This gear review starts with a warning. Once you have a battery in your jacket and gloves, there may be no going back.
I’ll admit to being skeptical when I first heard about battery-heated clothing. Is it really comfortable to have all those wires running through the clothes? Isn’t wearing a battery akin to wimping out when your really should be suffering? However, since getting my own Gyde Women’s Calor Jacket and S4 gloves I’ve decided that I’m done with suffering.
This article starts with a gear review and ends with and interview about current technology and the future of the products with Gyde’s Director of Development and Technology, Kayla Stevens.
Jacket and Gloves Unplugged
The first thing that amazed me about the jacket, before even plugging in the batteries, was that just looking at it from the outside, I never would have guessed that its heated. The jacket is well-fitted, and comfortable with high-quality, water-resistant Permaloft insulation. I’ve worn it many times as-is and it clearly doesn’t use the battery power as a crutch. The jacket is warm and soft. It has two side pockets and a breast pocket, all with zippers. I love how the jacket is long enough to completely cover my back, even when I’m seated and leaning forward, yet still presents a sleek yet rugged appearance.
Like the jacket, the S4 gloves also are a solid piece of gear on their own. They are both waterproof, windproof, and stay warm. The S4 gloves have comfortable liner and Aqua-Tex insert, surrounded by and outer shell. The gloves allow for a good amount of maneuverability, especially given their high degree of insulation. I found that I was able to use the zipper on my pants pockets and eat a granola bar while wearing them. While the gloves feature small loops on one of the fingers for easy removal, I usually don’t have any difficulty in getting them off. The gloves have a buckle across the back for adjusting their fit.
The jacket and gloves both come with lithium ion batteries and a charger. Each glove has a battery and they come with a split charger that can give power to two batteries simultaneously. The jacket comes with a single battery and standard charger. The batteries are slightly smaller than my old-school flip cell phone and weight approximately the same amount.
In the a jacket, the 7 volt , rechargeable lithium ion battery connects to a wire in an inner pocket. It is unobtrusive enough that I can forget its there. The battery has four different heat settings that can be adjusted on the battery casing by pressing the power button. When used in conjunction with a Gyde Bluetooth adapter and smartphone App, the heat level is further adjustable. The heat generated ranges from 100° F to 135° F, which is hot enough for Gyde to caution against wearing the jacket on bare skin. The battery lasts from 2 ½ to 8 hours, depending on the heat setting. On the Calor Jacket, heat is generated from four different hot spots on the chest, back, and collar. The heating pads are easy to overlook. The wires are small and well-integrated. I only feel the larger ones if I pinch them between both fingers. The clothes can not be washed in a machine due to concerns about the cords being damaged by the washer, but they can be hand-washed.
In the gloves, the battery is more obtrusive because of the smaller size and tightness of the garment. The gloves are very comfortable when my hands are idle and my wrists straight, but when I bend my wrists, they come up against the middle of the battery. Usually, this is just mildly irritating but I do take my watch off when I’m wearing them for long periods of time. When I’m hiking or snowshoeing, I naturally tend to keep my wrists straight. However, I wouldn’t necessarily want to engage in a task like packing my overnight pack or stuffing my sleeping bag while wearing the gloves because of the discomfort at the wrist. The gloves have three different temperature settings that can be adjusted conveniently by pushing the power button on the outside wrist of the glove. The buttons are easy to push while wearing the gloves, but I’ve never accidentally turned them on or changed settings by bumping or brushing up against an object. The power button has a small, colored light bar that indicates the heat level. While it serves as a reminder of the power setting, I’ve found the light to be annoying at night. I have to hold my hands with the light pointed away from my face to keep it from shining in my eyes. During my talk with expert Kayla Stevens, I learned that I’m not the only one with this complaint and Gyde is in the process of re-programming the garment’s lights to turn off after the battery settings are adjusted.
