Best portable heated blanket?
January 22, 2012 2:52 PM   Subscribe

What is my best option for buying or rigging a portable heated blanket or other heating source?

I drive a pedicab (bicycle rickshaw) in St. Louis. We do most of our business during the more temperate months, of course, but there are events that we work during the winter. It gets cold around here during the winter. A portable heated blanket (or possibly other heating source like seat warmers?) would be awesome for business.

Ideally it would cost less than a hundred bucks total, weigh less than 10 lbs, be rechargeable, be big enough to cover two seated people but not any bigger, last for at least 6 hours (though 2 3 hr batteries would work, too), feel sturdy/windproof, and be easily cleanable (it will encounter beer and/or body fluids sooner rather than later).

This woot deal looks ideal (if I bought an extra battery), but it's from 2007, and the company doesn't seem to be selling these anymore.

This looks like it might work, but I can't find any reviews of it anywhere, and I really don't like that the heating packs are disposable. Does anyone know how well this works? Are there reusable heat packs that would work in it as well as the disposable ones? (Sadly, I don't think there are; in my experience the reusable kind last a half hour at most.)

I could also buy a couple of rechargeable 12 volt batteries and a regular heated blanket (like this maybe?) But how long would a battery last? And what kind of connector would I need? (Searching on "12 volt battery connector" has not been helpful thus far, but I haven't looked extensively, and I likely don't know the right terms to search for.) And what makes a good rechargeable battery? There are almost too many to choose from.

Or some other option that I'm not considering?

What would you get if you were me? What would you most like to sit on or curl up in if you were riding in a pedicab in the winter?
posted by quietshout to Shopping (13 answers total)
I don't think you will find an battery-based solution to that meets your criteria. 12V electric blankets seem to run around 50W (and that isn't a whole lot of heating power). 50W for 6 hours is 300Wh. A 300Wh battery will either weigh a lot (like 25lbs or so for a lead-acid battery ) or cost a lot (maybe a little under $300 for a lithium battery of some type that will weigh a little under 10lbs).

If you are willing to spend a few hundred dollars, you could rig up a reasonable 10lb system with a LiFePO4 battery and a 12V heated blanket.
posted by ssg at 3:18 PM on January 22, 2012

Not exactly what you're asking, but I've heard from a lot of people about motorcycle and similar outdoor gear that's wired 12v for heat - and usually built to withstand extreme conditions. Um, don't want to link anything 'cuz it's not like I'm familiar with manufacturers but 'heated motorcycle clothing' seemed to bring up a lot of broader links as well.

I know you mentioned covering two seated people, but I think that in severe cold, especially wind, heated pants would provide a LOT more comfort and protection than a blanket. IDK, just a thought.
posted by mie at 3:18 PM on January 22, 2012

Another option to consider would be more insulation. Down is not ideal as it is a poor insulator when wet, but synthetics would be OK. Perhaps a good quality synthetic-filled blanket (like a sleeping bag, but flat)?
posted by ssg at 3:21 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider is that you only need to heat while the passenger is in place, so the restrictions SSG laid out are relaxed somewhat. Better to have instant heat than forever heat.

You know, pizzas are kept hot with 12V heaters. Maybe you could get a replacement heating element and a deep cycle marine battery and have a go at it.
posted by fake at 3:38 PM on January 22, 2012

The thing I linked to might not be 12v... but that's the kind of solution I'd look for. Or I'd scrap the heaters out of heated seats from a modern truck or car.
posted by fake at 3:39 PM on January 22, 2012

As another possibility, you could hand out inexpensive Mylar "emergency blankets". IN quantities they're $1 each. They work.

Here is an example, not a specific recommendation of brand or seller:
posted by caclwmr4 at 3:39 PM on January 22, 2012

Synthetic or actual down, thick fleece, or fur are very warm, and warm anyone under them quickly. But when people have on coats, they don't feel it as quickly. If it's a 10 minute or more ride, a heavy fleece or down throw would be cozy. Fleece is probably more washable. A heavy wool blanket, the kind my Dad always kept in the car, as seat cushioning, would also be nice; a cold seat is not pleasant. A hot water bottle for the feet is a nice touch.

If you can find an old fur coat, hand muff or throw, it's incredibly warm.
posted by theora55 at 5:11 PM on January 22, 2012

Could you have a large thermos of boiling water on your bike and use it to fill up hot water bottles? Or have somewhere on route that you could fill them up? Then you could just have an ordinary blanket and I reckon it'd be pretty cosy.
posted by pmcp at 5:12 PM on January 22, 2012

The low tech solution would be keeping some fleece blankets in a warmer and only taking them out when you have a customer. I use to work in a pizza place years ago that used hot boxes and sterno (lasts 6-8 hrs. maybe). Most pizza places have switched over to insulated bags because they're cheaper so you might get lucky and find one that has an old hot box they'd sell you for cheap.

I just googled and can't believe how expensive they are used but maybe you can use it as inspiration to jury rig a set up. I'm cringing now when I think of how many of those got thrown out in a dumpster. I'm hoping some got rescued by enterprising employees.
posted by stray thoughts at 8:07 PM on January 22, 2012

If you have access to a nearby microwave (local restaurant connection on your route?) you could pick up a few reheatable packs like the bed buddy. But the microwave access is kind of key.
posted by mcbeth at 6:09 AM on January 23, 2012

Thanks everyone for all of the ideas. Especially ssg for the breakdown on batteries, and fake for the idea about using a pizza box heating element.

Some of the other ideas (hot water bottles and bed buddy in particular), were good, but I'm pretty sure any system that requires drunk and rowdy passengers to hang onto something small like that will not work in the long term.

The hot box idea is interesting (or maybe just an igloo cooler with some sterno cans?), but I'd like to have something that I can entice people with before they get on the bike. Also, the only storage space I have is under the passenger seat, and people just kind of pile on. It'd be awkward to then make them get up so that I can get out their blanket. And I feel like the heat would dissipate fairly quickly.

The mylar blanket idea would work, but I don't like the idea of all that waste.

I think I'll probably try out the blanket with the pockets for heating packs (the second link in my question) for the rest of this winter, and think about rigging up something using fake's idea for next winter.

Please keep any additional ideas or thoughts coming!
posted by quietshout at 11:07 AM on January 23, 2012

There's one other solution that hasn't come up.

Make the drunk bastards pedal themselves, that'd soon warm them up. :)
posted by pmcp at 6:47 PM on January 23, 2012

some searching of camping stuff might yield a result. There are gas powered blower heaters, and 12v heater blankets. If you could swap batteries every few hours (can you stash them somewhere? then recharge them off shift) the challenge becomes more achievable. How are you keeping warm between fares? Is there scope to warm hot water bottles or similar (wheat bags?) at the same time?
posted by bystander at 5:10 AM on January 25, 2012

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