Vacations to cold climates are a bit of a problem. Sure, you might get to see the incredible Northern Lights or have Yellowstone's wolf packs all to yourself, but keeping warm and dry while still fitting everything into your suitcase isn't easy.
While tricks like using layers of clothing made from merino wool definitely help, there are times where you just need a big, thick jacket... right?
Well, maybe not. Venture Heat has been making heated clothing for motorcyclists for a while, and has now branched out into offering hoodies, pants, gloves, and jackets for everyone else.
The company offered to send me out a sample of its Escape Heated Jacket for a winter trip to Seattle, and I put it through its paces for a few weeks. Here's how it fared.
Features and Design
The Escape softshell jacket comes in a range of sizes, and any color as long as it's black. The collar zips up all the way to the top, but it doesn't have a hood, so you'll want an umbrella or some other way of keeping the rain off your head.
It's a dual-layer, machine-washable jacket, with a soft fleece interior and waterproof outer layer, and two side pockets. Other than some red trim, a small logo on the back and a button on the front, it's a plain, reasonably-stylish jacket.
The feature that matters most with the Escape, though, is its heating abilities. The jacket has two heating coils in the front, and a larger one across the back, all wired up to a USB cable in a small pocket on the back left hip.
Heat is provided via any standard portable USB battery pack, as long as it's at least 5,000mAh capacity and can output 2.1amps (the standard for tablets and most recent smartphones). The company will sell you an appropriate battery if you don't already have one.
There are three heat settings, accessible by pressing the button on the front. Maximum heat will drain a 10,000mAh battery in 3.5 hours, while the lowest setting gives around 12 hours of warmth.
Somewhat surprisingly for a piece of clothing full of wires, the Escape jacket is machine washable, and can even be put in the drier (on a gentle cycle).
While Seattle is far from the coldest city in the US in late winter, the temperatures were still a shock after spending several months in sunnier climes. I encountered plenty of wind and rain, and 45-55 degree temperatures most days.
After fully charging the supplied battery, I connected it to the USB cable, zipped up the pocket, and headed out for dinner on a windy, rain-filled night. Without the heat activated, I was barely warm enough in a shirt and jacket.
Holding down the button for a couple of seconds activated the heating system, and it glowed red to signify the highest setting. Another press changed it to white (medium), and another moved it to blue (lowest), before cycling back again.
The first thing I noticed was how bright the light was–it was quite apparent in red, and very obvious in white and blue. Even in daylight over the following week, the illuminated button was clearly visible. Not wanting to be mistaken for a traffic light, I ultimately ended up putting a small strip of black tape over the button.
Within a minute of starting my walk, I could feel the warmth started to radiate on my front and back. Within four or five minutes, I was starting to sweat despite the rain and cold, and turned the heat down to the lowest setting. That's where I kept it until reaching the restaurant, and I stayed comfortably warm the entire time.
Even when the rain set in more heavily, the inside of the jacket remained dry, and I had no concerns about a meeting of electricity and water.
The real test, though, was a soccer match a few days later. Although the game started in bright sunshine late afternoon, the temperature in the stadium steadily dropped, and the heavens opened shortly after halftime. Even in 46 degrees with the rain pouring down, my top half stayed warm and dry the entire time, and I used between a quarter and half of the battery capacity to do so.
Carrying around a portable battery noticeably added to the weight, but after a few minutes I barely noticed it, and ultimately didn't bother removing it even when I knew it wouldn't be needed. I kept a tiny USB charging cable beside it in the hip pocket, which allowed me to top up my phone when I wasn't using the heating function.
As mentioned, the brightly-lit button on the front of the jacket made it unnecessarily conspicuous. A strip of tape dealt with the issue, but I'd have much preferred the light turn off after a few seconds.
Also, almost all portable batteries shut themselves down when not being used. This means they need to be powered back on again before the button on the front of the jacket will do anything. Unless you're able to do this by feel inside the hip pocket, you'll need to unzip it, pull out the battery pack, turn it on, replace it and zip back up again.
It's not a difficult task, but due to the location of the pocket, zipping it up is quite awkward while wearing the jacket.
Overall, I was a big fan of the Venture Heat Escape heated jacket. It's stylish enough to be appropriate for most non-formal occasions, and kept me warm and dry during my winter trip to the Pacific Northwest, even when the wind and rain had other ideas.
If you'll be traveling in cold conditions, the Escape is ideal for staying cozy without having to pack or wear a large, bulky jacket. Having a portable battery with you at all times is also handy–just leave a spare charging cable in the same pocket, and you're set for whenever your devices are running low on juice.
Update: I spent several weeks in London the following winter, and continued to use the Escape jacket while I was there. Temperatures dropped below freezing at times, and while my face and feet didn't enjoy the experience, my upper body remained comfortably warm, even on the medium heat setting.
The jacket hasn't shown any signs of wear, including in the heating elements, and is easy to continue to recommend as a result.