame, and Geyser. The men’s Freeze Degree II Crew top is available in sizes S-XXL in four colors: Tangy Orange, Black Shark, Everblue, and Marine Blue.

Fit Tip: The description on the Columbia website says this top runs slightly small. I found that to be true; the sleeves are a bit short, and the top was a bit snug through the chest.  Still, I was able to fit into my regular size, women’s L, even with my large chest.

Bottom Line: Cotton is dead to me. I love this air-conditioned top!

Manufacturer’s Site: www.columbia.com

buy-now $55, click for men’s.   Men’s top on sale at Backcountry.com. Shop for women’s top.