Review: Applying the heat to Ravean's heated down vest and hoodie

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The Ravean heated vest is a water-resistant, down-filled puff vest, but doesn't make you look overly puffed-up(Credit: Stanley Goodner/Gizmag)

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With winter fast approaching, those in the Northern Hemisphere might be looking for some new winter woolies to stave of the cold. But like the teams behind the Avade jersey and Evolve Hoodie, Utah-based Ravean thinks adding some active heating technology to a garment is a better option than resorting to layer and layer. We've spent the past few weeks with Ravean's USB battery-powered heated down vest and heated hoodie and think Ravean and its competitors make a compelling case.

Design & Durability

Ravean's vest (I tried a men's medium) is down-filled, making it easily packable within the included drawstring stuff-sack. The vest's exterior material is water-resistant and features hand pockets big enough to cover hands down past the wrists and spacious enough so that small/average hands can splay fingers open without any constraint. The battery pocket, indicated by bright yellow stitching, is located on the inside, around the left haunch. Because of the location, it's easiest to remove the vest when swapping the battery out.

Two pockets for goodies, gadgets, or personal belongings can be found on the right, inside, close to the main zipper. The upper pocket zips vertically and is large enough to fit a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (with a case) or three with room to spare. The stitching is done in such a way that the pocket holds shape and doesn't sag down due to the weight of items within. The lower pocket zips horizontally and offers an extra inch on each side versus the top pocket. With the added room, you can store thicker/larger items like gloves, a folded-up scarf, or a small plastic water bottle (slightly bulky and uncomfortable, but doable).

Ravean's heated hoodie feels plush with dual layers of cotton/polyester blended fabrics. The hood is appropriately-sized, centered well, and comes with thick, matching shoelace drawstrings. The battery pocket is located on the inside, directly to the left of the zipper. As such, the position leaves slightly less open room for the hand, since the battery pocket overlaps with the outside pocket. Thankfully, the battery is slim and mostly unobtrusive. The zippered openings for the outside/hand pockets are narrow enough for average-sized hands to tuck in without needing a wiggle, but big enough on the inside to stretch the hand out. These pockets aren't as deep as those in the vest, so poking your fingers all the way down into the bottom corners will cover hands only to the wrist.

As with the vest, the Ravean heated hoodie's interior pockets are on the inside to the right of the zipper. The top right pocket is more spacious than you'd think, in part due to the stretchy material. "Phablet" sized smartphones drop inside with plenty of room for more, and a stitched eyelet lets earbud cables snake through for listening to music. In fact, so long as you're careful, you can slip a standard DVD movie case into this top pocket without stressing the seams (but you'll look like you're smuggling a DVD). One minor drawback with the upper pocket design is that most anything you put in it sinks down, doubling up on the space provided for the the lower pockets (inside and out). So while you can stuff quite a bit of personal belongings inside the hoodie, it can get lumpy and bulky really quick as pockets fill up.

Each article of Ravean clothing comes with an external USB battery pack and a short micro USB cable within a felt cover/carrier. The down vest (as well as the down jackets) also comes with a stuff sack made of like material.

Despite being pre-production units, the Ravean heated vest and heated hoodie show quality of manufacturing. All of the zippers are made of metal and zip the material straight and evenly on both sides. While cheaply-made zippers tend to stick or break when you get rough or pull fast, the main zippers for the vest and hoodie pull smoothly, maintaining teeth alignment through repeated, vigorous up/down zipping. Although Ravean's zippers (and surrounding stitching) hold up to heavy-handed operation, they're still prone to negligence or mistreatment (i.e. don't accidentally zip over your t-shirt or hair).

The dual zippers on Ravean's heated vest are definitely ideal for those with curvier hips (women more likely than men). The bottom has freedom to open up without stretching out, especially as one sits down. Too bad the heated hoodie doesn't also feature dual zippers for the same reasons. The material "grain" of the heated hoodie runs vertically, parallel to the main body and upper inside zippers, while the heated vest's horizontal stitching lines up symmetrically on either size of the main body zipper. Although these are small details (akin to having patterns match up at seams), they're good indicators of manufacturing care.

With only a few very minor exceptions, the construction of both the Ravean heated vest and heated hoodie are solid. Every stitch and seam was gently tugged at, inside and out, pockets and all. There's no separation of material, loose threads, or oversized needle holes. Edges are finished and all threads have colors that match the garment material. There are no missed stitches, and you can find extra stitching (e.g. where two separate pieces of fabric meet, like arms, cuffs, zippers, etc.) along the high-wear/-stress areas.

