I hate cold weather. Hate it with a passion. So when I heard that there was a self-heating jacket on the market, I had to try it. I mean, a jacket, by definition, keeps you warm. But a jacket with internal heaters goes the extra mile. I had concerns, though. Would it be heavy? Would the heater turn me into a rotisserie oven? Would it even work properly? These potential pitfalls were no deterrent, however, as I needed to know if a self-heating jacket could be the solution to my cold weather phobias. So, I optimistically gave the Mountain Hardwear Refugium jacket a whirl. Not only is it self-heating, it doubles as a gadget charger. Did it do the job without getting bogged down by the additional technology?The Refugium is powered by an Ardica battery. Mountain Hardwear partnered with the personal power and heating company to create a battery that is light and flexible. The battery slips into a sleeve in the lining of the back of jacket. It heats both the upper back and the front core of the user’s body. The battery certainly is lightweight, but I was always aware that it was there and felt as if someone was constantly placing their hand on my back. It’s not uncomfortable or burdensome, but it can feel awkward.
The heating system has three settings and is controlled by a button on the front-left section of the jacket. Three small LED lights signal what setting you have selected. One push turns on the heater to the first level. Within minutes, I felt the jacket warming up. It wasn’t terribly warm, but it was definitely noticeable. A second push activates level two, at which point the heat output is much more obvious. I felt the heat throughout my core while still remaining comfortable in the coat. One more touch of the button gets you up to level three. Here’s where the heat becomes pretty substantial. I tested the coat in temperatures ranging from 35F to 50F and found that level three was excessive even at the low end of that range. It would have to be quite cold (and I would have to be quite sedentary) to require level three, since aerobic activity tends to warm you up, as well.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Refugium (if being a self-heating jacket wasn’t unique enough) is it’s gadget charger. Located in the left pocket of the jacket is a USB jack. The charger can be used on iPods/iPhones, USB and mini-USB devices. Simply plug a depleted gadget into the coat and you’ll get some emergency battery life. I tested it with my iPhone and it worked, albeit after some time, Both my iPod and iPhone failed to recognize the coat as a power source initially.
So, the good news is that the jacket does warm up to a substantial temperature and charges your gadgets. But there is also some bad news.
Mountain Hardwear claims that the jacket will fully charge in two hours. I completely depleted the Ardica battery and plugged it in to recharge. After five hours, the LED indicator lights were flashing, signaling that the battery was still charging. It eventually took a seven hours for the battery to be charged.
I also found that the heater often malfunctioned. Once it’s on level three, a single tap should power it down. However, it would often respond to the tap by indicating that it was on level two. I’d tap away at the power button and never be able to get the jacket to turn off. Eventually, the battery would deplete itself and I’d have to recharge it. And each time, it took in excess of five hours to charge.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you have to purchase each of the components a la carte. The jacket itself retails for $230. The battery pack costs $145. And the technology connector kit is an additional $50. Even more problematic is that not every retailer selling the jacket will necessarily sell all of the additional components.
Let’s break it down simply:
- Both the jacket and battery pack are lightweight
- Heating system’s three levels are appropriate for a range of cool to cold weather
- Gadget charger offers emergency power source
- Components are sold separately and create a high final cost
- The battery pack feels awkward
- Charging time is inconsistent and typically quite long
- Power control often failed to work properly resulting in inability to shut-off the jacket
In the end, I would stop short of recommending the Mountain Hardwear Refugium jacket. The concept is good in theory, but it struggles in practice. For the total cost of the jacket and accessories, you could buy yourself a pretty stellar winter coat that wouldn’t require any bells and whistles.
I still hate the cold and hope to one day own a jacket that is, in fact, also a rotisserie oven. Sadly, the Refugium is not that jacket.