The Gadget: The toasted bliss that is Ardica's heated jacket pack. I will never brave the cold without one.
The Price: Varies but around $375 for jacket and system
The lowdown: The idea of a heated jacket isn't new. But neither is the perception that such a set up would be heavy, bulky, sweaty and involve making sacrifices in the core material, features and breathability of the garment itself. Not here! Here's what Ardica's system is, and here's why it works and why I want it so badly.
The Ardica system is, basically a battery pack powered heating system that manufacturers can build into their jackets.
Ardica the company has a background in fuel cells, but they knew that making a consumer jacket heating system would require it to work in the real world at a relatively affordable cost, today. So the entire system is built around a power source of lithium ion batteries arrayed in a soft pack that looks like a waffle, and that fits in the upper back between a person's shoulder blades, in a pocket in the heated garment. The power source is 10 watts, enough to heat a person's core — and therefore their whole person — for 3-8 hours. 10 Watts of juice goes to the jacket's 2 elements on a wearer's front chest and one on their back, or through a USB jack which can power a USB device directly, or a 1watt sub-battery that can charge devices with its ipod/iphone and usb mini jack variants. The heat output is controlled via a LED lit waterresistant switch that toggles between three settings.
I still wonder what happens if the system gets drenched. Lithium ion packs have advanced management in them, but that management is electronic, and, can be foiled as we saw with all the exploding laptop stories from a few years back. What if you fall on this a lot?
You'd think that such a system would be uncomfortable, but within a few seconds of wearing it and turning it on, it had all the coziness of heated seats in a car on a cold winter morning or sitting next to a roaring hearth or napping in the sun one summer afternoon after a cold dip in a pool. The weight of the battery is about that of a large laptop battery, and since it's placed on my back, it was not noticeable, nor did it swing around while I moved. (Maybe while wearing a backpack I'd notice it.) The jackets are going to go for $375 with the system and a premium jacket. A little steep for an regular, non waterproof jacket which you'd wear as a layer under a shell, but the potential for comfort in the cold is well worth it and the fact that the system will be built into brand name gear like Mountain Hardware makes it a little more bearable. [Previously mentioned Marmot — I think I might have imagined that.]