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Keeping Your Cool: cooling vest types, sources, financial assistance


Planning to keep your cool?

Spring is on our doorstep, and now is the perfect time to start thinking about ways to beat the heat.  Individuals with autonomic dysfunction generally have a difficult time adapting to the change of seasons, and the first warm day of the new year generally causes a disproportionate number of Mito flares, even if the thermometer only reaches 70 degrees.  The solution?  Be prepared!  This column discusses three types of cooling vests, where to purchase them, and possible sources of financial assistance.


There are a variety of personal cooling systems that are available for purchase, and each style has unique advantages and drawbacks.  Here is a brief summary of the three most popular systems:

Evaporative Cooling Vests  These vests feel like terry cloth but have tiny pockets of highly absorbable beads that can take in water and expand to 6 times their dry size.  The vest is soaked in cool water and gently wrung out to remove excess.  The vest is placed over a t-shirt and cools by evaporation; the air moves faster next to the water-logged beads, which creates a layer of cool air between the vest and the skin.  Evaporative cooling vests are light weight, inexpensive, and there is no need to purchase a second vest to swap; the vest can be re-wet and immediately used again.  Evaporative cooling apparel is not limited to vests; headbands, wristbands, floor mats, and even dog vests are available for purchasing.  If an evaporative vest is damaged, it can be re-sewn by hand.  The function of the vest isn't seriously compromised if a few beads escape.  (The beads are non-toxic, but always check the vest carefully to avoid ingestion by a child.) Evaporative cooling vests are of limited benefit in humid environments and are sometimes not tolerated by individuals with sensitive skin due to the slight dampness of the garment.

Phase Change Cooling Systems  This type of vest contains inserts that are activated by placing them in the freezer or a container of ice water, and then the inserts maintain a consistent temperature (usually 53-56 degrees F.) for up to three hours.  The inserts can then be re-activated (10 to 20 minutes for activation) and reused.  Many people choose to purchase an extra set of inserts and rotate them, so that the vest can be used continuously.  The inserts are not exactly ice packs; they do not reach freezing temperatures so they are unlikely to cause damage if left in contact with bare skin. This makes them safe to use with young children or individuals who are unable to feel heat or cold due to neuropathy or communicate discomfort. They are activated when exposed to temperatures above freezing, and need much less time to recharge than an actual frozen ice pack would take.  Also, the inserts do not "sweat" when the cold is being transferred to the wearer, so clothing stays dry.  Phase change vests can be made to fit wearers of all ages and sizes, custom vests can be made for individuals weighing more or less than the displayed vests are recommended for.

There are drawbacks to purchasing and using phase change vests.  The inserts add weight to the vest, from 1 ½ to 2 lbs for children's vests to 4 lbs or more for 3X or 4X adult sizes.  Fortunately, the weight is evenly distributed on the body and is close to the individual's center of gravity, so the balance issues associated with backpacks or weights shouldn't be a problem.  The cooling vest system is much more expensive than an evaporative vest; you can expect to pay around $200 for a vest and two sets of inserts.  The phase change inserts are filled with a viscous fluid and are durable but not indestructible.  If an insert is damaged it must be discarded and replaced.

Hybrid Cooling Vests This vest combines the benefits of the evaporative as well as phase change vests.  The user has the ability to choose between using the evaporative or phase change cooling methods, and can also choose to use both systems simultaneously to complement one another.  This type of vest is new to the market, but customers who have purchased hybrid guests have reported high satisfaction rates.   

Cold Pack Cooling Vests  These vests look just like phase change cooling vests, but use actual ice packs that freeze at 32 degrees or in some cases, even colder.  These cold packs give the highest level of cooling because the cold packs are the lowest temperature.  These vests are effective in extreme humidity and very high temperatures.  Extra packs can be added or changed out over time.

There are several drawbacks to cold pack vests.  The frozen inserts are generally heavier than phase change inserts, are usually inflexible when frozen, and must be returned to an actual freezer, below 32 degrees farenheight, to be refrozen, which can take several hours.  Most frozen packs "sweat" while discharging cold energy, which some individuals may find uncomfortable.  Most importantly, ice packs cannot be applied directly to skin and should never be used by individuals who may have impaired sensation, are asleep, or unable to communicate discomfort, as frostbite and serious injury can occur.  

Websites for purchasing cooling vests:

Heat Relief Depot  This company offers a discount to any customer who submits a note from a medical professional stating that the products are purchased for medical reasons.

They do make children's phase change cooling vests per special order.  Several years ago, they were willing to make a vest for a 20lb toddler.  Call for more information.

