The Arctic Heat cooling vest has been in my arsenal to combat MS heat stress longer than any other vest I’ve tested—8 years (my original review published in 2006 is below). And while it continues to perform as advertised, the well-made vest has not been used as much lately as I’ve played few outdoor sports that involve running—the vest’s true specialty. Lightweight and form fitting, the Arctic Heat vest excels at athletics, reportedly being used around the world by professional sports teams. But after testing over a dozen other vests, it lacks the versatility and endurance of vests with removable cooling. The entire vest needs to be frozen (potentially a challenge with a full freezer) and should be laid relatively flat or else you’ll end up with a ball of frozen vest that’s difficult to unfurl. While the vest’s lightness (second lightest in our tests) makes it a natural for sport, that also translates into less cooling power, meaning only an average score our endurance category. Expect cooling to last about an hour during heavy exercise and up to two hours in ideal situations. Perfect for a 5-mile run, less than ideal for a 3-hour bike ride, although users can douse the vest with cold water to extend cooling a touch through evaporation.
For those who put fashion above all else, it should be noted that the attractiveness of the vest is mitigated somewhat in its frozen state, as the gel ribs are stiff and pointy rather than form fitting, costing a point in the comfort category. Notice the back ribs of the frozen vest (not shown in marketing photos) compared to the ribs of a thawed vest. Also the vest, which needs soaking to activate initially (a one-time process as long as the vest is returned to the freezer after use), will dampen your shirt more than phase change or traditional ice cooling vests. Although the vest is considerably drier after the first few uses, it builds up frost when stored in the freezer. I did make a point in my earlier review that this vest is super compact uncharged, but charging it properly when traveling presents myriad challenges. Overall this vest impresses for use in activities so critical to keeping MSers healthy--jogging, tennis, brisk walking, aerobics, cross fit, hiking, or even frisbee with your pooch. The Arctic Heat vest—and the IZI Body Cooler—are peerless in the high-intensity sports department.
Cold Sensitivity: 3
Weight: 2 lbs 4 oz
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Gear Review: Arctic Heat Cooling Vest
Reviewed August 2006
Upsides: + Super lightweight, under 2.2 lbs + Can be temporarily recharged with cold water + Hugs the body: ideal for sports
Downsides: - Not free from the MSAA (as some vests are for low-income households) - Have to make room in the fridge or freezer for the vest - May not have as much cooling power as heavier vests
The best cooling vests for the active MSer? The one made by Arctic Heat.
If you suffer from multiple sclerosis, the need for cooling vests is an obvious one. Heat exacerbates our symptoms. Most MSers in the US wisely first turn to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (www.msaa.com), which offers a number of vests for free if you qualify financially. There's only one problem. All of the vests offered by the MSAA are somewhat bulky and heavy—most are 5.5 lbs or heavier—and are not ideally suited for the active MSer. That’s why we at ActiveMSers looked for a better answer … and found it with Australian-made Arctic Heat cooling vests.
Any cooling vest worn by England’s World Cup soccer, er football, squad is by itself heady praise. It doesn’t hurt matters that the Arctic Heat vest is worn by Australian Football League teams, branches of the military, and is the #1-selling cooling vest for those with multiple sclerosis in Europe and Australia. With those credentials, we were optimistic, and for good reason.
The Arctic Heat vest is unlike the traditional cooling vest, where ice or gel packs are frozen and then inserted individually into the vest. Nor is it an evaporative cooling vest, which does poorly in humid conditions. Instead, the vest, which weighs barely as much as a T-shirt when “uncharged,” is soaked in cool/cold water for 10-15 minutes. This “charges” the vest, which contains a unique, non-toxic, biodegradable viscose gel that absorbs water.
