I am a big baby when it comes to cold weather. If there’s a blanket, I’m burrito-ing in it. Layers? I’ve got more of ‘em than an onion. I hate the cold so much my winter coat has multiple interior pockets for sticking disposable hand warmers in. So of course I jumped at the chance to try out the $220 Carhartt X-1 Smart Heated Vest.
The X-1 is exactly what its name implies — it’s a temperature-regulating Bluetooth vest that you can control with a phone app. Heated outerwear isn’t new. Milwaukee and DeWalt also make heated jackets and vests for outdoor work. What makes Carhartt’s vest “smart” comes from AI developed by Clim8, a smart clothing company that specializes in thermoregulation tech. Depending on the activity or sport you choose, the AI adjusts the heat automatically to keep you at a comfy temperature. It does that by monitoring the current temperature as well as analyzing your environment and the type of layers you’re wearing.
Out of the box, the vest itself doesn’t look like much. What can I say? It’s a black and gray vest that looks like any other that a Patagonia-wearing dad might wear. The only techy thing about it is a small LED light on the bottom right-hand side of the vest that lights up when it’s powered on so you get a sense of how much battery is left. It’s a little weird to have this small glowing dot there given that the rest of the vest looks so normal.
Setup was also easy. The left pocket has a little wire that you plug into the battery and then you pair it with your phone through the Clim8 app. From there, you enter some information about yourself (such as age, gender, or whether you’re sensitive to cold), and that’s about it. When you’re ready to get going, you select the activity you’re doing and then mark off which other layers you’re wearing, like a sweater, cotton T-shirt, or a tech shirt. That’s pretty much all you use the app for. You can view things like vest usage statistics, but even I’m not that big of a data nerd.
It’s been unseasonably warm in New York this winter, so I primarily wore the vest on my walks instead. (Forty degrees Fahrenheit is too warm for me to wear multiple running layers but much too cold to go on a walk without a coat.) To my surprise, the X-1 doesn’t take long to heat up, which I appreciated during walks at night. Occasionally, I did start feeling hot, but it never got to the point where I broke out in a sweat.
The only real complaint I had was the battery — partly because charging my vest feels dystopian but mostly because it’s fairly large. It’s only a smidge smaller and thinner than my MacBook’s power brick and takes up a decent chunk of pocket space. The weight didn’t bother me much on walks, but I’ll have to try it on a few runs to see how that feels. On average, I made it through several one-hour-long walks without the battery dying on me — though just barely. That’s not so bad for exercise but a little short if you’re doing outdoor work.
The X-1 doesn’t do much else, but I kind of like that about it. A few years ago, I tested the second version of Google’s smart jacket, and spoiler alert, it was not very smart. It wasn’t worth charging the Google jacket to control my music when my phone was right there. Functionally, this vest reminds me a lot more of the Sony Reon Pocket, a nifty “wearable air conditioner” that you stick in a business shirt for hot summer days. But the Reon Pocket wasn’t quite as natural to wear, as you had to either buy special undershirts or wear a neckstrap. This is just a vest. You wear it as you would a normal vest. When it’s on, you don’t have to do anything. If the battery dies, it is still a vest helping you stay toasty.
A $220 vest isn’t for everyone. This is clearly for people who spend a lot of time out in the cold, and the price makes more sense when you think about it that way. I dropped about as much cash updating my winter running gear from ratty old hoodies to actual moisture-wicking tech shirts, running vests, and windbreakers. Good gear, my friends, isn’t cheap. The pitch of something like the X-1 is to lessen the need for layering so you can buy and wear less gear overall. And in my brief time with the vest, I did in fact wear fewer layers.
The Carhartt X-1 Smart Heated Vest will be available starting February 1st.