Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest


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Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby WingAdmin » Sun Jun 29, 2014 9:28 pm



Riding motorcycles in oppressive heat is not on the top of my list of favorite things to do. Being that my GL1500 has a Tall Tulsa windshield, very little airflow gets behind to where I am. This is fantastic when riding in near-freezing temperatures, but in high heat and humidity, airflow is the only thing you have to keep you cool. I have added a windshield vent and various "wings" to get air in to the cockpit area, but when the temperature is at or near body temperature, it doesn't matter how much airflow you have, you're still going to be hot. Add to this the fact that I am an ATGATT guy - All the Gear, All the Time, and it means that I ride hot, a lot of the time. My ride last summer from Ohio to Florida and back was brutal - especially the ride back where I had my rain gear on for most of the 20 hour ride. I alternated between cooling thunderstorms and heat with near 100% humidity.

When returning from Wing Ding 2012 in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2012, I rode back in heat well over 100 degrees F (38C). Temperatures like this can be dangerous - because the air temperature is higher than your body temperature, you can easily get heatstroke. Your body's built in cooling system - sweat - depends on evaporative cooling to work. On a motorcycle, the wind evaporates your sweat, but blows away any cooling effect before your body can benefit from it. Instead of cooling off, your body actually gets hotter, as it is being heated up by air that is hotter than your body temperature. This is weather where it is essential to get OUT of the wind on your bike. I brought many bottles of water with me to Fort Wayne, and every 45 minutes or so I would pull over, drink one bottle, and pour another over my head and shirt, soaking myself. This wet clothing under my mesh jacket would give me just enough evaporative cooling to keep me from overheating. But it was a miserable way to ride.

I started thinking about ways of making riding in the heat easier and more pleasant. Many people like evaporative cooling vests, which basically do the same thing as me pouring a bottle of water on my shirt: They hold water and let it evaporate, applying the cooling effect to you. The main problem with evaporative cooling vests (apart from the fact that they have to be replenished regularly with water) is that they depend on evaporation to function: if the relative humidity approaches 100%, no evaporation is going to occur, which means you get no cooling effect. Many parts of the country have extreme humidity throughout the summer, rendering evaporative cooling vests non-functional. You also end up damp and clammy from the moisture contained in the vest.

Another option is phase change cooling vests. These space-age vests utilize cooling systems that were designed for the Space Shuttle, for use in the case of emergency egress. They contain packets of a chemical which has a very odd property: it is a liquid at room temperature, and will freeze solid when chilled, just like water. However, whereas water freezes at 32F (0C), this chemical freezes at 65F (18C). This means it can never get any colder than 65F. If you want to read some more on this topic, I would suggest reading this interesting article covering the science behind different cooling vest technologies, as well as the physics behind human cooling.

I started looking at phase change cooling vests a couple of years ago, after my Wing Ding experience. At the time, there were quite a few mom-and-pop manufacturers of various different vests. Today, the marketplace is different: it appears that most of the mom-and-pops have either gone out of business, or been bought up by competitors. I did quite a bit of research into the various products, and primarily based on reviews from users of many different motorcycle web sites, decided on Polar Vest. It had a number of advantages over the competitors: It had almost universally excellent reviews regarding its quality, it had three adjustable sizing straps instead of the one or two that competitors had, and it was made in the USA.

The vest arrived wrapped in plastic, along with two sets of cooling packs. You can order it with just one set of cooling packs, but the cooling packs last from between 1.5 and 2.5 hours, depending on ambient temperature, and take 20 minutes immersed in ice water to re-freeze. With two sets of packs, you can have one set in the vest, and one set re-freezing. The cooling packs can be frozen and thawed indefinitely; they never wear out.

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Polar Vest also has a deal wherein the purchase of a vest allows you to purchase a neck cooler for an additional $20. It comes with its own set of cooling packs.

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The vest itself is of very high quality. It has a heavy-duty zipper in front, unlike those found in some competitor's vests. The vest can be adjusted for girth, with three straps on either side, and for height, with one velcro-type fastener over each shoulder. The fabric is quite soft - I expected a harsh, synthetic nylon type fabric, like a safety vest. In fact, it's soft to the touch and quite comfortable. It is machine washable, and is available in several colors.

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Unlike virtually all of the other Phase Change cooling vests I could find, the Polar Vest is made in the USA, and this figured strongly into my decision. The quality of construction is evident - no hanging threads, no crooked stitching.

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Each shoulder has a large section of velcro type fastener, so that the height at which the vest rides can be adjusted. This is important, as you want the cooling packs primarily against your upper torso, for maximum cooling effect.

