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Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated Vest

SolaTec AeroVest: Look like Arnold and stay warm, in this inflatable two-ounce emergency vest.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2007-01-28 22:12:03.075075-07

"It happens all the time - the weather changes or you get caught outdoors without enough protection. You're cold, unhappy, in trouble."

Those are the words SolaTec uses to introduce the AeroVest - an emergency vest made with metallized polyethylene and inflated with a straw, not unlike the popular Flexair pillow, a “one-time use pillow” sold into the hospital trade but rapidly gaining a cult following among ultralight backpackers.

Eighteen air pockets are connected through a common air supply, but separated by seams to prevent significant convection between pockets, and to give shape to the vest.

Warmth is provided by three mechanisms: the metallized inner surface of the fabric may prevent some radiative heat loss, the air between the shell and lining fabrics provides meaningful thermal resistance by entrapping dead air space, and because the vest is inflated with respired air, the initial temperature of the air inside the vest will likely provide a slight bit of temporary warmth.

Because the vest design is prone to heat loss out the neck and arm holes, the vest is probably most effective when layered over other clothing (such as a base layer), and under outerwear (ideally, a hooded shell jacket).

In spite of its apparent applicability for “one-time emergency use only”, keep in mind that the vest weighs only two ounces and, according to manufacturer claims, can be re-used.

For day hike in the winter, I could see the vest finding its way into my emergency overnight kit, especially if I brought little other insulating clothing, as I'm prone to do when I'm expecting a short backcountry hike of only a few hours where I'll keep moving.

For backcountry use, the vest would certainly serve its purpose as emergency kit, but I'm willing to bet that a few ultralight extremists would consider this an integral part of their clothing system. For example, I could see a backcountry hiker's clothing kit for a week-long May trek in the Utah desert composed of a knitted base layer (for hiking, and light warmth), a shell jacket (for rain and wind), and a two-ounce AeroVest for in-camp use, and to boost the temperature rating of a lightweight sleeping quilt on the 15% probability that the temperatures on one or two nights dips below forty degrees Fahrenheit.

Outside our Bountiful, Utah hotel this evening, I took the opportunity to see how much warmth the vest added to my ultra-thin clothing system: a Smartwool Microweight long-sleeve zip-T shirt and a Patagonia Ready Mix jacket.

First, I stood outside until I started shivering. That required all of about ten minutes in the 21 deg F air. Then, I stripped my jacket off, put the vest on, secured the vest around my body with its self-sealing tape strips, and added back my shell jacket. I waited until I started shivering again, then inflated the vest with its straw. (It's critical to inflate the vest once you have it integrated with your clothing system, or you risk overinflating it and not being able to layer over it with your other clothing.) The most difficult part of donning the vest was the inflation of it - aligning the straw into the inflation holes (there are two, near the top front of the vest) while wearing the vest is a trick, and requires a nimble neck.

I immediately felt warm, presumably due to the “warm” (98.6 deg F) air that I blew into the vest. However, I was able to stand around outside for quite some time, staying reasonably comfortable. It was quite obvious that the vest provided a substantial amount of heat loss resistance - at least compared to the shiver-inducing control condition without the vest in a hotel parking lot!

I laid down in the vest and didn't find it terribly uncomfortable - I'm pretty sure I could sleep in it without much duress, especially in an emergency situation.

Now, keep in mind. This is no down parka. It lacks the compressivity that provides down with its comfortable range of motion, nor does it provide that somewhat nebulous feeling of coziness. After all, it's a little crinkly and you do get the feeling that you're wrapped in a splint designed for broken ribs if you overinflate the vest. And, when it comes time to deflate it - good luck - it's no easy chore to get all the air out, so re-packability may be a problem. Admittedly, I didn't try to spend a lot of time perfecting air removal techniques.

I did sacrifice one, popping it with my fingernail. It required a surprising amount of force - certainly more than what's required to rip the typical ultralight mylar emergency blanket. With careful and periodic use, I think the vest could be reused for a few cold nights on a long hike, but don't expect it to provide the comfort - or durability - for daily, or thru-hiking use.

All in all, I like it, and the concept has potential. I could see an application where less “puffiness” might suffice. I'm certainly going to pack one for winter day hiking, and I just may give it a go on an overnight backpacking trek for a fairer evaluation, or at least some unique photo opportunities. Finally (don't try this at home), as long as it's protected under a durable shell, it just might appeal to packrafters looking for some swimming insurance for low-class floats.

Bottom Line: Cheap, lightweight, and effective insurance against hypothermia for winter day hiking and totally fringe occasional-use gear for the ultralight extremist. Weight: 2.0 oz, AeroVest.com, MSRP $14.95.


Citation

"Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated Vest," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/02752.html, 2007-01-28 22:12:03.075075-07.

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Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated Inflatable Vest
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Forum Admin
(ForumMP) - BPL Staff - F
Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated Inflatable Vest on 01/28/2007 22:12:03 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated
Inflatable Vest

Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
Re: Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated on 01/29/2007 07:19:50 MST Print View

Seems like great summer piece for those hot/humid trips when you "know" you don't need insulation, but you aren't stupid enough to go without.

Could mean I can leave my 12oz PGD pullover at home.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Re: Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated on 01/29/2007 21:54:20 MST Print View

I would like to know if it's possible to use this to sleep in.
If it can take the weight, taking GG 1/4" pads would be soo much more reasonable.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated Inflatable Vest on 01/29/2007 22:14:02 MST Print View

Aaron,

I know that when you sit in a chair or something or press your back against something the air in the back wants to move to the front. If you could play with it and find that "sweet spot" you might be able to sleep in it.

I give this the "cleaver idea of the show so far" award.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated Inflatable Vest on 01/30/2007 18:29:13 MST Print View

Thanks Bill,
I'll have to agree with you, especially at 2 ounces.
Now they need to come up with a light weight system to take the moister out of your exhaled breath and have it continually circulate through the vest.

Richard Stein
(buckaroobanzai) - F
Re: Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated on 01/31/2007 13:57:58 MST Print View

From the website: http://www.aerovest.com/page3/page3.html
"The inflation nozzle can be used with your mouth or the enclosed straw. It is "self sealing" which keeps the air inside. It also makes it very difficult to remove the air, so we advertise the AeroVest™ as a single-use item. "

I'm going to wait until someone tests this out and convinces me it is not a single-use item.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated Inflatable Vest on 01/31/2007 14:28:36 MST Print View

This thing has a valve like many other inflatable that use a straw. You push the straw in - better yet is a piece of surgical tubing - into the valve and the air will come out.

Richard Nelridge
(naturephoto1) - M

Locale: Eastern Pennsylvania
Fringe Ultralighters Take Note: Fashion Hits Big Time with 2 oz Insulated on 01/31/2007 14:49:02 MST Print View

Sounds interesting and potentially very valuable 2 oz addition to a LW backpacking kit. Look forward to hearing more from Ryan after he does a bit of testing. And the price seems great as well.

Rich