Heated apparel warms winter work

Canadian dairy farmer Niels Kieftenburg loves his job. But during the winter, when the mercury dips well below zero and his work days begin and end in the cold and dark, this young dairyman is grateful for the technology he carries, quite literally, close to his chest.

Three winters ago, Kieftenburg spent several months installing a robotics system in a very cold dairy barn. “It seemed like I was always cold,” he recalls. One day, his farmer-client told Kieftenburg about a jacket he wore when coaching hockey, one decked out with a battery pack that supplied heat to wires in the jacket. The farmer said his coat kept the arena chills at bay.

Soon after that encounter, Kieftenburg saw a similar sweater on sale at a hardware store in Millbank, ON. Made by DeWalt, the same company that makes his favourite power tools, Kieftenburg brought one home. Now, working full-time on the family farm near Listowel, ON, about an hour’s drive northwest of Guelph, he’s glad he did.

The electronic sweater can be machine-washed. But since it takes a bit more care, Kieftenburg typically wears it under a regular lightweight coat that’s more easily tossed into the washing machine. He uses the sweater’s medium and low settings when in the barn and bumps the control to high when working outside.

Three winters in, Kieftenburg loves his sweater. He controls the heat with a button located inside the collar and says few notice the battery pack that sits near his hip. And he’s perfected its operation. “If you’re on high heat, you won’t get a day out of a 20 volt, 5-amp battery,” he says. “But if you’re on medium heat you can get a good day out of a small battery (12 volts) and a big battery would last two to three days on medium-to-low heat, no problem.”

A quick Internet search shows the market for heated apparel clearly, a-hem, “heating up.”
You can find virtually any item of clothing with heat devices woven into them.

It’s no surprise that heated gloves and socks are very popular given that hands and feet are the first to get cold when outdoors. Heated gloves and socks, as well as other heated apparel, are available for men and women at many stores including Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Mark’s and Cabela’s. Heated gloves range in price from about $50 to $400 while heated socks range from about $40 to $300. Usually, more expensive gloves earn higher consumer reviews, in part because they can be plugged into a car charger or the USB port on a computer. Items are easily searchable on each retailer’s website.

Those serious about this new wave of cordless gear should check out The Warming Store (TWS) at www. thewarmingstore. com.

Headquartered in Philadelphia, the company shot to the top of Internet search lists after CNN’s Anderson Cooper talked about wearing TWS gear during a blustery New Year’s Eve event in 2017. The company ships to Canada and some of its products are also sold through other online stores.

The TWS website lets buyers sort through online reviews for heated jackets, vests, hoodies, shirts, gloves, mittens, socks and insoles. The company even carries heated long johns. These “base layer” pants are made of a synthetic poly-spandex material that wicks moisture away from the skin.

Back at his farm, Kieftenburg admits he’s thought about heated insoles. “But, since I wear insulated rubber boots all day, my feet stay pretty warm.” The one item he hasn’t seen, but thinks about is heated snow pants. It would be very nice to pull already-warm snow pants overtop of regular coveralls, he says.

He also thinks heated apparel will catch on in the Canadian farm community. And he’s probably right. In an occupation where -15 C working conditions are as normal as robotic dairy barns, self-propelled combines and GPS-guided sprayers, items like heated gloves, socks, long johns and jackets simply make sense.