I wore a vest filled with ice cubes during a heat wave. This is what happened.
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There are also many people, I recently learned, who utilize a wearable cooling contraption called a FlexiFreeze vest.
The FlexiFreeze is a vest made of wetsuit material that aims to cool the wearer down via “cooling inserts”—not unlike those freezer packs your mom put in your school lunches, only bigger and with velcro strips attached—that are affixed inside the vest, all for $99.99. The FlexiFreeze is not the only one of its kind, but it was the first that popped up on Amazon when I searched for “cooling clothes.” Others you might find look similar and are priced about the same (that is, unless you spring for a $3,000 version made for surgeons to stay cool during lengthy surgeries).
My apartment does not have air conditioning. A historic heatwave was in the forecast. Thus, I had to give the FlexiVest a try.
I tested the vest by walking around during the peak temperatures my neighborhood experienced: 98 degrees, with a “Real Feel” of about 100 degrees in Cambridge, Mass. (which should be illegal). How did it fare under these conditions? I cannot help but reference a seminal quote from the television program Mad Men here—not great, Bob!
While certain people rave about the vest (more on that coming up), I identify with one reviewer, who wrote: “Not made for a cuvacious [sic] woman. Too much velcro that ruins the clothes underneath the vest.”
I do not consider myself to be especially curvaceous, but I am a person with breasts and wide-ish hips. From the moment I put it on, over a tank top and the striped workout leggings I was wearing to go to yoga, the vest did not fit me right. Though it has strings and straps that, according to FlexiFreeze, can be adjusted in four ways to fit sizes XS to 6X, I found the straps inflexible and difficult to move. Also, the velcro enclosures on the bottom half un-velcroed every time I tried to move, meaning I lost contact with the ice packs that were supposed to lay over my stomach. The detached velcro also dragged across my shirt, which, with extended use, probably would have picked it up and caused pilling or pulls. (The vest is also available with a zipper, which may have been more secure, though also potentially more constricting.)
The most damning part of my experience: I just didn’t find the vest to be that cooling. The areas of my chest and back that were in contact with the ice packs got colder, sure, but the vest itself is tight, heavy (weighing about five pounds), and made of neoprene with zero breathability or ventilation. Had the ice overlaid my neck, or possibly my wrists—both are pulse points that help regulate body temperature—I might have felt a little more chilled out. But as it was, when I walked around outside, perspiration streamed down my face. Even soggier, the ice packs produce condensation as they melt. By the time I reached my yoga class, I was not only uncomfortably hot, but also damp—both from my own sweat and the ice packs’ ‘sweat.’
The vest is also not the thing I’d choose when putting together a fashionable outfit. It was so hot out that most people made the reasonable decision to stay inside, but those who saw me no doubt wondered why a woman was wandering around on a nearly-hundred-degree day in workout leggings and what appeared to be a life preserver. That said, Calvin Klein sent their models down the runway in firefighter gear last fall, so perhaps it is only a matter of time before FlexiFreeze vests become the look de rigueur.
I don’t want to minimize the value this vest has for certain people. In its Amazon review section, several happy customers gave the FlexiFreeze top marks for helping them through situations such as working in muggy underground subway stations as a New York City transit employee, renovating AC-less houses in 98-degree weather in Florida, wearing unavoidably hot outfits (like mascot costumes, mall Santa costumes, and beekeeping suits), and mitigating health conditions like multiple sclerosis that can make hot weather unbearable. I was particularly intrigued by the mascot review and have reached out to representatives for some of my personal favorite mascots to see if they employ similar methods to stay cool. One person—a friend of mine who once served as "Otto the Orange," Syracuse University's mascot—said she had never heard of the ice vest, but wished she'd had one in college. I will update this post if I receive a response from any others. (Ahem, Gritty?)
Unless you find yourself in any of the aforementioned situations, there are better ways to spend $100 to stay cool. (Going to exactly six movies for the air conditioning comes to mind.) But, to me, this product is useless: I personally wouldn’t wear it to do yard work (due it its lack of practical function), nor would I wear it to stay cool outside during a heatwave or at a rooftop bar if I happened to have a date on a particularly warm night (unless my date was someone looking for the next offbeat runway look).
If you’re someone with a decent amount of DIY flair, you could try attaching some Velcro to cooler freezer packs, then sticking them inside a vest (a neoprene wetsuit one, if you have it), and using that for a test run, because that’s basically what the FlexiFreeze is. If that cools you down, the FlexiFreeze might, too.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.
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