While the overwhelming majority of the stitches lie flat and flush, a scant few are slightly raised and/or looped. However, these ones have been found to be a part of reinforcement/finishing, so it's highly unlikely to have any long-term effect. Especially since there's not even a full dozen of them in total between the two garments. Aside from that, you can expect to find subtle frays on the interior stitching or thin fibers of material poking through seams, both of which clean up with a quick snip of scissors. And as is common with much clothing, the heated vest and heated hoodie have the occasional thread end requiring a seal (i.e. using a heating element to melt the end so that it doesn't eventually unravel).

Care instructions for the Ravean heated vest and heated hoodie are sewn inside, down at the bottom instead of behind the neck area. We put the vest through two dozen wash and dry cycles, just to see how construction held up. The result, aside from being super-clean? It looked as good as it did before being thrown in for the first time, completely intact, pockets, seams, stitches, and all. The heating elements also power up and function just as promised.

Fit & Heating

The Ravean heated vest wears as nicely as those made by established names like Columbia or Patagonia, with the material fitting closer to the body against the chest and stomach. The areas under the arms from the mid- to lower-back regions are more relaxed, providing body room for when one sits. Ravean's heated vest may feel a little snug around the arm holes at the bottom if you've been accustomed to more of an open-arm vest design, but the overall shape is well-cut, providing ample room for arm movement without any pulling or restriction at the shoulders. The fully-zipped vest has an ideal length that starts at the low-hip and goes all the way up just shy of one's jawline. There's also enough neck space to allow you to comfortably wear a Buff or once-wrapped scarf. Although filled with down, the vest is not overly puffy as to make you look big while wearing it.

The battery to power the vest's heating elements sits in an inside pocket, located towards the left rear hip area. It's about where you'd put your hand if you were to reach for a pants-pocket wallet. The battery's slim design makes it so it isn't visually noticeable, and the light weight keeps it from weigning the vest down or shifting material across the shoulders. Tossing in more and/or larger batteries into this pocket does change the bulk and balance some, but not to the point that anyone would look at you and know. However, depending on the design of chair/seat you lean up against, you can and will be physically reminded that you're packing a battery above your rump.

The Ravean heated hoodie's inside fabric feels cozy against skin and the material sits well across shoulders and along the upper back. When zipped up, the heated hoodie snugs close to the body from the waist down through the hips. The full length is able to cover front pants pocket openings, which also helps to draw eyes vertically. The only minor drawback is that the bottom (front) part of the hoodie curls up while sitting, but at least the length helps to cover cracks (and prevent escaping body heat, of course) when bending over. If you're the kind that likes to half-tuck hands inside hoodie sleeves, you can do so with Ravean's without having to stretch the material or pull your arms in awkwardly.

The battery to power the hoodie's heating elements may require some re-orienting for comfort, depending on one's abdominal slimness. If you happen to have a beer-and-a-half's worth of lower belly, the battery is best set horizontally so the corners won't jut out as you sit. The pocket's location puts the battery at the waistline where the body bends, right along the lapbelt/seatbelt zone. It's not uncomfortable, but you're generally aware that the battery exists, especially since it overlaps with and rests directly behind the hoodie's outer left hand pocket. And although the battery is thin, it is visually noticeable from the outside, making it commonly mistaken for a small smartphone.

The heating elements in both the vest and hoodie are invisible to the eye, with no perceptible bumps or ridges in the flow of fabric. You can only really, physically feel the heating elements by running hands over the clothing and looking for them. All battery pockets have a USB cable sewn within so you only ever need to supply a battery to provide the power.

Once the vest or hoodie has been activated by holding down the power button, it takes less than 10 seconds before you can start to feel the heat build. The heating zones for the vest are the upper chest and along the back at the shoulder blades, while the hoodie's front heating elements are slightly lower, at around where the pectoral muscles end and the abs start. The highest temperature setting isn't too hot at all for bare skin (quite nice actually, who needs shirts, right?), and the heat is spread evenly within these areas without any focus/bright spots.

