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Are Cooling Vests Effective for Runners?

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Running in the heat of summer can get frustrating. Sure, we have all heard the mantra “summer miles bring fall smiles.” Most of us firmly believe this adage to be true. But how do you survive the hot summer months so you can reap the benefits of those fall races?

Or what do you do if you train all summer and then, BOOM! Mother Nature throws you for a loop and you get a super hot October day when you were hoping for the coolness of fall?

What Are Cooling Vests?

They are just what they sound like: vests made to cool down your body. There are various different types of cooling vests to help you beat the heat and they work in different ways. 

Circulatory cooling mistake

Usually, the vests are used either before or after your workout. However, some of the lighter-weight ones can be worn during activity. 

Types of Cooling Vests

There are multiple types of cooling vests and they each work a bit differently. The types are:

  1. Evaporative
  2. Cold Pack
  3. Phase Change
  4. Circulatory Powered

How Cooling Vests Work

The evaporative cooling vests are made of a highly absorbable fabric. What you do is soak the vest in very cool water. Since the fabric has had a good soaking, the vest is nice and cool. As the water evaporates from the fabric, it keeps the athlete cool. These vests typically keep you cool anywhere from 4 – 10 hours. 

The positive is that these vests are lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to use. The negative is that the wearer is wet while using one. If you are working or exercising in extreme heat and sun, the vest will dry quicker offering a shorter time of protection.

Cold pack vests hold packs that help to cool down the user. Designed especially to remain flexible even when frozen, you place these frozen packs into pockets in the vest. Each pack stays cool for a couple of hours on average. Individuals working in the heat can keep backup packs in a cooler and switch them out when they stop being effective. 

how does a cooling vest work

The cold packs are easy to swap out. These vests are moderately priced; more expensive than the evaporative ones and less expensive than the high-end circulatory-powered vests. These are often referred to as ice vests, even though it is not technically ice-cooling you down. 

Phase change vests are constructed of very unique packs. These have a higher freezing point, so they stay cold longer. Providing cooling power for anywhere from 1 – 4 hours, these are popular with some individuals.

Circulatory Cooling vests are the most expensive and sophisticated of them all. These cool by moving cool water through a series of tubes on the vest. The water is kept cool by going through a reservoir such as a backpack that can be worn by the user. 

Not only are they more expensive than other choices, but the backpack or cooler mechanism can also make these cumbersome and not handy for someone trying to move around. 

Are Cooling Vests Effective?

Designed for construction workers who have to work in hot temperatures, cooling vests are very effective! The question is, will a cooling vest serve the purpose you are hoping it will provide for you. If you are looking for something to wear while running, a lighter and more flexible vest is probably best. 

However, if you are thinking about something you could use pre-race on a hot day, the one with the cooling pack is very effective. 

Are Cooling Vests Safe?

For use while warming up or cooling down post-hard effort, cooling vests are for sure safe. If you are using anything other than the evaporation vest, which is simply a wet cloth that will stay wet for a longer period of time than other fabrics, you may be putting yourself in potential danger. 

Getting very hot, sweating, and becoming uncomfortable during physical activity is your body’s way of telling you that you are overheating. The last thing you want to do is not recognize the potential for overheating. You have to learn to listen to your body. 

How Long Does a Cooling Vest Last?

Although they do vary in how long they are effective per use, the typical cooling vest lasts anywhere from 1 to 4 hours. Since most people don’t actually work out in them, that seems to be long enough to do the job needed by athletes!

Cooling Vests for Fido

Since many of our runners run with their four-legged best friends, let’s explore cooling vests for dogs. They can be a fantastic tool to keep your best buddy cool in the heat. However, proceed with caution. A cooling vest is not a blank check to run your furry friend in hot temps.

dog cooling vest

Cooling vests are great if it is super hot and you are going to be outside. You can also use one after a brisk walk to help your friend cool down faster. However, if you choose to use a vest to take your dog in very hot temps where he or she should not be exercising, you risk injury (even possible death due to heatstroke) for your friend. 

Remember that your canine companion depends on you to be the brains of the operation!

Should You Get One?

Honestly, that depends on you, what type of workouts you do, how much of the year is super hot, and what you are trying to achieve. If I choose to pull the trigger on a cooling vest, I think it would be the evaporation one. I don’t mind being wet when I run (I choose to run through sprinklers!), and I try to run first thing in the morning when it is not super hot. 

Living in NE Wisconsin, I also have a relatively short hot season. I am far more likely to invest big bucks in stuff to keep me warm in sub-zero temps than worrying about being too hot. 

The statistics show some definite positive aspects of a cooling vest! Maybe you want to give one a try?

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