Columbia have been making big strides (sorry!) in recent years to move into the more elite end of the outdoor market in particular trail running. They are a headline sponsor of the UTMB and many other events and have absorbed Montrail to give expertise in the trail shoe sector. Their 2019 running range contains a number of items bearing the moniker ‘FKT’. To those of you not familiar with yet another acronym this is short for Fastest Known Time. The concept is as old as the hills; effectively ‘competitively not racing’ – I remember Mike Cudahy’s quest to complete the Pennine Way in two days and there have always been things like the Cat and Fiddle to Tan Hill challenges in the UK. However like most things in the USA it has gone to a whole new level – check out fastestknowntime.com which covers FKTs worldwide.
Columbia supplied three items for review; shorts, short sleeve shirt and wind jacket.
Along with the Wind jacket these were the stand out items – so much so I got a second pair. Shorter shorts are staging a comeback (though they never went away on the track) and these are very much in the mould of eighties (and earlier) ‘split’ running shorts but with a modern twist. They have a comfortable liner that uses Columbia’s Omni-Wick™ & Omni-Freeze ZERO™ sweat-activated super cooling. Inside the waist band there is a small interior key pocket placed just ‘off-hip’ and a zippered rear pocket that will take a couple of gels, energy bar or the incredibly compact wind jacket (of which more later). The main body of the shorts is made from a cotton like Omni-Shade™ material offering UPF 40 sun protection. I like this style of ‘short shorts’ both for their comfort and the freedom of movement – there is absolutely no chance of binding even if they’re soaked through.
There may be an element of nostalgia there too, harking back to the days when if you were running you wore ‘running’ shorts and those iconic pictures of Joss Naylor, Kenny Stuart et al. I’ve used thee shorts extensively since their arrival and they are pretty much faultless. The only slight concern might be if you have large quads then, as with all short shorts, there is a risk of chaffing – easily mitigated with Vaseline or Bodyglide.
This again makes use of ‘Omni-Freeze ZERO™ sweat-activated super cooling’ but also uses ‘Omni-Shade Sun Deflector’ giving it a UPF 50 rating and also a slightly strange ‘vinyl’ like shiny finish. Without lab facilities I can only make anecdotal and subjective assessments but I must say that this did feel to be a very cool and comfortable shirt to wear in the the heat. There are no pockets but it has a half length neck zip. There are stretchy panels under-arm and at the collar/neck as the main fabric seems to have fairly minimal stretch.
I haven’t used the shirt as much as the shorts as conditions haven’t really warranted it but it certainly seems to work. The less stretchy body fabric means that the shirt is cut for a looser fit that may or may not suit you. A raglan cut keeps seems away from shoulder tops and pack straps. Contrary to my expectations after around 50km with a pack there is no noticeable degradation of the Omni-Shade Sun Deflector finish.
A quick word regarding the technologies referred to above. There is not a great deal of information on the Columbia site but I did find this information on the ‘Popular Science’ website. I’m assuming that Columbia is using some kind of phase change material that absorbs latent heat when it goes through a change of state.
“The Omni-Freeze ZERO material is “embedded with thousands of 0.15-inch hydrophilic polymer rings (a men’s medium has more than 41,000 of them). As the base spreads sweat, the rings absorb moisture and expand into three-dimensional doughnuts. In order to swell, the rings require energy, which they gather as body heat. In tests, the shirt was up to 10 degrees cooler against the wearer’s skin than cooling shirts made from any other material.” https://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-07/first-shirt-lower-body-temperature
Sometimes you get an item for review that actually makes you go ‘Wow!’ out of the box. The FKT Wind Jacket is one of those – it is so compact and lightweight that it seems to belong in an airmail envelope. Part of the Wow factor is also connected to the price point. There are other incredibly light wind shells out there but none that hit this price point and performance at 60g verified on the CGR scales. Being gossamer thin and light is all very well but if it rips at the first touch of a gorse bush or doesn’t keep the wind out it would be pointless. I can happily report that the FKT Wind Jacket has neither of these faults. It does a decent job of blocking the wind and so far despite a few rough contacts with vegetation and rock it hasn’t got a hole. Obviously this is not the jacket to don just before you set off up the off-widths on ‘Majorette Thatcher’ but you could easily stuff it in a chalk-bag pocket and have a a bit of extra warmth on belays and the walk off. However where it really shines is as a ‘just in case’ piece for trail and fell runners – I found myself stuffing it into the rear pocket of the FKT shorts on any run that would see me out for more than an hour in the hills.The design is basic: elasticated cuffs, no hood, no adjustment at the waist and a simple stuff pocket/envelope inside the nape of the neck. There’s a full length zip and a few reflective patches but that’s it – and it’s brilliant!
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene reasons and more often they’re in no fit state to return!