The batteries that come with the vest and hoodie deliver a consistent output, right under 10 W of power no matter which heat level you choose. The highest heat setting engages for long bursts with short, one- to two-second breaks in between. Medium and low settings have shorter bursts with (increasingly) longer breaks. Although the batteries end up feeling slightly warm to the touch, they're safe to handle. The continuous, functional run time for heating closely matches Ravean's listed estimates: high is indeed good for about two and a half hours, medium lasts for more than four, and low can push a few minutes beyond the seven-hour mark.

Battery Performance

The battery that comes with the heated vests and hoodies is slim, simple, and packs 5,000 mAh worth of charge. The capacity versus the battery's mass and volume is excellent (compared to your average, bulkier USB power bank). There is no power button, although the LED strip in the center activates when you run your finger across. Unlike most USB power banks that rely on a 4-LED indicator system, this one included with Ravean's gear features an array of 10, with each unit representing 10 percent. Although the estimation isn't perfect (these LEDs tend to be within 15 percent of actual remaining charge), it's far better than a paltry four dots.

This battery also features auto-detect, auto-shutoff, and input/output USB ports that are capable of rates up to 5 V / 2.1 A. The labeling is hard to read (dark gray print on charcoal, ew), but if you've ever used a USB battery before it all makes sense. Strangely, the included USB cable achieves a 2 A charging speed only when charging the Ravean battery itself. Every other situation with this cable, no matter what device(s) and/or USB wall adapters with or without the Ravean battery, has the current capped out at 470 mA. But if you use any other high-quality cable that's capable of charging tablets (typically 5 V / 2.1 A and up), you'll be able to do so with the Ravean battery.

It takes around four and a half hours to fully-charge this 5,000 mAh battery. So if you happen to have two of these and keep the heated vest/hoodie at the medium heat setting, you could have all-day cozy goodness by charging and swapping out the batteries. And if the weather warms up, leaving you to prefer some extra juice for your smartphone or tablet instead, this battery will suit you well (just use your own cable).

Not all batteries are created equal, and your average USB power bank typically delivers around 70 percent of its listed capacity as effective (efficiency). That other 30 percent ends up consumed/lost as the battery charges out to devices. So, for example, a basic battery labeled as 1,000 mAh would effectively deliver approximately 700 mAh worth of charge.

After fully charging and discharging the Ravean battery a few times (helps to level out the charge states of individual cells), it was assigned to a Lenovo S8-50 tablet housing a 5,700 mAh internal battery. The Ravean battery was able to repeatedly bring the Lenovo tablet from zero to 82 percent (give or take one percent), effectively delivering around 4,674 mAh of charge for each of the near-dozen cycles. Considering that the Ravean battery has a 5,000 mAh capacity, this puts the effective output at an impressive 93 percent. You don't find many batteries that go this high.

So with 4,674 mAh worth of battery energy, you can expect (under ideal conditions): 1.4 full charges to a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (3,220 mAh), or 2.6 full charges to an Apple iPhone 6S (1,715 mAh), or 1.0 full charges to a 7-in Kindle Fire HDX (4,500 mAh) from this Ravean battery. Not too bad at all.

The Verdict

Whether you're a current backer with hopes and fingers crossed, or someone who is strongly considering purchasing some heated clothing, Ravean looks set to deliver (although there are never any 100 percent guarantees when it comes to crowdfunding). The quality and fit/sizing of the heated vest and heated hoodie is right up there with Columbia, Patagonia, or The North Face apparel – and this is with pre-production review units too – we're very confident that the final versions will have the same, if not better, level of quality. Ravean's gear feels less like clothing born through Kickstarter and more like a product line that's ready for retail right now.

Those who had asked about the Ravean heated down vest and heated hoodie during field-testing were equally impressed. So it wasn't just this reviewer who clutched at cloth, scrutinizing every aspect with sensible suspicion. The included batteries are also quality, and it's not hard to imagine Ravean's products being sold at REI or other outdoor equipment stores sometime soon.

The Kickstarter campaign for Ravean's heated clothing has raised 961 percent of its US$100,000 goal in 54 days, with only a week of funding to go. A pledge of $119 gets you a heated hoodie and $129 gets you one heated down vest (each with a battery), saving about half off the planned retail price. Other clothing options are Ravean's heated down jackets (with gloves), with or without hoods.

If production goes according to plan (keeping up with the thousands of orders placed), backers can expect deliveries of Ravean's heated clothing to start sometime in January, 2016.

Product pages: Ravean, Kickstarter

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