The batteries have some safety considerations and storage requirements. It is very important not to over-charge the batteries. The batteries should reach a full charge within 2 hours. In order to maintain full capacity, it is important to avoid storing the batteries in a cold environment for extended periods of time. The batteries should be charged periodically, even when not in use (such as during the summer) to keep voltage flowing through them and to prevent them from fully draining. Ideally, the batteries should not be stored below 25% of their capacity.
I was able to try out Gyde’s smartphone App that controls the jacket’s battery via a Bluetooth device. The App offers an exciting look at the true potential of the technology. Right now, the simple program allows the user to adjust the temperature more specifically than the control on the battery. The user chooses between low, medium, high, and extreme heat settings but in the form of a circular gradient that offers about 25 different controls settings, as opposed to just four with the battery. The App also automatically conserves power when the battery is low by reducing the heat output. Since the App and battery are connected via Bluetooth, the use of the App does not impact the battery life of the jacket. The App worked well aside from the battery indicator (which read high/medium) when the battery was actually low. The problem was resolved once the battery re-charged. The App seems to be a work in progress that is only just starting to unlock the potential for seamless user control.
Staying Warm (and Other Perks)
The temperature controls on both sets of gear work very quickly, with a noticeable heat increase within seconds. The jacket heats the body very efficiently by applying heat to the torso, which results in increased warm blood flow to the extremities. The insulation keeps the heat from escaping. When I’m feeling cold, I’ll usually crank the temperature up to “high” or “extreme” for just a minute or two, and then lower it because the insulation is highly effective at maintaining the temperature.
The gloves are extremely warm and even the “low” setting can cause my hands to sweat on a 30° night. On one hike, when my hands started to become numb, they were quickly re-warmed by the gloves in a matter of minutes. With an unheated pair of gloves, the process would have taken much longer, even when coupled with exercise. When the human body gets cold, blood flow to the extremities is limited in order to conserve heat and keep vital organs functioning optimally. This means that the hands and feet are usually the first parts of the body to feel cold and they are the last to receive heat as the body re-warms. Standard gloves operate by insulating the hands and thus retaining the heat that reaches them. However, if the hands are no longer warm, then standard gloves have a limited ability to re-warm the hands. Therefore, having gloves that can generate their own warmth is a very effective way of warming hands that are already cold. I’m really glad that I no longer have to stick my ice-cold hands against the bare skin of my armpits or stomach in order to re-warm them.
What’s the Big Deal?
So what makes this technology so exciting? First, from a safety perspective I really like the idea of having an easily accessible source of heat. True, hot packs are inexpensive and serve the same function but I find that I tend not to use them if I’m just mildly cold because I hate “wasting” hot packs. The colder I get, the more lethargic I become and the faster my decision-making abilities deteriorate. Having a convenient and easily accessible source of heat for the torso can be key when I’m tired, dehydrated, low on quick burning calories, and getting colder by the minute. By heating my body’s core externally, I can stay warm regardless of physical condition and help prevent bad judgment and injury.
With that peace of mind, I can more easily enjoy my time outdoors in cold conditions. I recently took a hike up Mt. Abraham in Vermont with my Gyde gear. While it was temperate in the valley, the summit had very strong winds and was at least 10° colder. Normally, I would have spent minimal time above tree line because of the severe weather but I was able to enjoy my time on the the summit, with the help of the gear. At first I wasn’t wearing any gloves and my hands became cold. In the past I would have needed to start hiking again in order to warm them up, but with the Gyde gloves on the high setting, I was able to quickly re-warm my hands and continue to enjoy the summit. While I didn’t put on a layer over the jacket to break the wind, if the temperature were slightly colder, it would have been necessary in order to better retain the heat generated by the jacket.
I know that my Gyde gear will allow me to spend more time resting and enjoying the outdoors when the temperatures are cold because the clothing is extremely warm, minimally bulky, and low hassle compared with bundling up in many layers in order to take a simple five minute break. Now, I can enjoy a view or a quiet spot in the woods as long as I want to, without worrying about the need to generate heat through exercise.