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Each of the three adjusting straps on each side is individually adjustable, to ensure the vest holds the cooling packs snug against your body for maximum heat transfer. The strap ends are on the inside of the vest, so they don't dangle free. I cut my extra strap lengths short to avoid having too much flapping around, and used a small flame to melt the cut ends to keep them from fraying.

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The neck cooler is made from the same soft fabric, with a pocket across the back for the cooling pack, and long ties in front. I don't know that I would use this for motorcycling, however I have used it when performing yardwork out in 92 degree heat, and it really does make a difference. Plus, it just feels great to have something cold against your neck on a hot day!

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Each set of cooling packs consists of four tough vinyl packets. Each packet contains four chambers, and each chamber is filled with a thick, clear fluid. The four cooling packs making up one set weigh about two pounds.

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The cooling pack that goes into the neck cooler is specially shaped, and contains three chambers.

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For my first experiment freezing the packs, I put them in my deep freezer, at -15F (-26C). In my deep freezer, the packs froze solid in 20 minutes. When frozen, the packs are rock hard - just like frozen water. I have subsequently tried other tests: they freeze solid in the refrigerator in about an hour. The recommended method of freezing them, submerging in ice water, is the most effective. The packs freeze solid in 15-20 minutes when submerged in ice water. This makes sense, as the water is highly effective at conducting heat out of the packs.

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I discovered quickly that it is important to have the packs flat when freezing. If the packs are bent slightly, or resting up against something when frozen, they will freeze solid in this position. This can be very uncomfortable to have them jabbing you in the ribs like this!

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On the other hand, the neck cooler actually benefits from having the packs bent slightly - otherwise, you end up with three straight sides to press up against your neck, as shown here. I discovered the best way to do this is to interrupt the freezing process halfway through, when they have the consistency of thick slush. Then bend the packs in a semicircular shape, and allow them to freeze solid in this shape.

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The first thing you will notice is that the packs don't feel as cold as you would expect. Because they freeze solid like ice, and just came out of a deep freezer, you would expect them to be extremely cold. However, they are a consistent 65 degrees F (18C), and remain this way for hours until they melt. This is the secret behind the way they cool: putting regular ice packs against your skin causes your skin's capillaries to close up - and you can even give yourself frostbite, damaging your skin. Because your capillaries have closed up, no blood is flowing, so no cooling is taking effect. With the cooling packs at 65 F, your skin capillaries remain open, and blood flowing through them is cooled, meaning the cooling effect cools your body directly. You can quite comfortably hold one of these frozen cooling packs against your bare skin for extended periods of time with no discomfort.

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Slipping the cooling packs into the pockets in the vest, you then snug the vest up against your body. Ideally, you should have as little between the vest and your skin as possible, so perhaps a thin t-shirt. You will feel the cooling effect immediately.

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So how does the Polar Vest work? I had the opportunity this past weekend to find out, with two days of 92 F (33C), very humid weather. I strapped on the vest, put my gear on, and got my bike out. I rode for half an hour or so in the heat, and I have to say, I was disappointed. I could definitely tell that it was hot outside, and I could feel the heat on my gear, on my arms. I thought I would make a comparison, so I pulled into a parking lot, took the vest off and put it in my trunk. I zipped my jacket back up, and immediately noticed that I was sweating profusely just from the effort. I got onto my bike and rode for maybe ten minutes, during which I got stuck at a few stop lights. I was absolutely sweltering, sweat dripping off my face. I could feel that my T-shirt was wet.

OK, I was no longer disappointed! The vest had obviously been working quite well, keeping my core cool, but it does so in such an unobtrusive way, it's hard to tell that it's doing anything at all - until you take it off! However, it's not a miracle worker - it can't stop your extremities from feeling heat, but it DOES cool your core down, which is what's most important. I pulled over once more and zipped the vest back on. It took a few minutes, but I definitely started feeling relief.

In the 92 degree heat, I started noticing the cooling effect going away after about an hour and 45 minutes. After two hours, I was starting to feel hot, and I switched out the cooling packs for fresh ones. The exhausted cooling packs still had small frozen pieces floating around inside them, but were no longer providing enough cooling effect to keep me cool.

In the time I've had to ride with the vest, I have discovered two rules:

- Put the vest on BEFORE you leave, NOT when you start getting hot. It's much easier to keep you cool when you're already cool, than it is to cool you off when you are sweltering hot - although it will do this, eventually.

