Unless you live and ride in either the highest elevations or the northernmost latitudes, there will be times when you need help staying cool on your ride. There are days when vented and even mesh gear don’t quite cut it. This is when a good cooling vest can keep your core temperature to a more comfortable level. It is also important to note that keeping that core temperature at a reasonable level in extreme heat is important for rider safety on multiple levels.
For years, my favorite cooling vest was made by Chill Out Designs. Unfortunately, that company is no longer in existence. So the search is on to find a quality alternative to my old favorite.
How They Work
Cooling vests work on the evaporative principle. Think of home evaporative coolers. Water is passed through a medium such as aspen shavings or some sort of paper product and blown into the area to be cooled.
Cooling vests work the same way. Water is soaked into some material medium to be stored and later to be circulated by the wind inherent in riding. This cools the torso of the rider. The key is finding a vest that effectively holds the moisture as long as possible.
How Long the Cooling Lasts
I have ridden over the Mojave Desert in temperatures well over 100 degrees. When properly soaked with water, my cooling vest has lasted 250 miles of 75 mile per hour riding. Obviously, the duration of the cooling effect of the vest is directly dependent on the absorbing medium’s ability to hold and retain water. My old Chill Out vest was amazingly effective.
Things to Consider
Cooling vests work best in hot, dry conditions. If you ride in extremely muggy, humid conditions, the vest can just make things more miserable.
Even though the best vests are constructed to minimize the water passed directly to the rider’s shirt or protective gear, some seepage is inevitable. I find this a small price to pay for a more pleasant and safe riding temperature.
Here is a sampling of the cooling vests on the market today.
Leatt Coolit Vest:
This vest relies on the Hyperkewl (kewl spelling!) material, invented by Techniche International, to absorb, store and release water over time. Initially, the vest keeps you cool by the lower temperature of the water, and later by the evaporation process. This vest incorporates mesh sides. The company claims that their combination of materials results in 300% more evaporative cooling than other products. It is a pull-over vest. MSRP $40.
Fieldsheer Iceberg Vest:
This vest has a 300 denier nylon oxford and wrinkled Taslan shell. The wrinkling is intended to create a greater surface area for holding moisture. Unlike the Leatt vest, the Iceburg has a 10" zippered front for a more conventional means of putting on the garment. It also has elasticized sides rather than mesh. MSRP $53.
Fly Racing Cooling Vest:
The Fly vest is similar in design to the Fieldsheer. However, the company claims that their vest has more surface area than other vests. Fly also claims a shorter required soaking time (2 minutes) than many other vests. MSRP $40.
EVS CTR Cooling Vest:
Like the Leatt vest, the EVS is of a slip on design. The vest uses thin, strategically placed layers of “Super Absorbent Polymer.” EVS claims that the polymers release the moisture slowly which increases the usable time-span. MSRP $47.
Alpinestars MX Cooling Vest:
The Alpinestars vest is very similar in construction to the EVS CTR model. It is a slip on vest that also uses “an exclusive polymer embedded material” to absorb and release the H2O. Unlike the zip on vests, the body material is of a stretch variety. MSRP $60.
The options for evaporative cooling vests are much more varied than when I bought my first one. In the end, you will have to decide what material and feature options are most important to you. No mater what you decide, after you have ridden on a hot summer day in one of these vests, you will wonder why you didn’t get one sooner.