As I descended Abe (as its called locally), I realized that my Gyde gear is going to make a huge difference in how I hike. Both the gloves and the jacket were set at the highest setting at the summit. In the past, I would have needed many layers in order to achieve the same degree of warmth and I would have stopped multiple times on my way down the mountain to de-layer. Instead, as I started to feel hot, I just decreased the heat output of the gloves and jacket until I was ready to power the battery off. When the slope was gradual enough that I could make good time, I stopped to put the jacket and gloves in my pack and jogged the rest of the way down. I was shocked at only having to stop once to de-layer. I can’t wait until the deep winter when I can wear my Gyde jacket and gloves with the battery off while snowshoeing, turn on the heat during breaks, and then turn it off again upon resuming activity, never having to add or take away a layer. I really hadn’t realized how frequently I feel too warm or too cold while hiking until trying this gear where a greater specificity of temperature regulation is possible, hassle-free.
Finally, the Gyde gear has the potential to really improve certain aspects of backpacking. I can’t wait to stick my jacket in my sleeping bag to pre-heat it before I crawl in. No need to repeat the de-layering procedure in the bag or suffer through being cold while it warms up. I’m excited to stick the gloves in my cold boots to get them warm first thing in the morning. I’ll also be wrapping my freezing-cold water bottle in the jacket to bring it up to a more palatable (or easily treatable) temperature. I’m sure there are numerous other uses for the warming potential of the clothing.
Inside Gyde with Kayla Stevens
I had the exciting opportunity to speak a few weeks ago with Kayla Stevens, a Director of Development and Technology for Gyde. Our conversation ranged from the practical usage of the gear and technology to a look at where Gyde is headed in the future. The following is an edited version as some of the information was incorporated directly into the review.
What happens if the gear is submerged in water? For example, I’m snowshoeing on a lake and fall through the ice. Would I get a shock? Would the gear be damaged? Would it keep heating?
You would be ok. All of our heating elements are encased in a waterproof Teflon coating so our system is waterproof. The connection is also waterproof. We just don’t recommend that you wash it because of the agitator in the washing machine and the wires. We don’t want them to intertwine there. Assuming you have the battery in, the only area where water could get in is that opening and our plug is in there so tightly that nothing should seep through. It wouldn’t shut off unless you blew a fuse or something but its 7 volts so that wouldn’t really happen. The 12 volt system outputs a lot more power so you definitely wouldn’t want to jump into water with that one.
Don’t worry. I’m not about to go test all that out.
She goes on to add that users should exercise caution around water, despite the water-proof heating system.
How does the heating system work?
We have a patented cross over pattern of our wires. We actually intentionally make those wires overlap to output more heat. People get freaked out when they hear that we’re crossing over two wires but there’s not enough power to cause harm and that’s how we get that 135° F.
Tell me a little about the App.
This App is really a test run for us to see if this is an innovation that people are going to want. What we’re looking into is more specific in terms of temperature and degrees Fahrenheit. That’s essentially the next step.
What do you think is the coolest feature or neatest aspect of these products?
When I first started here the products were mainly meant for motorcycling. They were all black. The heating technology was just the best on the market. When I came on I joined the design team and our challenge was to take this incredible technology and to create designs that compete with companies like Patagonia and outerwear brands. What I love so much about it is that we’ve got this sophisticated design of a garment with this innovative technology that you can now control on your smartphone.
You’ve already mentioned some improvements and things that you’re working on. Can you talk about anything else that’s coming up next?
In terms of design, we have pretty much doubled our line. So in Women’s we had four pieces last year and we have at least eight or nine this upcoming year. In terms of technology I can give you a hint that the Bluetooth adapter will essentially become obsolete. The App will still exist but it will just be the jacket, the battery, and the App. The App is going to be sophisticatedly controlled so that the function of the App is like the thermostat in your house. You could set it at 95 degrees and if it started snowing and got colder, without you touching your phone, it would up the output to maintain the temperature at 95 degrees.
Clearly this is exciting technology is just the peak of the iceberg in terms of what we can expect in the future. For more information on Gyde and their products, check out: http://gydesupply.com/