A jacket is one of the most important items of clothing you'll ever own this season. Apart from protecting you from the chill, it also protects your upper torso from the wind, snow, sleet, and rain.
A good winter jacket typically has a waterproof and windproof (or water-resistant and wind-resistant) outer shell. Some jackets have an insulating layer made of down or synthetic fill. This layer is then followed by a lining.
But sometimes, wearing a nice winter jacket is not enough especially if you live in a region where sub-zero temperatures are considered normal or you're off to a mountain climbing expedition.
No matter how thick the jacket is or how many layers of clothing you wear, there will be instances when a regular outfit might not be enough to ward off the cold. Good thing you can leave your regular winter jackets at home and bring a heated jacket or two instead.
Heated JAckets: An Overview
At first glance, a heated jacket looks like your old winter jacket. But what sets a heated jacket apart from its ordinary counterpart is what's in between its outer shell and its lining. Let's explore the similarities, as well as the differences, between regular jackets and heated ones.
Like regular jackets, heated jackets have a waterproof/resistant and windproof/resistant outer shell, insulating layer, and lining. Some have a hood, while others only have a high collar to protect your neck. But the similarities stop there. One thing that makes heated jackets stand out is the presence of super-light and wafer-thin heating elements between the fabrics.
These heating elements are typically powered by high-capacity lithium-ion batteries (but other high-end and powerful jackets are attached to and powered by a motorcycle's battery). The majority of heated jackets are connected via USB cable to their power source.
Note, however, that not all heated jackets come with their own batteries upon purchase, and you'll need to use a compatible power bank or purchase a separate battery from the manufacturer to get it to work.
You can adjust the warmth produced by the jacket's heating elements to suit your environment. For example, if your home or workplace is not too chilly or you're going to wear it during an early spring day, then setting it on low would suffice.
But if you're working in the midst of a polar vortex or you're going to be outdoors for many hours, then make sure to set it on medium or high. Keep in mind that when it comes to heated jackets, the higher the heat setting, the shorter the battery life.
Since there's a heating element inside, maybe you're wondering if a heated jacket can be washed. The answer is yes. Many are machine washable and dryer safe, while some should only be hand-washed.
Types of heated Jackets
What you're going to do will determine the type of heated jacket you should choose and wear this winter. If you're going to ski or snowboard for just a couple of hours, then lightweight heated jackets (usually made of nylon and polyester) are perfect for you.
Since these jackets are lightweight, your movements will not be hampered by bulky insulation and you can even use them as mid layers underneath a coat. These jackets are also ideal for everyday use, such as walking your dog, working around the farm, or driving to the office in the middle of winter.
If you're living in or going to a region where the temperature is consistently frigid and you need an extra layer of protection from the cold, then heated puffer jackets are created especially for you.
These jackets are quilted, and the warmth the heating element produces is reinforced with a synthetic or natural insulating layer. They're bulkier than your regular heated jacket, but they can be warmer even when you don't turn the heating elements on.
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A typical winter jacket is made up of three layers: the outer layer or shell, the insulating layer or fill, and the lining. When choosing a heated jacket, consider the benefits and disadvantages offered by each material.
Jacket outer layers are typically made of synthetic textiles with polyester and/or nylon base. Softshell, for example, is one of the most popular materials used as a jacket outer layer because of its pliability, as well as the warmth it provides. Apart from its warmth, it is also breathable, light, wind-resistant, and waterproof.
These properties make softshell jackets ideal for activities such as cross-country skiing, biking, or mountain climbing in mild conditions. Since the material still is not windproof, it's best to leave it at home if you're planning to ski or climb under extreme conditions.
Another popular jacket material is polar fleece, a fabric that is made from polyester. Developed in 1979, polar fleece has become one of the go-to materials for athletic jackets because of its warmth and water-resistant properties. It is also lightweight, comfortable, and breathable. It is not, however, ideal for extreme conditions as it is not windproof.
Ripstop nylon and polyester ripstop are also used as a jacket outer layer, specifically puffer jackets. These fabrics are soft and silk-like, yet strong and tear-resistant. They have zero porosity which make them waterproof and windproof. These properties make ripstop fabrics ideal for winter wear, especially under extreme conditions.Other jackets have a cotton or poly-cotton outer layer. A heated jacket with 100% cotton outer layer tends to be more breathable, but it is not as insulating as synthetic fabrics. Poly-cotton blend, on the other hand, is more insulating and pliable thanks to the addition of polyester.
Insulating Layer or fill
Heated puffer jackets have two types of insulating layer: synthetic and down insulation. Down insulation is the soft and fluffy feathers that are found underneath the exterior feathers of ducks and geese.
It is insulating, lightweight, and can be compressed to just about any shape. But keep in mind that jackets with down insulation take longer to dry out, and they need special care and cleaning detergents for maintenance. Heated puffer jackets with down insulation also tend to be more expensive.
Synthetic insulation is made up of polyester filaments clustered and molded together to form a substance that feels like duck or goose down. It is water-resistant and does not require special cleaning or chemicals.
Synthetic down is less expensive than duck or goose down, making jackets with this type of insulation a great choice for those who are on a tight budget. Keep in mind, however, that synthetic down is heavier and less durable than its natural counterpart.
Positioning of heated elements
What's the difference between regular jackets and heated jackets? Simple. Regular jackets rely on the multiple layers of fabrics for insulation, while heated jackets offer additional warmth with the carbon fiber heating elements located between the layers of fabric.
Heating elements are positioned where you are most vulnerable to the cold: your left and right chest and your upper or mid-back. T
hree heat zones are usually enough to keep the cold at bay, but if you want to level up the warmth, then go for jackets with heating elements that extend down to your core. If that's not enough, there are jackets with heating elements located inside the collar and along the sleeves.
But keep in mind that jackets with more heating elements are naturally more expensive than your regular jacket with three heat zones.
Battery, voltage, and heat output
Heated jackets are typically powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries with different voltages: 5, 7, and 12 volts. When it comes to voltage and heat output, the general rule is the higher the voltage, the greater the heat output. The area of coverage also increases as the battery voltage goes up.
Many heated jackets on the market right now are powered by 7-volt batteries which offer superb heat output and are generally long-lasting. The batteries are also reasonably priced, compact, and lightweight, making heated jackets with 7-volt batteries a popular choice for consumers.
Other heated jackets, meanwhile, come with 5-volt batteries. Popularly known as powerbanks or USB batteries, these nifty devices typically come with two USB ports (regular and micro).
Naturally, the heat output is less powerful than a heated jacket powered by a 7-volt battery, and the battery life is also shorter. But what's great about these batteries their versatility--you can connect them to your smartphone or other compatible devices via a USB plug and you can do this even while you’re skiing or scaling a mountain. These batteries are also easy to replace in case of damage or loss.
If you have a motorbike and you want something more powerful, then choose a 12 volt heated jacket. This type of jacket usually does not have a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Instead, the wiring harness is tethered to the motorcycle's battery which serves as its power source. 12-volt jackets also have more heat panels compared to 5 volt or 7-volt jackets.
This results in higher heat output and a wider coverage area. Plus, you'll never have to worry about running out of power since the jacket is powered up by your machine's battery. Portability, however, can be an issue as the wiring harness is tethered to the machine's power source. 12-volt jackets are also a lot more expensive than its counterparts.
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