IMPORTANT: Before purchasing any cooling vest or cooling technology, ActiveMSers recommends reading the below guide and our exclusive Cooling Vest Shootout, which featured an exhaustive battery of tests, from controlled (77 degrees in A/C) to hot (sunny 98 degrees) to real world (worn in typical situations). These tests have been instrumental in us reshaping our recommendations.
With summer rearing its ugly head annually, us folks with multiple sclerosis cringe with anticipation. Like breakfast cereal and gravy, warm days and MS just do not mix. We need to stay cool to prevent our bodies from getting angry and plunging us into a seemingly endless malaise along with a list of symptoms that could rival an eight-year-old’s list of wanted presents from Santa.
Why does this happen? The most common hypothesis: the more heat, the more your body’s nerve impulses can escape due to demyelination. Current is moving too fast and the signals become muddied, meaning a rise in MS symptoms. Cooling increases conductivity, prolonging the current available, meaning more current can flow through your nerves and signals are more reliable.
To avoid the heat of summer, one option is to stay indoors and bask in the chilly pleasures of air conditioning. But we are ActiveMSers, desperately seeking pleasure without walls. Now ideally we’d have a portable 2-ounce air-conditioning unit attached to our belt (let’s call it the Apple iCool). Alas, such things do not exist. That said, we do have cooling vests--as well as innovative cooling systems--at our disposal.
Ranging in price from just a few sawbucks to thousands of dollars, cooling vests/systems can help those with multiple sclerosis maintain cooler core temperatures and lessen the severity of symptoms often caused by heat. Personally my eyes go wacky and spasticity becomes an issue, but for others, fatigue, cognitive issues, and a host of other symptoms can be backbreaking.
TIP: Why is it important to stay cool if you have multiple sclerosis? That’s a question for a whole ‘nother website. David Baker, PhD, and Louise Zimmerman have established the Multiple Sclerosis Cooling Foundation and put together a fantastic website, www.mscooling.org, which is being reworked. When it is back online, you will find detailed scientific articles about how heat affects the MSer (both David and Louise have MS) and the benefits of cooling.
If the demyelinated nerve is cooled slightly, more current is available. (From the MS Cooling Foundation)
Picking the Right Cooling Vest So how do you pick the right vest? What’s the best vest for the dollar? Will the dang thing even work? Good questions, all. Every MSer will have different needs, and not everyone will gain the same benefit. There are no guarantees. Indeed one vest may have limited effect while another could be a godsend. We at ActiveMSers want to help you make the best, most educated decision possible.
Cooling technology first needs to be broken down into two types: active and passive. Active cooling vests and cooling systems require some form of power (electricity or battery) to operate. They continually provide maximum cooling--many lower the body’s core temperature--and are usually used in the home although they are portable and can be used in the car, the office, etc. These are the most expensive systems and generally start around $350 and can easily run into the four figures.
Passive vests have no working components and are easily portable. Use them basically anywhere your body can go, whether it be on a jog, to the zoo, or to a ballgame. But their cooling power is short-term (30 minutes to 3 hours) and begins to decline as soon as you put the vest on. While they have limited effectiveness in lowering the core body temperature, passive vests do provide a degree of heat relief helping to abate symptoms brought on by MS. These are the most affordable types of vests, and range in price from $30-$300).
It’s important to note the differences of these types of active and passive cooling vests and systems, as the type of cooling--and the construction of the vest--will drastically affect performance. Additionally, outdoor humidity, ambient temperature, exposure to direct sunlight, and even body temperature of the wearer can influence cooling power.
And lastly, please don’t assume willy nilly that you can’t afford an active vest--insurance may cover it if you have a prescription from your doctor (and the VA typically covers vest purchases, active or passive). Better yet, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (www.myMSAA.org) provides free vests for those with limited incomes (see if you qualify) as does the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (www.msfocus.org). If you can't get insurance to fork over dough, the cost may be worth the added benefits. Just remember, the pricier the vest doesn’t always mean the best choice for your particular situation. Likewise, going with the cheap fix might result in nothing more than wasted cash and one extra piece of clothing hanging on that exercise bike you should use more often. That said, let’s dive in.
TIP: You can recharge gel/ice packs on the go very fast using this little trick. Fill your cooler with ice. When you want to recharge your packs, add water and a teaspoon or so of salt. Mix it up, and the slurry will super cool those packs faster than even your freezer. The secret is in the salt, which lowers the temp of your slurry to the mid 20s. Please note: you may want to contact your vest’s manufacturer to make sure salt will not damage the gel/ice packs.
The Shafer active cooling suit.
TIP: To get the maximum cooling effect from a vest, it should fit snuggly around your body. If it hangs loose, some of the cooling power will be lost as you’ll only be chilling air and not your body. Zip up vests must be sized properly to hug your chest. Poncho-style vests, which you wear by putting your head through the center hole and drape over you chest and back, are typically made snug with side straps (usually velcro).
