My quest to stay warm while outdoors has come to this: What if I electrified myself? Not electrocute, electrify. With battery-operated clothing.
You can now buy battery-heated jackets, vests, gloves and shoe insoles. Most are rechargeable; some of the gloves use AA batteries. Theoretically, you could go from your electric blanket to your electric clothes and spend the entire winter wired for heat. And imagine the attention when you show up at the airport with your wire-stuffed jacket!
How well do they work? Read on.
Mountain Hardwear men's Refugium and women's Radiance jacket
I loved this jacket so much that my heart broke at the total price tag. The women's version is a beauty, especially in winter white — a soft layer of snow-white nylon with persimmon-red lining, cut stylishly slim. There is no separate battery to bump into you as you hike or ski; the batteries are inside a flat, flexible pack zipped into the jacket's back.
The black rubber control button on the chest looks like a "Star Trek" communicator and is much easier to reach than a battery in a pocket. The glowing red LED heat level lights on the control button are so cool that they brought the busy morning shift at my local coffee stop to a halt as the awed baristas took a gander. And I didn't even show them the tech connector that lets the jacket battery charge your cell phone, BlackBerry or MP3 player.
I wore it under a thin shearling coat that would never keep me warm at zero on its own. The result: Oh, was it cold out? I hardly noticed.
OK, I noticed the wind. But the warmth, more widely spread out than the other jackets and pouring easily through the silky fabric, kept me happy as I walked to the "L" and waited on the platform. And I stayed happy — right up until the battery died, less than an hour after I had turned it on.
The batteries are supposed to last 1.6 hours on high (8.6 hours on low). Mine, set on high, hadn't made it even to that under-two-hour mark. A company spokeswoman thought the battery might have been defective. But if I owned the jacket, I would periodically force myself to lower the heat to make it last longer. The incident, however, pointed out a danger in heated clothing: If you dress on the assumption that you are going to rely on battery heat, you may be in trouble if the battery quits.
I still loved it.
Brookstone softshell heated jacket
Described as windproof, water-resistant and able to provide up to five hours of heat in three zones (the battery, about the size of a chunky BlackBerry, is stored in a pocket) — this jacket sounded perfect. Alas, it wasn't. The heat zone in the back was too high and small, aiming its heat at a patch of upper back that didn't seem to really need it. For women, the front heat zones would be better placed lower, on the torso instead of over the breasts. The windproof and water-resistant qualities would seem to make it an outermost layer, but it is not nearly heavy enough to solo in seriously cold weather. And putting a lot of layers under a heated jacket defeats the purpose.
Blazewear heated body warmer and jacket
I tested the jacket, a heavy-duty winter jacket with a waterproof exterior, flannel lining and one of the best-fitting hoods I've ever worn. It was pretty good-looking, too, though I found the women's jacket too tight across the hips. The heat, controlled by a battery in an inner pocket, was decent in the back, but the wire casing had a rubbery feel to it that induced clamminess. As with Brookstone's model, the front wires would have been more useful for a woman if they were lower.
Blazewear 2010 heated sports gloves
These windproof gloves feature a compartment for 3 AA batteries attached to the wrist of each glove, or you can use a rechargeable lithium polymer battery, available for an additional
When I first put them on, they felt quite delightful. But after 10 minutes outside, the heat was just about gone every place but my palms. After another 10 minutes, I hardly felt heat at all. A warmer-handed soul might manage, but I'm sticking with a chemical hand warmer clutched inside a mitten.
Brookstone battery-powered heated glove liners
I am a tough case for gloves, and these liners, which are made to be worn beneath gloves or mittens, didn't make the grade. I barely felt a thing.
Brookstone heated insoles
Pricey but nice. These thin but comfortable insoles have flat batteries built in. The little pinholes at the front emit a constant 98.6 degrees right where you want the heat. The temperature took the edge off very pleasantly. The rechargeable batteries are said to last up to eight hours on a charge, though mine lasted about half that. Even so, I liked them so much that they were the only item I tested that I bought for myself.