What are cooling vests and do you need one?

Summer is officially over, but across the East Coast and beyond, temperatures are still creeping into September and possibly beyond.

The obvious way to beat the heat is to stay indoors or stay in the shade, but not everyone has that luxury. This is where cooling vests come into play. If you watch high-performance sports, you may have seen motorcyclists at the Tour de France or Formula 1 drivers at the sweltering and humid Singapore Grand Prix wearing oversized and sometimes colorful pieces over their bodies. , before or even during the events themselves.

It’s enough to make one wonder: Would a vest filled with ice packs help ease my suffering while mowing the lawn? I can tell you the answer is “sort of!” But first, let’s go over some basics.

What are cooling vests?

Left to its own devices, your body cools itself with sweat. You squeeze a handful of liquid from your pores, and when it evaporates from a liquid to a gas in the heat of the sun, it draws heat from your body to complete the transformation. This is all well and good, but for some drawbacks you are well aware of. You have to keep yourself filled with water (or any other drink if your intensity requires it). If it’s humid and the air is already full of water, sweat won’t evaporate as quickly. Even when the system works well, it is unpleasant!

Cooling vests can help aid this process in several different ways. Evaporative cooling vests basically help cool your body by adding more artificial sweat. You can dip it in water, and when that evaporates from the jacket’s quick-drying, breathable construction, you’ll get the cooling effect of sweat without having to sweat.

Ice cooling vests hold actual frozen ice (or ice packs) close to your skin. These packs take heat energy from your body as they transform from solid to liquid, and then take more when they reach body temperature after being fully liquefied. Ice vests try to limit their cooling power to areas with a lot of surface area and blood flow, like your back.


Each has pros and cons. Evaporative vests are flexible and easy to “recharge” – just immerse them in water! But it won’t work well in wet conditions, just like your body won’t. Ice cooling vests are effective immediately and sharply, but are bulky and rigid until the ice melts. Not to mention, they can cause shock when worn, and can be difficult to recharge while on the go.

There are of course some “cooling vests” that include fans or actual air conditioning units, but these are currently just gimmicks because they tend to generate as much heat as they remove.

Do cooling vests work?

On the one hand, obviously yes. Your body will be cooler if you tie a set of ice packs to your torso. Related questions, “How cold is it?” And “Cold in a significant way?” It is difficult to answer due to the huge number of confounding variables, not limited to differences in individual physiology and the difficulty of measuring the perception of rest.

But there are a number of scientific studies that can point to some objective effects. A study conducted at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens showed that cross-country runners who pre-cooled with an ice jacket finished their race with a lower overall body temperature than runners who did not.

A study on firefighters suggests that an ice vest “reduces physiological and autonomic stress responses during strenuous work in the heat, and may enhance work time efficiency by 10%.” In contrast, a study of surgeons wearing cooling vests showed that although their overall comfort increased, their performance did not.

What it’s like to wear a cooling vest

Since I was so intrigued by the idea (and I like to pretend I’m a race car driver), I was trying out a Velotoz cooling vest in the East Coast heat wave late last summer. Designed primarily for cyclists, the jacket features a relaxed fit with pockets for four backs — a large one at the top of the back, a smaller one underneath, and two small ones on the side of the torso.

Men’s cycling cooling jacket



I underwent some testing, the most extreme test being a run at 4pm in 90 degree heat in New Jersey. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my 5K time was pathetic and slow. I’ll admit that I was desperately hoping that the snow jacket would be the ultimate panacea but (obviously) that’s not the case. On my run, and after spending an hour mowing the lawn in similar weather the next day, I found that the jacket’s skin-cooling effect was very nice in the oppressive heat, but I certainly didn’t feel like it helped me sweat in any way. Less or feel significantly less miserable. Did this keep me away from serious heat-related injury? Maybe, but it’s hard to know for sure.

I found the jacket unexpectedly comfortable to wear, but the right fit is essential. The more freely the ice packs move, the more uncomfortable they become, especially when completely frozen. Once your body has a few minutes to start dissolving and it can mold to your body, things get more comfortable.

I was also surprised by how accurate this particular jacket was. While the silhouettes of cooling vests obviously vary by design, I found it very easy to hide the Velotoze under a button-down shirt, especially if you remove the top-back ice pack. I no longer live in New York City, but if I did, I would definitely try wearing a jacket like this on a summer morning commute (and take it off once I get to the office).

A cooling jacket placed on a blanket

Eric Leamer

Ice packs for cooling vest

Eric Leamer

Do you need a cooling vest?

Probably not! At least not yet. Professional athletes have no real choice but to perform in extreme conditions, but if you’re an office enthusiast like me, you’ll certainly be. Maybe you can do without the encouragement to try. But if you’re not lucky enough to have to work in extremely hot conditions where air conditioning is impossible, it might be worth a try, even if you opt for a smaller neck-type cooler before purchasing a full cooling vest and the logistical headache that entails.

But the specter of climate change looms large. As temperatures rise around the world, cooling vests may become useful, if not necessary, in certain parts of the world. There is a combination of temperature and humidity whereby the human body becomes completely incapable of regulating its temperature by natural means, even with unlimited shade and water, because perspiration simply stops working. These conditions have historically been rare, but if they become more common, cooling vests may become an essential counterpart to air conditioning.

Nowadays, in most areas, cooling jackets are a luxury and won’t necessarily keep you from boiling in sweat when the sun gets hot. But if you could use a little refreshment, something to help you sneak out the door into the sticky heat or maintain your sanity in a stuffy room where the air conditioner can’t reach, you could certainly do worse.

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