Active Cooling Vests ($350-$2,000) Most active vests work by recirculating chilled fluid through the vest being worn by the MSer. The vest, which may include a cap, requires a separate cooling unit--a pump to recirculate the fluid and a cooler to hold the ice that chills the fluid--and a power source. Typically these vests run off either A/C or battery power (say D cells or a car battery). By reducing the body’s core temperature and providing a constant level of cooling, these vests have been shown in studies to be therapeutic and to reduce MS symptoms in many (but not all) patients. Usually MSers with heat sensitivity will wear this type of cooling garment several times over the course of a day. The vests themselves range greatly in weight, from as little as 2 lbs to 10 lbs and heavier. While the vests can be worn during exercise--for instance putting the pump/cooler equipment next to the stationary exercise bike--wearing the vest outdoors is impractical. However, the benefits of the cooling vest may continue to last for a period of time (manufacturers say up to an hour or two) after the vest is removed. There is one vest that touts portability (about $500 with accessories), although at 12 lbs you better be fit with good balance if you plan to strap on the water/battery backpack. Examples: Life Enhancement Technologies (www.2bcool.com), Shafer Therapy Vest (www.coolshirt.net), Jenkins Therapy (www.jenkinscomfort.com), Veskimo Hydration Backpacks (www.veskimo.com). + Maximum cooling benefit, no question + Best of any vest type at dropping core body temperature + Effectiveness proven in studies - Due to power/fluid needs, vests are not very portable - Vest complexity ups price significantly - Not that practical for outdoor activity
The active portable vest from Veskimo with backpack.
Active Cooling Systems ($3,000+) Relatively new to the market, active cooling systems like those made by CoreControl are not vests at all. Unlike cooling vests, which cool the body from the outside, cooling systems work to extract heat from the blood as it moves through the body. This technology is pricey (typically $3,000 or more) and is most often used by those who can afford the price tag: professional sports teams, big-time college sports programs, private hospitals, and the military. But it has found an audience with MSers for its potential effectiveness and convenience. Simply insert your hand into the system, a light vacuum seal is created around the wrist (to keep blood vessels from constricting with the cold) and lightly grip the cooling handle for a period of time. That’s it. A pump, power, and fluid are still required. According to CoreControl, their system works by using the “specialized blood vessels [that] exist in the palms of your hand for heat dissipation purposes. These structures--your body’s radiator--allow large amounts of blood to flow directly beneath the skin when the body needs to dissipate excess heat. CoreControl enhances the blood flow to those surfaces through a combined application of temperature and a slight vacuum.” It’s important to note that the system works best to cool someone who is experiencing heat stress (blood vessels wide open), and only has limited effectiveness at cooling the MSer who is relaxing at home or has done only mild activity (blood vessels already relatively constricted). Examples: CoreControl (www.avacore.com) + Newest cooling technology on market + Convenient to use, relatively lightweight + Extremely effective after heavy exercise - Eye-poppingly pricey ($3,200 or so) - Limited effectiveness after light/no activity - Hard to use during activity, limited portability
The innovative Core Control system.
Passive Gel/Ice Pack Cooling Vests ($100-$300) These vests are among the most popular and basic in design and tend to provide the most theoretical cooling power among passive vests. The user pre-freezes gel/ice packs, which are then dropped into pockets on the garment prior to wearing. But our recent tests have shown that these types of vests can have too much cooling if properly frozen, and could cause frostbite if worn with only a single T-shirt. ActiveMSers recommends these vests be worn with extra layers of clothing for safety, especially if you are already numb in the chest area. Some vests can be worn under clothing, giving up cooling power (fewer ice packs) but saving weight and bulk. That said, to conceal these vests we'd recommend wearing three layers of clothing (two under, one over), making this not terribly feasible on a hot day. Examples: Steele Suits (www.steelevest.com), Stacool Vest (www.stacoolvest.com), Heat Relief Depot/ Biochem (www.heatreliefdepot.com), Polar Products (www.polarproducts.com) + Maximum theoretical cooling power among passive vests + Maintains cooling charge longer than many vests + Affordable and popular; easier to find discounts and sales - Cooling packs are often too cold and may cause frostbite - Typically heavier than other passive vests - Must have access to a freezer to fully recharge
The sleek vest from Stacool.
Passive Phase Change Cooling Vests ($150-$300) Unlike ice packs, which chill to below freezing, phase change packs maintain much higher temperatures. These phase-change packs contain liquids (often nontoxic oils and fats) that solidify (like wax) typically between 55 to 65 degrees and in our tests reliably provide cooling power for as long as 4 hours. Due to the higher temps, these vests are comfortable worn directly against the skin. Phase change packs can be recharged in the refrigerator, freezer, or in ice water. Typical weight: 4-5 lbs. Examples: Glacier Tek (www.glaciertek.com), Life Enhancement Technologies (www.2bcool.com), First Line Technology (www.firstlinetechnology.com), Cool Sport (www.coolsport.net), Polar Products (www.polarproducts.com). + Recharges quickly, in as little as 20 minutes + Good for those with cold sensitivity + No condensation on packs + Long-lasting cooling capacity - Not terribly lightweight - Phase change packs may be flammable/toxic
The concealable phase change vest from Glacier Tek.
