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Buying Guide for Battery Heated Clothing

What to look for when buying battery heated clothing.

How warm does the heated garment get? How long will it heat me for? These are not the real questions you want answered. What you really want to know is: Will this heated jacket or heated vest keep me warm for as long as I need?

You need to consider a number of important features:

1. Garment Insulation

Battery heated clothing with good, windproof insulation will trap the heat better meaning the heat generated will cocoon around your core, keeping you warm longer. This means you can lower the heat setting on the controls while still staying warm. As a result, the battery will last much longer than if you left it on continuously. So the better insulation is like a battery extender – increasing your warmth time. You also need to consider the “dynamic” insulation of your heated vest or jacket. In the cold world outside, wind can suck the heat from your body, negating the benefit of any fabric insulation if the heated garment fabric is not windproof. One example is if you have ever been outside wearing a polar fleece jacket, a brisk breeze picks up and the wind just cuts right through as if you have nothing on. Look for higher performance multi-layer windproof insulating fabrics when buying battery heated clothing.

2. Heat Levels and Controllers for adjusting the heating.

If your heated clothing has appropriate insulation, you probably won’t need to have the heat level on the highest setting all the time so to extend your battery heating time, choose a model that has at least a high and low heat setting. More than three heat levels will become confusing so don’t pick a model with a complicated control system. Basically, if the controller has more than one button, it’s going to get too complex to use when you are out in the elements and want to simply adjust the heat.

For convenience, you’re are not going to want to dig around down inside your garment for the battery pack just  to adjust the heat levels so look for a model that has a separate heat level controller and battery pack.

3. Heated Clothing Batteries –

What you don’t know CAN hurt you! This is one of the most important, but often overlooked issue when buying a rechargeable heated garment. Getting this issue wrong can be a real pain (literally!).

Rechargeable Lithium Polymer Technology. Many battery heated jackets and vests are supplied with their own custom rechargeable battery. Nowadays you wouldn’t want to consider anything other than lithium polymer rechargeable battery type for safety and light weight. Stay away from the lithium-ION technology batteries for safety reasons. Lithium-ION technology is unsuitable for heated apparel applications as it can be a little delicate and unstable.  Lithium-ION batteries are used in most of the world’s laptop computers and five (5) million of them were recalled with the US Government in the 12 months to October 2007 because they can self ignite, catch fire and explode and some were doing just that! This would not be a good feeling when you’re actually wearing the incendiary battery on your person. 

Overcharging Protection is important. Overcharging an unprotected rechargeable lithium battery will likely result in explosion and/or fire. Good lithium polymer battery packs have protection to prevent this built right into the battery pack to protect against such overcharging.  You don’t want a system that has the overcharge protection built in the charger in case you accidentally plug in the wrong charger.

My battery pack died over the summer! Most rechargeable lithium battery pack systems needs to be charged every 2 to 3 months to avoid PERMANENT loss of charging ability. With those battery packs if you forget to charge up the battery pack at the end of the winter season and at least once during the summer, you would find the battery pack only giving you a few minutes charge when you tried to charge it up and use it again in the fall and your investment in your heated garment will be wasted.

Look for a battery pack with a “Hibernation” mode, where you charge up the battery pack at the end of the cold season and then switch it to hibernation mode for the warm summer months when you won’t use it. In the fall, you simply switch it back to “Normal” mode, charge it up once and you are back in business without forking out extra bucks for a new battery pack which can run into a few dollars.

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4. Impact Protection – Oops, I dropped it!  To protect the soft battery cells, the battery pack as a minimum should have a rigid polymer/plastic casing. Further, some models have increased added protection such as neoprene outer cases to further to protects the battery cells against impact damage (when you take it out and accidentally drop it – it will happen!).

5. Separate Charging and Use power sockets. Preferably, the rechargeable battery pack has one socket for charging it and one socket for using it. This is much safer than one socket for both charging and using. Also, the socket sizes should be different so you can’t get confused about which socket to plug into.

6. AA Battery backup option. If you are going out in the woods for a few days and are not near a charging power supply, check to see if the heated clothing model you are considering has a choice to use regular size AA batteries. This can also be handy also if you unexpectedly run out of battery juice (such as you forgot the recharge the battery!) and need to grab some AA batteries from a nearby store to get you through a few more cold hours.

7. Other safety issues:

What about electrocution risk? A common concern about heated clothing seems to be a misconception about electrocution, particularly when it rains. It's virtually impossible to be electrocuted by portable heated clothing.  Since most rechargeable heated clothing systems such as heated vests and heated jackets run on low voltages less than 10V, you could jump into a river and the worst that could happen is you'd feel a mild buzz. Most battery heated clothing runs at voltage of only 7.4Volts which is lower than used in many children electronic toys.

What about that High Frequency EMF radiation?  All battery powered electric heated clothing is also safe from high frequency EMF. The voltage operating any battery operated heated clothing is less than 13V DC, and the frequency is 0 Hz so there is no EMF.

Poor workmanship is another story. In 2007 at least one maker of battery heated clothing had their products recalled by a national retailer due to the risk of it overheating or catching fire. As with any product, all heated clothing is not created equal. Bad wiring design and workmanship can cause “hot spots” which do have a safety risk. You need to be confident the product you are buying is a safe one.  So how can you develop this confidence? Firstly, check the manufacturer has independent tests to verify safety.

8. Watch out for marketing hype. For example, when a battery heated vest or jacket product is marketed as having up to 10 hours of heat, it probably means 10 hours at a 10% heat setting which is hardly any heat at all. When they give a temperature rating ,it’s probably at the highest setting which will only work for the shortest time. Do not make the error of noticing the high temperature level promises and believing it’s going to last for the same time as the lowest heat level setting. Another trick sometimes employed are with garments that only heat in one area (less heating) which means the manufacturer can claim a longer heating time.

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