MScooling  This site offers all three vest styles in sizes that range from x-small (20" length from shoulder to waist and 33" torso circ. at the widest point) to xxx-large (25"L, 51"circ)  

 Tuff Rhino  Offers all three vest styles in a variety of sizes

Texas Cool Vest Phase change vest that is adjustable to fit from 6 y.o. child through small adult

Stacool Vest  Phase change vest in 2 children's sizes, $200+

Coolweave  Silver Eagle Outfitter's custom made evaporative cooling vest for children with optional feeding pump pouch, $85-$100

  North American Pride  This company sells a variety of styles and vest sizes; this link leads to an evaporative cooling vest for children

 North American Pride offers a hybrid cooling vest, combining the benefits of both evaporative and phase change vests into one system.

Paying for cooling vests

Cooling vests can be costly, but can dramatically improve the health, safety, and quality of life of an adult or child with Mito.  Most cooling vest distributors will offer a 10%-25% discount on their products if they receive documentation that the vest or other products are purchased on a doctor's recommendation.  Save your receipt to submit the cost of cooling products towards your federal taxes.  Some insurances may accept cooling vests as medical devices and while vendors are unable to submit insurance claims, you may be able to submit a claim yourself and request a refund.  Sample physician and insurance letters to request reimbursement for a cooling vest used as a medical device can be found here.  (Note: these sample documents are written for an individual with MS but can be easily adapted to other illnesses that have dysautonomia and heat intolerance as common symptoms, including Mito )

MS FinAid  MS Cool Financial assistance for individuals diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis

The Walk On Foundation  Application page for a possible grant source for cooling vests

 NetWish Small, anonymous grants for a variety of items and services.  Assistance is given in the form of vouchers, purchase orders, gift cards, or actual items.

Modest Needs grants for up to $1000 or one month's mortgage or rent.  Application process is 100% online and includes quite a bit of documentation, but this wonderful charity frequently comes through for families in situations where other attempts for financial assistance have been unsuccessful.

UHCCF United Health Care Children's Foundation Medical grants offered to children to cover family's out-of-pocket health care expenses.  This program is for children 16 and under who have private health insurance and are not receiving state or federal assistance for health care needs (Medicaid, SCHIP, or voucher programs)

Challenged America  $500 equipment grant for children up to age 18

Bellows Fund  United Cerebral Palsy offers an Assistive Technology grant for children and adults with disabilities and/or special health care needs.  Please refer to the link for basic information and directions for contacting your local UCP representative and submitting an application.

For more information about the benefits of cooling vests:

Please refer to MitoAction's  May 2008 teleconference discussion about "Cool Ideas for Adults and Kids with Heat Intolerance"

Info  This link shows pictures and describes the pros and cons of each type of cooling system.

FAQ's  ArcticHeat cooling vests FAQ's

 Article about the medical benefits of cooling vests

 Don't forget about your other warm-weather strategies!  Be sure to stay hydrated, take frequent breaks when working or playing outside, limit your time outside when the sun is most intense (usually 10am to 2pm), and use sunblock with an spf of 30 or higher and re-apply often.  Always contact your doctor for specific suggestions related to heat intolerance management. With a little planning, you and or your child can welcome spring while keeping your cool.  Enjoy!




red-tape's picture



I have a clarification regarding the phase change vests: Some sites caution that the phase change inserts are made of parrafin, a type of wax that is flammable. **This is outdated information!** Phase change inserts that are sold by licensed vendors today are nontoxic and definitely not flammable. (However, if any product is damaged it should be discarded and replaced immediately.) All phase change vests are shipped with an MSDS (Minimum Safety Data Sheet) that describes the chemical makeup of the inserts and first aid required following ingestion or contact.  I have been unable to determine the year that phase change cooling material was converted to the non-parrafin type, but I know that the inserts were non-toxic in 2003 when I started my search for a child's cooling vest. Since there is some concern regarding older phase change cooling packs, I do caution you that second-hand cooling vests are not guaranteed to be non-toxic and flame retardant. Evaporative-type cooling vests are generally made of cotton. As a rule, all children's apparel should be kept away from open flame. Please refer to MitoAction's Terms of Use considering the promotion of products (mention of products does not imply promotion of the particular product; MitoAction guests and members are urged to discuss their individual needs with their own physician.)

Take Care,

HeidiC, Red-Tape

Baldassi's picture



Great article! I have been considering purchasing one & I really appreciate having all of these links in one place. For those not wanting or being able to afford a full vest, you can buy evaporative neck coolers very cheaply. I've been using them for a year & am very pleased. I bought mine on Etsy & the seller is currently on vacation, but she is supposed to be back soon. id=19118441 (but she will do any colour - she is very accommodating)
Baldassi's picture



oops - the second link is: [I hope that one works!]
Sarahsmommy19's picture



I found a shop on ETSY that does Cold Pack Cooling Vests that are actually cute. All of the other kinds that I've found look like straight jackets. I got one from these guys that has Doctor Who's TARDIS on it. They cost a whole lot less then anywhere else I've seen too. They only charge $50 and have a lot of different options. I know I can't be the only one who hates looking I need to be committed when I'm just trying to stay cool.