Vests aren’t cool, at least not in a sartorial sense. They haven’t been since the days of Saturday Night Fever. (Recall that soon after the disco craze, John Travolta’s career slipped into a coma, only to be revived 15 years later with Pulp Fiction, and Vincent Vega wouldn’t be caught dead in a vest.)
But certain vests can help you keep your cool, in a thermal sense. A case in point…
As I write this it’s August, the fiery heart of summer, following the hottest, driest July on record. Last week I spent four days navigating back roads in bone-dry, sweltering heat, covering over 1,300 miles from Las Vegas to Denver, through the sort of lunar landscapes where shade is a mirage and only the hardiest scrub and critters can eke out an existence. The Victory Vision’s ambient temperature gauge tormented me, topping out at a crispy 115 degrees.
With thousands and thousands of miles of hot-weather riding under my belt, I’ve learned to wear mesh motorcycle apparel for maximum ventilation and to use high-SPF sunblock and a hydration backpack (such as the Hydrapak Big Sur) filled with ice water to fight sunburn and dehydration. For millennia, traders, travelers, nomads, cowboys and motorcyclists have soaked rags or bandanas in cold water and wrapped them around their necks to take advantage of the cooling effects of evaporation. Apparel makers like Silver Eagle Outfitters use this same concept but with modern fabrics that retain water more effectively to extend cooling over a longer period of time. Last summer I tested Silver Eagle’s Classic evaporative cooling vest, a three-layer garment with a highly absorbent middle layer that soaks up water like a sponge. Even though the inner liner of the vest kept water from soaking through, gravity drew water toward the bottom of the vest and got my pants wet.
Silver Eagle Outfitters recently released the Kula-XD Cooling Vest, said to offer “dry evaporative cooling” using patented Inuteq technology. Rather than soaking the entire vest in water and wringing out the excess, water is poured into the Kula-XD, through a sealable filling port in the back of the vest just below the collar, similar to the valve in an air mattress. In fact, the soft outer fabric of the Kula-XD and its dimpled appearance resembles an air mattress, but rather than holding air it holds water. The outer material is waterproof and breathable, which keeps the wearer dry by holding the water inside but allowing water vapor to escape. Sandwiched between the outer layers is an absorbent inner layer, which looks similar to felt.
Before each day’s ride, I would—as per the instructions—add 12-16 ounces of water and seal the valve. Then I’d use my hand as a squeegee to spread the water around so it was absorbed evenly throughout the front and back panels. The vest went on over my shirt but under my jacket. It doesn’t feel cool to the touch, not unless you fill it with cold water, which will soon warm up to ambient temperature anyway. But when cruising down the road at 50-70 mph, with plenty of hot air blowing through my mesh jacket and drawing water vapor out of the vest, I felt decidedly cool. Not like getting blasted with air-conditioning, mind you, but a very palpable feeling that my torso was staying cooler than the air around me.
Silver Eagle claims that the cooling effect can last up to 24 hours, but that of course depends on ambient temperature, humidity level, amount of air flow reaching the vest, etc. Since it was so hot and dry, I added more water than was recommended, and it pooled in the bottom of the vest like a small water balloon. But as the water vapor was drawn out, the excess water was soaked up by the inner absorbent layer until eventually the inside of the vest would dry out completely. “Recharging” the vest is as simple as pouring in more water, easy to do from any bottle or tap. However, Silver Eagle warns again freezing its garments after water has been added.
The Kula-XD Cooling Vest has a zippered front and stretch panels with adjustment tabs on the sides. Machine-washable and backed by a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, it is offered in sizes XS-XXL in black, gray/silver, royal blue, tan and high-visibility yellow. Silver Eagle Outfitters says more sizes and colors will be added over time. Yours for $119.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Silver Eagle Outfitters, LLC, 8207 Stephanie Drive SW, Huntsville, Alabama 35802; (888) 672-6963; silvereagleoutfitters.com