The ribs on the vest swell up when this gel is activated. (The company, incidentally, reports that the gel keeps its temperature for up to three times longer than similar products. We have not tested this claim.) Once the vest is in its “charged” state, remove from water and pat dry or, better yet, put it in your washing machine on the spin cycle to remove excess water. Now charged and dry, you can put the vest right on, toss it in the refrigerator to make it cooler, or put it directly in the freezer for maximum cooling.
The Cool, Cool Results
The Arctic Heat cooling vest has a number of advantages, particularly in sporting applications. It weighs only 2.2 lbs or less—considerably lighter than other vests, at least half the weight—and the way it is worn hugs the body, making it good for cycling, rowing, horseback riding, etc. The manufacturer claims it cools the skin by as much as 63 degrees F, or 54 degrees if you wear a T-shirt underneath. We believe it.
We tested the vest mountain biking (cloudy, low humidity, 85 degrees), exercising (indoors, humid, 75 degrees), and playing baseball (sunny, low humidity, 95 degrees). I also wore the vest with a cotton shirt, a quick-dry shirt, and shirtless.
In general, based on our tests, expect the vest to stay cool for 30-60 minutes if refrigerated (or soaked in ice water), and up to two hours if frozen and conditions are ideal. If you are working out in a climate-controlled environment the vest will stay cool, obviously, for a longer period of time than if you wear it outside in roasting temperatures. During our tests, working out indoors doing cardio and weights, the vest stayed cool for nearly two hours, while it lost its frozen state in under an hour while playing baseball in 100-degree temps. Humidity made no difference in the vest’s effectiveness.
As for the common complaint of getting wet while wearing a cooling vest (due to condensation or water), we found the Arctic Heat “Smartwool” lining kept condensation to a minimum in its frozen state, and with thorough drying prior to wearing, our shirt barely got damp. But this is not the vest to put over your blouse or suit, unless it's a bathing suit.
Tips & Tricks
If I’m wearing the vest outdoors for awhile, I like mine rock solid frozen. If I’m working out at home or in the garden, the fridge-cool gel state is my preference, as it is a bit more comfortable.
I’d put the vest in a zip-lock bag before cooling so you don’t smell of yesterday’s leftovers.
One time when my washing machine was in use, I pulled a MacGyver and used my salad spinner. (Patty and Selma would have flipped. If you didn’t get this joke, go out and rent the The Simpsons. Seriously, it’s funny. MSers need to laugh.)
Buy one size smaller than you think you might need. The vest should fit snuggly for max cooling efficiency.
I often wear my vest with a quick-dry t-shirt (synthetic, not cotton). Even if my shirt gets lightly damp, my T dries within a few minute.
The trick to keeping all of your shirts dry? Right after you charge and dry the vest, put it on over a cotton shirt before you chill it. Wear it for 15 minutes, letting your shirt soak up any extra moisture. Then toss the vest in the fridge. Voila. As long as you return the vest to the fridge after wearing it (meaning no need to recharge), it'll stay dry and you'll stay dry.
If you leave the vest exposed to room temp for a couple of days (i.e., not in the fridge), the gel crystals may dehydrate. Re-activate by soaking for 5-10 minutes. If you want to pack the vest, allow it to dry out completely before packing.
If the vest sticks together after you pull it out of the freezer, give it a light spritz of water to open it up (or better yet, before you freeze the vest, fold it so it will open easily and maybe place a plastic baggie in between).
ActiveMSers Bottom Line:
Based on our tests, the Arctic Heat cooling vest is a good choice for MSers who want to use the vest for athletics (hiking, gym, etc.); no other vest that we've researched is as light with as much cooling power. My vision goes wacky when I get hot, and putting it on before exercise kept my eyesight from wigging out as much and brought it back to normal (well, as normal as it gets, anyway) quickly. Other vests may have more straight cooling power (which may be better for less active pursuits), but you pay for that with added weight, which for high-energy sports can be an issue. Sold in the US under Arctic Heat USA (www.arcticheatusa.com), the vest runs $220. They also offer several other products, including a cooling hat, cooling tubes, neck wrap, and wrist bands.