Which vest is best for MSers? After years of planning, finally everything came together last month thanks to donated vests in a variety of styles from Steele, ArcticHeat, Glacier Tek, and Polar Products, all major manufacturers of cooling vests for multiple sclerosis. And we put them through the ringer, from controlled indoor tests (77 air-conditioned degrees) to scorching outdoor challenges (98 degrees in full sun). Here are the testing details.

Round 1: Optimal Conditions
All ice packs, phase change packs, and gel vests (ArcticHeat) were frozen overnight in a freezer set to -2 degree Fahrenheit, a typical temperature of a home freezer. To simulate a human torso, we rolled up a thick rubber yoga mat (go with me here) and dressed it in a lightweight T-shirt. For each test we wrapped the vest around the T-shirt-wearing yoga mat, placing a weather thermometer under the T-shirt below a frozen pack on the vest. The exterior temperature for all tests was a constant 77 degrees with 26% humidity.

How long would each vest last in these ideal conditions: a torso producing no body heat and an air-conditioned laboratory (i.e., kitchen nook)? Time in hours/minutes, temperature in Fahrenheit, and humidity were recorded regularly until vest cooling was exhausted. Humidity levels were taken as a potential predictor as to how damp clothing may get when worn below the vest. This was difficult to properly gauge in New Mexico’s dry climate as anything wet dries fast, but T-shirt weight gain was noted for comparison purposes.

Round 2: Scorching Heat
For Round 2, we upped the ante and placed each vest over a chair in full New Mexico sun at a steady summer heat of 98 degrees. This may have been an even more interesting test had I volunteered to sit in the sun for a full day wearing each vest, but I valued my health and sanity. To ensure each vest was tested under the same outdoor conditions, no temperature readings were taken (alas, not enough thermometers, which would have needed to stay within each vest for the duration of the test for accuracy). Instead, vests were checked every 15 minutes and I subjectively gauged whether the vest still had cooling power.

Round 3: Real World
With our indoor and outdoor controlled tests complete, all we had left to test was how well these vests performed in the real world—actually worn over a T-shirt on a person with a true, warm-blooded torso. All four were tested indoors at 76 degrees during regular activity. And that proved to be far more challenging than anticipated.

The results? Two vests stumbled, another held its own, but one rose surprisingly to the top. Visit www.activemsers.org for the final results (releasing soon)!