Cold weather vacations are a problem. Sure, you might be able to see the amazing Northern Lights or have the Yellowstone wolf packs to yourself, but it’s not easy to stay warm and dry while packing everything in your suitcase.
While tricks like layering clothing made from merino wool definitely help, there are times when you just need a big, thick jacket … right?
Well, maybe not. Venture Heat has been making heated motorcycle clothing for a while now, and has now branched out to offer hoodies, pants, gloves, and jackets for everyone else.
The company offered to send me a sample of their Escape Heated Jacket for a winter trip to Seattle, and I tried it on for a few weeks. This is how it went.
Features and design
The Escape Softshell Jacket comes in a variety of sizes and any color as long as it is black. The collar closes to the top, but there is no hood, so you’ll want an umbrella or some other way to keep out the rain.
It is a double layer, machine washable jacket with a soft fleece interior and a waterproof outer layer and two side pockets. Aside from some red trim, a small logo to the back, and a button to the front, it’s a simple and reasonably stylish jacket.
However, the feature that matters most with the Escape is its heating capacity. The jacket has two heating coils on the front and a larger one on the back, all connected to a USB cable in a small pocket on the back left of the hip.
Heat is provided through any standard portable USB battery pack, as long as it has a capacity of at least 5,000 mAh and can generate 2.1 amps (the standard for newer tablets and smartphones). The company will sell you a suitable 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 provides around 12 hours of heat.
Surprisingly for a cable-filled garment, the Escape jacket is machine washable and can even be put in the dryer (on a gentle cycle).
Real world tests
While Seattle is far from the coldest city in the US In late winter, temperatures were still shocking after spending several months in sunnier climates. I found lots of wind and rain, and temperatures of 45-55 degrees most days.
After fully charging the supplied battery, I connected it to the USB cable, closed my pocket, and went out to dinner on a windy and rainy night. Without the heat turned on, it was barely warm enough with a shirt and jacket.
Holding the button down for a couple of seconds activated the heating system and it lit red to indicate the highest setting. Another press changed it to white (medium), and another pressed it to blue (lower), before pedaling again.
The first thing I noticed was how bright the light was: it was quite evident in red and very evident in white and blue. Even in daylight for the next week, the illuminated button was clearly visible. Not wanting to be mistaken for a traffic light, I finally ended up putting a small strip of black tape over the button.
A minute after starting my hike, I could feel the heat begin to radiate onto my forehead and back. Within four or five minutes, I was breaking out in a sweat despite the rain and cold, and I reduced the heat to the lowest level. That’s where I kept it until I got to the restaurant, and it stayed comfortably warm the entire time.
Even when the rain fell harder, the inside of the jacket was still dry, and I wasn’t worried about a meeting of electricity and water.
However, the real test was a soccer game a few days later. Although the game started in full sun in the late afternoon, the temperature in the stadium dropped steadily and the skies opened shortly after halftime. Even in 46 degrees with the rain falling, my top half stayed warm and dry the entire time, and I used between a quarter and a half of the battery capacity to do so.
Carrying a portable battery markedly increased the weight, but after a few minutes I hardly noticed it, and finally didn’t bother to remove it even when I knew it wouldn’t be necessary. I kept a small USB charging cable next to it in my hip pocket, which allowed me to recharge 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 visible. A strip of tape took care of the problem, but I would have preferred the light to turn off after a few seconds.
Also, almost all portable batteries turn off when not in use. This means they need to be turned back on before the button on the front of the jacket does anything. Unless you can do this by feeling inside your hip pocket, you will need to unzip it, remove the battery, turn it on, replace it, and close it again.
It is not a difficult task, but due to the location of the pocket, closing it is quite uncomfortable while wearing the jacket.
Overall, I was a huge fan of the Venture Heat Escape Thermal Jacket. It’s stylish enough to be appropriate for most non-formal occasions, and it kept me warm and dry during my winter trip to the Pacific Northwest, even when the wind and rain had other ideas.
If you’re traveling in cold conditions, the Escape is great for staying comfortable without having to pack or wear a large, bulky jacket. Having a portable battery with you at all times is handy, too – just leave a spare charging cable in the same pocket and you’ll be ready when your devices are running low.
Update: I spent several weeks in London the following winter and continued to wear the Escape jacket while there. At times, temperatures dropped below freezing, and although my face and feet did not enjoy the experience, my upper body remained comfortably warm, even in medium heat conditions.
The jacket has shown no signs of wear, even on the heating elements, and it is easy to continue to recommend as a result.