The summer sun can be relentless, and it’s causing me to dig a little deeper into my bag of tricks for surviving hot-weather runs when my preferred temperature range would be best categorized as ‘endless Colorado autumn.’ While trail running clothing tends to feature very lightweight, breathable fabric options for warm temperatures, there’s always that challenge to find shirts that breathe and wick away sweat well yet still offer Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) protection as well as hold up under the friction of packs, adverse weather layers, and the occasional run-in with the natural environment in the form of trees, rocks, cacti, and such. I don’t typically get too caught up in grand claims of ‘cooling technology,’ but this summer, there has been one interesting technical shirt that caught my eye and I find myself choosing it for my hottest runs and races—the Columbia F.K.T. II Short Sleeve Shirt ($75).
Columbia has a long reputation for combining current fabric concepts with proprietary technology to enhance either warmth or cooling depending on the season or activity they’re targeting—think Omni-Heat Reflective technology in their winter coats—but I’ve never really bought in given that I was happy with other options (just add a layer) and brands I had. On the flip side, enter a seemingly endless string of 90-plus-degree-Fahrenheit days at Front Range, Colorado altitudes and 80-plus-degree days near the Continental Divide and all of a sudden I’m reaching for any technology promising me cooler sensations and sun-reflecting magic. Wasn’t there just an interesting study released about how endurance athletes’ performance will drop a certain percentage if they even think they’re hot regardless of the actual temperature? Ahhh, the power of the mind.
In the F.K.T. II Short Sleeve Shirt, Columbia has utilized three of their proprietary technologies to create a shirt designed to keep you cool and well-protected from both UVA and UVB rays. I find the design and fit of the shirt plus the combination of the Omni-Wick breathable fabric, the Omni-Freeze ZERO sweat-activated super-cooling dots, and the Omni-Shade Sun Deflector/UPF 50 fairly compelling. With the exception of the super thin polyester fabric integrated beneath the underarm area, which allows for high airflow and moisture loss, the breathability of the fabric itself is perhaps a bit less than some of the more open-weave lighter-weight trail shirts on the market. However, the reflective nature of the sun-deflecting silver dots means it doesn’t retain heat at all either. It’s a bit like being under a breathable but reflective sun shelter. You know it’s hot, but you don’t feel the sun working its way in and your skin remains completely protected from ultraviolet rays. The material wicks moisture well but it doesn’t dissipate quite as fast as some fabrics perhaps due at least in part to the super-cooling dots. I can’t prove this, but it’s almost as if it wicks the moisture into the dots which then allows the breeze generated by running or the wind itself to actually enhance the cooling. The shirt itself doesn’t feel ‘super cool’ when there’s no breeze, but it doesn’t take much air movement to get the benefit. I’d be curious how this would work in a significantly more humid environment. I’ve been wearing the shirt in our Colorado monsoon season where our humidity gets into the 60- to 75%-range at times, but I realize that’s nothing compared to all points east, southeast, and northeast of us.
Interestingly, the shirt behaves in almost a water-resistant way to rain and mist. The smooth face and the reflective layer tend to promote beading of water that easily sloughs off when it comes from the outside, but when submerged in a stream and forced to take on water from the more absorbent interior, the cooling nature seems to last longer than with my standard hot-weather tech shirts. I think it could be about a perfect shirt at a race like the Western States 100 or the recent second half of the High Lonesome 100 Mile where stream dunks can be what make or break the race during the hottest part of the day.
The F.K.T. II Short Sleeve Shirt has a roomier fit (I’m wearing women’s medium in the photos) and a very soft extended ‘collar’ around the neck which I love for protecting against potential chafing from packs. There is almost a hint of a cycling-jersey-meets-golf-shirt in there which I can’t say I’ve noted in any of my other running gear. There’s potential to wear this shirt in any number of sports or après activities and look as if you’ve stepped up your game a bit. The F.K.T. II is also thoughtfully designed with a dropped tail ensuring full coverage of the lower back even with a pack on and hands-on-thighs uphill powerhiking. The half-zip comes to the bottom of my sports bra and allows airflow but doesn’t gape open with or without a pack on which keeps the skin protected beneath. The zipper itself has a very soft polyester lining and zipper garage to eliminate any pressure points against the skin. It also worked well beneath various pack straps regardless of how much gear I was hauling or the paces I was running. Further, I’m really enjoying the smooth-faced fabric for its durability. I have over 75 hours in the shirt all with various packs and weights of packs and there is not one snag, abrasion patch, or hole despite my best efforts through some willows to cause one.
Overall, I really do appreciate the Columbia F.K.T. II Short Sleeve Shirt during these hot months. I’ll be interested to see how it works into fall. I’ve already established that it glides well beneath layers for alpine starts, but I haven’t had the chance to wear it as a base layer for any length of time simply because it’s been so warm so early. I rather enjoy the ‘look’ of the shirt with its unique iridescence. I’m not really a ‘sparkle’ person, but this has been a fun one to wear if for no other reason than it has sparked a few interesting conversations about gear while out on the trail.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you worn the men’s or women’s Columbia F.K.T. Short Sleeve Shirt, either its original or this second model? What are your thoughts about the shirt and its details?
- Do you run in any other Columbia clothing item that offers cooling technology? What is it, what technology does it have, and what do you think about it?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]