- If you ride with a mesh jacket and your bike does not offer much in the way of wind protection, you're probably better off wearing a non-mesh jacket when you have the vest on. Wind moving through the mesh actually causes the cooling packs to thaw more quickly, and being that you're wearing a vest that stops wind from getting to your body in the first place, the mesh isn't doing much to keep you cool. Ideally, you could have a jacket with a solid center part and mesh arms, but I don't think such a thing exists.

How did I transport the frozen packs, making sure they remained frozen? I used a Hopnel's King Kooler Saddlebag Liner, exactly like the one being given away as the June 2014 contest prize.

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This insulated saddlebag liner has a waterproof liner. Throw a frozen set of cooling packs, along with some ice cubes (and perhaps one or two chilled beverages) into the bag, and hours later you'll find the cooling packs are still frozen solid. If you are making a stop to swap cooling packs, pour some water and ice from a gas station into the bag along with your thawed cooling packs. By the time you have reached your next stop, the packs in the bag will be frozen solid. Keep in mind, as long as you keep the environment inside the insulated bag at 65F or less, the packs will remain frozen and good to go. If the temperature goes above 65F, the packs will begin to thaw, albeit very slowly at low temperatures. I did a test where I left a set of freshly frozen packs sitting out on a table at room temperature (75F or 24C). Ten hours later, the packs still had frozen pieces in them, and were still cool to the touch.

Overall I give the Polar Vest a thumbs-up. The cheap neck cooler is a nice bonus that will come in handy. The vest is extremely well made, comfortable to wear, easy to get on and off, comes in a variety of colors, and will last for years. The cooling packs are rugged and made of thick, RF-welded plastic. I don't expect them to ever leak unless terribly abused. The cooling effect is substantial, and makes riding in hot temperatures tolerable - and even enjoyable. Temperatures that would have had me looking longingly at my nice air-conditioned car, now are easily dealt with on my bike. While phase-change cooling vests are definitely not cheap, in my opinion the difference in comfort and the safety that comes from not riding dehydrated and suffering from heat exhaustion is well worth the cost.

Polar Vest phase change cooling vests can be purchased online direct at http://www.polarvest.com



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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby SlowTyper » Thu Jul 03, 2014 4:44 pm

Will these things keep you warm when riding at temps below 60?

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby AnimalG » Fri Jul 04, 2014 1:46 pm

I wish I had this two weeks ago! I recently took a bike ride from Portland OR. to San Francisco CA. I do this trip once or twice a year for my company (and they pay the expenses). The company prefers to pay me to ride instead of paying the airfare and who am I to complain :D These trips generally take about 10 hours and are quite pleasant. Unfortunately, I had to pick a week that included an unexpected heat wave.

The trip started out great. I left the house at about 4:00 am on Sunday morning and pretty much had I-5 to myself until around 9:00 am when I stopped in Ashland OR. for breakfast. Still wearing full leathers (jacket, chaps, boots, and fingerless gloves), I started up into the Siskiyou Mountains. The ride was great until I came out the other side into Redding CA. By then, the temperature was sitting at a steady 100 degrees F. and I was cooking in my leathers.

I stuffed the jacket and chaps in the saddlebag, downed a quart of Gatorade, picked up a couple more quarts for the rest of the trip and continued south. This was around noon; by 2:00 pm I was starting to feel the symptoms of heat stroke. Unfortunately, there is not much in northern California but rest areas. I pulled into one to cool off, soaking my shirt, pants, and bandanna. The Gatorade was too hot to drink so I drank a couple of quarts of tap water in the hour I sat there in the shade. Unfortunately, 100 degree F. shade did not help much so after an hour, I got back in the sun, set the cruse to 80 MPH, and pushed on. My clothes were dry in about 15 minutes.

After about another hour, the heat stroke symptoms were getting worse. I was no longer sweating and was actually starting to get chills and nausea. I was actually looking for a Highway Patrol car in a speed trap and I think if I found one, I would have asked to sit in the back for an hour or so. I have unwillingly been in the back of police cars before so this shows how desperate I was getting. There is just no shade or places to pull over and cool off for long stretches of I-5 in Northern CA.

I finally came upon a small town a little bit past where I-505 meets I-80 so I pulled off. Sitting at the light at the off-ramp, I nearly passed out, it was that close. I pulled into the first gas station/convenience store I found and walked straight to the cooler. I purchased two 1-liter bottles of water and told the clerk I was going to be staying for a while. I drank one bottle inside the store while I used the other one to rub on my head and neck, while standing under the A/C vent. By then the temp was 105 degrees F.

