Heated vest for cycling?
December 14, 2017 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm a devoted year-round winter cyclist in Boston, and as it's getting colder, I'm evaluating my cycling options. Have any of you tried heated (battery powered) vests?

I have a high-visibility jacket (sold for security guards!) that I really like, and usually I layer multiple tanks and a pair of arm warmers under a shirt. I don't like multiple layers over my armpits, both because i like the arm mobility and because I hate getting sweaty, so the idea of a heated vest really appeals. However, it's kind of a big chunk of change to lay out, so I'm wondering if people use them for bicycling (as opposed to skiing or motorcycling). Anyone?
posted by flarb to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've done lots of winter cycle commuting and have never felt cold enough to need one. Those fancy wool cycling base layers have served me well and have helped me heat up after only a block or so.
posted by rachelpapers at 1:17 PM on December 14, 2017 [9 favorites]

I haven't tried a heated vest, because so far I've been fine with my usual winter bicycling stuff down to 5 F in heavy snow. (That day, my torso was encased in (inside-to-out): thin wool-blend long underwear, normal-weight long-sleeved shirt, thick wool sweater, thin water-proof jacket. There might've been one more thin layer somewhere, but I was comfortable and cozy unless I stopped for too long to wait for the plows to pass.) I wear much lighter clothes in cold weather when I'm biking than I do if I'm walking, taking transit, or driving.

In my experience, if you go with natural fibers, you won't trap the pit-stink and it doesn't matter too much if you sweat a bit. Sweaters rather than jackets leave your arms a lot more flexibility, and wool both breathes and traps heat really well. You don't necessarily need expensive cycling-specific stuff for this purpose. (I do this all year in Colorado and am usually wearing a dress. I don't normally change clothes for biking, I just add or remove layers as necessary.)

Your high-visibility jacket might be a lot more insulating than it needs to be, since if you're biking you're producing a lot more heat than if you're walking rounds as a security guard. You could consider switching to a flimsy high-viz vest to go over everything, and something either reflective or light-up on your wrists (I love my LED slap bracelets, it's like 1990 in my heart) and the usual head/tail/wheel lights.

If you want to test what having a heated vest might be like without the outlay, you could try something like chemical toe or hand warmers stuck to a heavy vest. That should give you some of the same effect both in the external heat source and in the bulkiness (I don't think the heated vests are likely to be all that flexible.)
posted by asperity at 1:36 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Asperity reminded me, the same mfr that makes the chemical toe and hand warmers also makes large flat chemical body warmers. Much more practical than a dedicated electrical device.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:56 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I bike year round in Ottawa ON where it often goes down to -25 to 30°c (-13 to -22F) and am prone to being cold. I have found that adding a simple puffer down-filled vest warms up my core like nothing else.

Below -20 I find that it makes me too warm on my 3-5km, 15-30 minute bike to work. Might be a good inexpensive option to try before you lay out the cash for a heated vest.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:58 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a year-round bike commuter in Boston, and like others I've never felt the need for a heated vest for bicycling (generally only out for 30 minutes or so at a time. Same for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking. I get way colder downhill skiing or riding my motor scooter too far into winter, and have definitely thought about the heated vest as a way to extend my scooter season. As long as I'm active, though, I'm always generating enough heat that I don't feel the need for anything like that (and I'm often pretty warm even on very cold days).

I'd go for a puffy or fleece vest under the hi-vis jacket for starters, if you find your current setup is getting too chilly. (I also pack an extra layer in some circumstances, because what's enough to keep me warm while I'm pedalling is definitely not enough to keep me warm while I change a tire or walk to work from the bike shop.) I love my Bar Mitts, too - they really make a difference.

You can get those heated body pads much cheaper at CVS - marketed for back pain or menstrual pain relief.
posted by mskyle at 2:00 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've never felt the need for a heated vest. Generally, keeping my core warm while cycling is a non-issue. The hard part for me are the extremities, which I think mostly comes down to sealing up places in my outfit where wind sneaks in between my layers.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:03 PM on December 14, 2017

Response by poster: I should maybe note that I'm not new to this -- I've been biking through Boston winters for 15+ years. And other than my high-viz jacket and the arm warmers I made, all my gear is wool. So I'm all in on most of the advice above. ESPECIALLY ON BAR MITTS - those are the best, I've never looked back.

But there are days when the wind is strong and the cold is fierce - you know, the days when you have to put toe warmers in your shoes - when I look at all the layers I strip off and wonder if I could do it better. I love the idea of a puffer vest and chemical warmers - that's definitely worth a shot!
posted by flarb at 2:34 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

With your follow-up, I'll add an additional thought (because I just can't imagine not getting wildly overheated with an electric vest while cycling) – windproof shirt. Back when I did more winter cycling, my husband found us these windproof shirts. Basically the front kind of seemed like a garbage bag - it was somewhat shiny and tight knit material that was blousey because it had no stretch to it. Then the back was very stretchy to allow breathability. I wore it as the base layer and usually with just one layer over it (along with neck gaiter, gloves, etc.). It worked really well. Blocked the wind in front and let you vent off the back. Doing a quick search, I came across this which seems a similar type of technology though not exactly the same as my shirt. I bought mine a number of years ago so things might have improved.
posted by amanda at 3:46 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

The chemical warmers are cheap to try, and it's nice that they are a small thing which can be used when needed but won't overheat you in the meantime.
posted by yohko at 6:25 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Milwaukee makes a heated vest with rechargeable batteries. I don't own the vest but have a lot of Milwaukee tools of that M12 line and can attest that the system is solid.

I used to bike commute in Chicago, wearing a backpack. I wore a mid-thigh down parka (of the non-puffy variety - more like a quilt) but not a lot underneath. This kept me from getting too hot and sweaty while still keeping me warm. I certainly wore a neck gaiter, a face thing, and goggles because having your eyeballs freeze open once is enough.
posted by MonsieurBon at 6:34 PM on December 14, 2017

I fatbike a lot here in Wisconsin in the winters, and based on everything you've said, I'm thinking that the puffy vest will be just what the doctor ordered for your commute. And it's the perfect time to get one with all the sales going on for the holidays. Or, for an even better deal, if you're a REI member, see when their next garage sale is happening, or check out Patagonia's new used gear site. Synthetic should be as good as or even better than down for what you're doing.

Lastly, heck yes to Bar Mitts!
posted by altcountryman at 7:55 PM on December 14, 2017

I know lots of guys with heated Milwaukee hoodies and jackets (lust after a hoody myself); haven't heard anything bad about them (except when one occasionally dies from lack of power which shouldn't be a problem with your abbreviated usage schedule). They pretty much work as advertised so I can't imagine the vest is any different. They are quite durable even in daily wear in a construction job.
posted by Mitheral at 2:12 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

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