Passive Hybrid Cooling Vests ($75-$200) These vests are combination ice-pack/evaporative vests. To charge the vest, you soak the entire vest in water to activate the crystals. Towel dry (or put in the spin cycle of your washer) and it can be worn immediately with moderate effect--in arid climates--as an evaporative vest. To get maximum cooling, you can freeze the vest, which will freeze the gel ribs and provide 1-2 hours of cooling relief. Examples: Arctic Heat (www.arcticheatusa.com), Body Cooler (www.bodycooler.com) + Easy to recharge, in ice water, fridge, or freezer + Can be extremely lightweight (Arctic Heat vest 2.2 lbs) + Best vest for athletics (applies to Arctic Heat vest only) - Limited cooling capacity, only 1-2 hours when frozen - Entire vest must be chilled; takes up room in freezer - Vest can be damp, less practical for day-to-day use
The Arctic Heat vest weighs just over 2 lbs charged, and is as light (and as small) as a t-shirt uncharged.
Passive Evaporative Cooling Vests ($30-$80) Just soak the vest in cool water, then towel or wring dry, and you are ready to go. You’ll likely get a little damp, but that’s to be expected as these vests are essentially portable evaporative coolers that chill the human body. To be effective, the vest should only be worn in low humidity (arid/desert) environments. These are the most affordable passive vests but also typically the least effective. Note: if your home/gym is cooled by an evaporative cooler (swamp cooler), using the vest while the cooler is running will result in little benefit. Examples: Silver Eagle Outfitters (www.silvereagleoutfitters.com), MSolutions (www.msolutions.org), Polar Products (www.polarproducts.com) + Most affordable style of passive vests + Quite lightweight, good for sports + Easy to recharge (just add water) - Not effective in humid environments - Limited cooling capacity - Vest is damp, could breed bacteria if stored incorrectly
The women's vest from Silver Eagle Outfitters.
Members of ActiveMSers can save up to 20% on select cooling vests with reserved coupon codes. To get your discount, join today by signing upfor our newsletter. NOTE: ActiveMSers has negotiated these discounts and has no other affiliation with these companies and receives no compensation or commission of any kind. Some vests were donated for testing purposes.
ActiveMSers Recommendations After testing a combination of ice vests, ice torso wraps, phase change vests, and gel vests, ActiveMSers has prepared some general vest recommendations. (Please note, active vests have not been tested.)
There is no one single best cooling vest. They all have their plusses and minuses--in an ideal world you’d have more than one type. Use an active vest at home (and get your insurance to pay for it), and have a passive vest for the outdoors, exercise, and travel. You’ll need to decide what is most important to you in a vest or apparel. If one doesn’t work for you, try another. NOTE: There are many more vests than those listed here. If you have a favorite vest and would like it to be included, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best for maximum therapeutic effect: Life Enhancement Technologies’ ISOPRO Personal Cooling System (www.2bcool.com) has been tested by NASA. Also consider the Shafer Therapy Vest (www.coolshirt.net), very popular with motorsport professionals, and the vest from Veskimo (www.veskimo.com), which is relatively portable with the backpack system. The innovative cooling system by CoreControl (www.avacore.com) has potential, especially for quick cool down if you are overheated.
Best all-purpose & travel: Since they can be charged in a refrigerator or in ice water, last a long time, and easily bested all other passive vests in our recent test, passive phase change vests rule this category. We highly recommend the vests from Glacier Tek (www.glaciertek.com), regular or concealable.First Line Technology (www.firstlinetechnology.com) also makes good-looking vests.
Best for athletics: There are two that stand out: the ultra lightweight cooling shirts and vests from IZI Body Cooling (www.izibodycooling.com) and the snug, light vest by Arctic Heat (www.arcticheatusa.com). Also consider the athletic phase-change vest from First Line Technology (www.firstlinetechnology.com). Although not terribly portable, the gee-whiz cooling system by CoreControl (www.avacore.com) is geared to cool after a workout, and the active cooling vest by Life Enhancement Technologies’ ISOPRO Personal Cooling System (www.2bcool.com) can be effective before (and after) you exercise. Best to wear under clothes: Sometimes you don't want to advertise you are wearing a cooling vest. We highly recommend the phase change concealable vests from Glacier Tek (www.glaciertek.com), but note that it's not that concealable (but passable). Polar Products and Steele make smaller vests that go under clothing, but the Polar torso wrap/vest performed poorly in our tests as did the full-size Steele, making us hesitant to recommend the smaller version.
Best for those on a budget: The $39 evaporative cooling vest from Polar Products (www.polarproducts.com) is among the least expensive vests on the market. Also consider the $83 hybrid vest from Body Cooler (www.bodycooler.com). Of course, a zip lock bag and ice cubes can work in a pinch.
The concealable Glacier Tek phase change vest is our favorite all-purpose vest.