I purchased two more bottles and drank them all in the 90 minutes I stood in that store. By then, I could feel my core temperature coming down so it was time to push on. I was about 80 miles from SF and the next 50 miles were just as hot. I was starting to look for another place to cool off when I started feeling the bay breeze from SF. The temp dropped from 105 to 85 so quick, I thought I was In heaven. I turned my Air Wings in and opened my windshield vent and I do not think I have ever felt better.

The rest of the trip into SF was much cooler but by the time I got to the hotel, I was still in bad shape. During the trip from Redding to SF, I was not able to urinate (another sign of heat stroke), even though I consumed plenty of water. When I got to my room, I went straight to the shower and stood under the cool water for a good half hour. I woke up about 2:00 am and boy, could I urinate then :oops:

I survived the trip, spent a week in SF for work, and had a beautiful ride back home the following Saturday. I left early (4:00 am) enough to beat the heat in northern CA and was back in Oregon before the temp got above 75. The bike (1995 GL 1500SE with 32k miles) handled it great with no issues. The trip was 1400 miles and the bike averaged 32 MPG. Not too bad considering I spent quite a bit of time in CA traffic and was doing 70 to 80 MPH on the highway, even in the mountains.

We do not normally get this type of heat in western Oregon and even when we do, I am rarely on the bike for more than an hour or two. I have worked outdoors many times in the past so I was aware of the heat stroke signs (unable to sweat or urinate, chills, nausea, and fuzzy thinking) but this is the worst I have ever been. Hopefully, this post helps someone who reads it before they go spending 4 or more hours in extreme heat.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby CaptLen » Fri Jul 04, 2014 7:14 pm

Thank you for the very informative report- I hate being hot. Following your report I ordered the vest, neck cooler, and King Kooler. The Kooler arrived already- I expect the vest shortly
Will send follow ups when I use it.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby WingAdmin » Sat Jul 05, 2014 10:05 am

SlowTyper wrote:Will these things keep you warm when riding at temps below 60?


I wouldn't count on it. Perhaps just the vest without the packs in there - but anything at less than body temperature, when held against your body, is going to sap heat away from your body - that's how they work to keep you cool. If it's already cool out, and you're trying to stay warm, putting these cooling packs next to your body to take even MORE heat away from you is only going to make you colder, not warmer.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby WingAdmin » Sat Jul 05, 2014 10:09 am

CaptLen wrote:Thank you for the very informative report- I hate being hot. Following your report I ordered the vest, neck cooler, and King Kooler. The Kooler arrived already- I expect the vest shortly
Will send follow ups when I use it.


Apparently several people did the exact same thing - because when I went to have the new King Kooler (June's contest prize) shipped to the winner from Cyclemax, Gary told me that he had several of them that morning, but that they all inexplicably sold that day, and he had none left until he got more on Tuesday. So Wein6, I apologize, your prize will be getting to you a bit late this month. :)

The owner of Polar Vests also told me that he received quite a few orders, so that's good as well.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby WingAdmin » Sat Jul 05, 2014 10:11 am

AnimalG, yours is a classic story of heat stroke. When riding in air temperatures hotter than your body temperature, you end up raising your body temperature with the wind, rather than dropping it as you would expect wind would do. The only thing you could have done in that situation would have been to repeatedly soak yourself with water and ride until you dried out, then repeat.

Glad to hear that you made it through OK.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby SlowTyper » Sat Jul 05, 2014 3:17 pm


SlowTyper wrote:
Will these things keep you warm when riding at temps below 60?



I wouldn't count on it. Perhaps just the vest without the packs in there - but anything at less than body temperature, when held against your body, is going to sap heat away from your body - that's how they work to keep you cool. If it's already cool out, and you're trying to stay warm, putting these cooling packs next to your body to take even MORE heat away from you is only going to make you colder, not warmer.

Read more: posting.php?mode=reply&f=18&t=22662#ixzz36cthp3ql

I don't think I explained my question very well... I was wondering if the vest could be worn over a jacket, so that your jacket only had to insulate you from 65 degree exposure, rather than an actual outdoor temp of perhaps 40 degrees. Normally, in really cold weather, I wear my rain gear over a well insulated jacket. But when it gets below 50, that is not enough for me for a ride of more than an hour. So I was wondering if there might be any benefit of wearing the vest with thawed packets between my rain gear and my insulated jacket.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby WingAdmin » Sun Jul 06, 2014 9:44 pm

SlowTyper wrote:I don't think I explained my question very well... I was wondering if the vest could be worn over a jacket, so that your jacket only had to insulate you from 65 degree exposure, rather than an actual outdoor temp of perhaps 40 degrees. Normally, in really cold weather, I wear my rain gear over a well insulated jacket. But when it gets below 50, that is not enough for me for a ride of more than an hour. So I was wondering if there might be any benefit of wearing the vest with thawed packets between my rain gear and my insulated jacket.


