Please join my friend Don Pratt of Focal Length Productions and I for a field review of Gerbing’s heated outdoor wear.
With a lifetime full of backpacking, hiking, and other adventure travel, I feel comfortable in saying I’ve used quite a few different types of outdoor clothing. Down vests, parkas, shells, fleece, Capilene, Smartwool, etc – I’ve tried many different brands/types and have at least one of them I use regularly. Don’s adventures are similar, and include snowmobiling, motorcycling, and hunting. Through all of these experiences, we know cold weather pretty well.
Enter Gerbing’s electronically-heated outdoor gear. If you’re like us, the notion of “electronic heating” combined with outdoor wear probably brings a skeptical expression to your face.
“Battery-heated clothes? How exactly would that hold up to the elements?” It turns out – pretty darn well.
Sit back for a few minutes and we’ll tell you just how well it actually did work.
The test scenario was the following: A 4-day scouting trip on Yellowstone’s north road, the only one open in the winter which included some short hiking up snow-covered roads and cross-country skiing. Weather was variable with light snowfall and medium-force winds. Temperatures varied from close to -10F to about 12F. Fairly mild to typical Yellowstone winter weather. I normally wear either a down vest or an Eddie Bauer down jacket, depending on the level of misery being experienced at the time. Don generally opts for layers of thermals, fleece and Thinsulate. Chemical hand-warmers are the norm for both of us.
For this particular trip, Gerbing was kind enough to offer the use of their electric vest liners, electric gloves, and each type of battery in the product line so that we could experience the CoreHeat difference. The smaller BAT-LI-722R batteries are generally designed for their gloves (and come with both the gloves and vest liner); the mid-size BAT-LI-7CHCD battery can power jackets, vests, and seat cushions; and the huge BAT-LI-128MVKT lithium battery is designed for large devices, such as heated golf cart seat cushions, stadium seats and the like. This bad boy of batteries also has a USB port for charging things like your phone, tablet, or a Prius.
As a working photographer, one complaint I always have in the winter are that my hands are pretty much always uncomfortable outside. Setting up a tripod and operating the camera is difficult and sometimes just not feasible with most types of gloves out there, which has necessitated the glove off > adjust camera > glove on scenario. Holding grad filters? Yeah, it gets even more miserable.
Enter Gerbing’s heated gloves. While the gloves are a bit stiff and aren’t miracle working when it comes to being able to operate the camera with them on, the sheer beauty of these gloves for me came from being able to stick my hands back into a warm set of gloves after making adjustments to the camera. It makes hand warmers in pockets look like stone-age technology. These provide an instant-warm up to my fingers which honestly brought a smile to my face! The only downside was the extremely bright red LED’s on the batteries. This can be solved by turning the battery around in the battery storage pocket of each glove, but then you cannot access the power/level button. Perhaps a time-out of the LED display would be a good future innovation.
For Don, the major grumble is waiting for those first vestiges of perfect light in the pre-dawn hours, standing in a frozen wasteland for hour long stretches. Coffee and shivering only produce so much heat. We have used a Jet-Boil for years to provide us with hot bellies, but even that doesn’t cut the chill after a while.
For this, Gerbing makes the heated vest liner, part number VTCHLN. The advertising copy claims a heat output of 135F on the highest setting, and that seems to be about right. This is not something you want on your bare skin, but having it over a base layer worked perfectly. With the stock small battery, we were able to run the vest on high for around an hour and a half. Step up to the mid-size battery, and it goes to 3 hours. Strap up the big guns, and you get 10 hours of heat. Both the mid-size and large batteries come with a convenient Chevy-style key fob to control the heat output, with audible feedback from the battery to let you know what heat level you are at.
The vest liner has heat panels right about where a breast pocket would be on either side, and a large panel crossing the shoulders. We had expected a kidney heater, but that was not the case. If this is something you want, you could consider the heated back wrap (BWCH).
Charging the batteries was fairly painless, Gerbing offers both 120V and 12V chargers, with multiple plugs to allow charging of more than one battery.
Overall, we rate the product as a must-have for extreme cold weather trips. If you are just going out for a day, and will be close to your vehicle, the cost is somewhat prohibitive (prices can be found at www.coreheat.net). If you are going to spend several days on a trip, with multiple hour exposures (pun intended), get some electric gear. This would have been a great addition on our Yellowknife trip, and will be a no-brainer for future winter expeditions.
Ben Chase & Don Pratt
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