Hm. I suppose the vest would provide some insulating ability on its own, but the thawed packets are going to conduct heat out from you to the outside world (kind of like having packets of water) - so I suspect you'd do better with the vest alone, and the packets in the trunk, than having the packets in the vest.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby CaptLen » Mon Jul 07, 2014 10:23 am

Remember- the packs freeze at 65 or below, so they won't be insulating; they'll be freezing up. You need an electrically heated vest or more insulation.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby WingAdmin » Thu Jul 10, 2014 12:56 pm

I should mention - I tried wearing the vest this past weekend on a ride. It was in the low 80's when we left, and stayed around that temperature. Not normally a temperature I'd think about cooling, but it was extremely humid, which always makes it feel hot.

The ride lasted about 2 1/2 hours, and when we got back, the vest was still quite cold, with frozen parts inside the packs. So at the lower temperatures, the vest definitely helps, and lasts quite a bit longer. I'm willing to bet it would have been providing cooling effect well past three hours, based on the amount of solidified frozen material left in the packs at 2 1/2 hours.

I also find myself using the neck cooler quite often - great for mowing the lawn in the heat, as well as sitting at my desk when it's quite hot out, and the A/C isn't quite dealing well with my office full of computers.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby jbstok » Mon Jul 14, 2014 8:12 pm

I'm willing to try anything to beat the Alabama summer heat, so I ordered a Polar Vest with 2 sets of cooling packs. I've had them for about a week now and have used the vest while riding a mower, taking the daily 2 - 3 mile walk, working in the hangar and last but not least, actually riding the motorcycle. Haven't tried it in the airplane yet, but plan to.

I found the construction to be of good quality, despite a seam being mis-sewn on the neck band. My wife is a quilter so that was easily fixed. Now that I've used it several times, I can say I'm not a fan of the adjustment straps. When moving around, they tend to work loose, and being on the inside of the vest, adjusting them "on the fly" is not easy or convenient. I think velcro would be a better choice, and velcro on the outside the best choice. I've put paper clips on the folded straps against the buckle to try to keep them from slipping. Just did that this morning, so no report yet on whether or not that will work.

As for the cooling, it works. It doesn't keep me from sweating, but it keeps me from feeling so hot. My shirt under the vest has been pretty wet each time I've taken off the vest, but usually my hat band is soaked through as well. When it's hot, I'm gonna sweat, vest or not. Subjectively though, I do feel cooler with it than without it. On the mower, I wore it about an hour and a half on a 90 degree day and it still felt cool and had some bits of frozen material in it when I took it off. After an hour of walking at a brisk but comfortable pace there was plenty of frozen material left with temps in the low 80's and high humidity. Around the shop, I still was still sweating, but much more comfortable than usual.

On the motorcycle, I put the vest on, went down to the hangar, put on the gear then went for a one hour and 25 minute ride, returned, took off the gear, walked back to the house and removed the vest. Total time wearing it was about an hour and 40 minutes. Temp was 87 when I left and 90 when I got back. There was still frozen material in each pack, though more in the back than the front. I was wearing a mesh jacket with nothing between it and the vest. I still felt cooler than I would have without the vest, by a good bit. Sweat was not rolling down my back or out from under my helmet at stop signs as it would have been otherwise. My shirt was still wet when I got back, but I was definitely more comfortable with the vest. I'll be wearing it again.

Just wanted to share my experience. Btw, my wife has absconded with the neck band and is wearing it around her waist on her back. She says it helps when she's in the garden.

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby WingAdmin » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:21 pm

I wore my vest riding home from work the other day. 95 degrees, high humidity, in city (lots of stoplights) traffic for almost an hour. Without it, I would have been absolutely sweltering and soaked through. However, with the vest, I didn't even feel hot - I could feel heat on my arms and legs, but I arrived home feeling quite refreshed, and not sweaty at all. I'd say this one is definitely a winner!

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Re: Polar Vest Phase Change Cooling Vest

Postby jtm1500 » Mon May 23, 2016 7:08 pm

Has anyone seen any of these vests utilizing the vegetable based PCMs? a lot of pros versus the parafin based?




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