It seems like a winter that will never end, with more than enough snow and cold to go around.
According to the National Weather Service in Duluth, Brainerd had 53.2 inches of snowfall this winter season through Feb. 27, compared to the average of 34.7 inches-and I have a feeling it's not done.
Area residents have felt wind chill values fall to 63 degrees below zero and too many more days of below zero days to count. It was so cold the U.S. Postal Service even stopped delivering mail for a day. Since Jan. 8, Brainerd's daytime high has never gotten above freezing.
People have been told by state and local agencies to stay indoors when the weather is frightful. However, we still have to get to work, go to school and shovel snow-and basically live our lives. I mean, we live in Minnesota so we know what to expect. We love the outdoors and one way to stay warm is heated clothing. There are several brands and types of clothing gear to choose from. A person can purchase heated jackets, heated vests, heated socks or soles, heated gloves-even a heated hat. Sounds nice and cozy to me.
I personally have not tried any heated clothing myself. However, two of my co-workers have and shared their thoughts on the heated gear. Brainerd Dispatch photographer Kelly Humphrey is always out in the cold covering everything from fires, to winter family events to sports, and she recently purchased a heated vest. My other co-worker, Jim Stafford, often assists the newsroom with video and uses a drone to gather footage for a variety features. In his personal life, he does a lot of activities outdoors and he purchased a pair of heated socks and gloves.
Heated clothing is designed to keep the body warm and is typically powered by rechargeable battery packs connected to integrated heating elements, providing hours of heat.
Humphrey had to experiment a bit with her vest. Her first heated vest did not work out for her.
Humphrey's first purchase was a $90 Arris heated vest that used a USB portable power bank.
The website for the heated vest states there is no specific battery required and the vest does not come with a battery. It states a person can use their own 5 Volt USB or a 2.1A USB Port.
"In the description of the vest, it said you can use your own USB phone charger, but it didn't work out so well for me," Humphrey said. "After the first time wearing the vest, the battery bank smelled odd, like it was overheating. I thought I needed a better battery for the power bank. So I got a better battery and wore it a second time and it again smelled funny."
Humphrey took her vest to Batteries Plus in Brainerd to see if they could help. They took a closer look at the battery bank and realized it wasn't the battery. Humphrey said the USB connector melted or shorted when she was using the vest.
Humphrey mailed the vest back to Amazon, stating it was defective and she didn't feel safe wearing it.
"I would hesitate to recommend the Arris vest because of what happened to me," Humphrey said. "It didn't make me feel safe.
"I looked at a whole bunch of vests because I didn't want to start on fire, that was extremely important," she said with a laugh. "I knew I didn't want to go with the USB thing again."
After thorough research and a recommendation from an employee at Batteries Plus, she purchased a heated vest from Milwaukee Tool known for its durable, heavy duty tools. Her vest has a powered M12 Redlithium battery which creates heat from the chest to the back. It has a thermal fleece lining and is washer and dryer safe. The vest has two large outer pockets, an inner zip pocket and a low-profile battery pocket.
According to the Milwaukee website, the vest received a 5.0 overall customer rating-the best it could get.
"This Milwaukee vest has been great," Humphrey said. "It's really nice. The connection is safer than the Arris. It has three to four settings. My only complaint is the battery was a bit bulky and if I'm sitting back or if the vest was tight the power bank would push into my side."
Humphrey wore the vest for the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza. She didn't need it in the beginning, but by the end of the event, she turned it on for awhile.
"It was so nice to turn it on and feel the warmth," she said. "I cover many events like Nordic ski and you have to do a lot of standing around in the cold and wearing this vest, it was fantastic. It is so great I wish I would have done it sooner."
She also wore the vest to a few hockey games at the Essentia Health Sports Center, which is a block away from the Brainerd Dispatch.
"In the past, by the time I walked back to the newspaper from the sports center I was always cold for the rest of the night, but not anymore when I wear this vest," she said.
Humphrey has been thinking about purchasing heated mittens, but said she loses mittens too easily and they are too expensive to take that risk. Plus, she needs her fingers free to work the camera controls.
Humphrey said the trick with the heated vest is to make sure she remembers to recharge it fully.
Humphrey recommends those interested in buying heated clothing should do their research before their purchase.
"You want to be comfortable with your decision," she said.
Humphrey said her Arris vest-the defective vest-could have been a fluke. In a customer review on Amazon, a reviewer stated he liked the vest, but the USB connector worried him as it was thin and looked as it would wear down easily.
According to a review by The Gear Hunt, the Arris vest was the second most popular vest to purchase.
Stafford got it right the first time. He went online in January and purchased a pair of Mobile Warming brand heated socks for $84.
"I wanted a pair to keep my toes warm," Stafford said.
One of the driving factors for him to purchase the socks were his plans to attend the annual Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza Jan. 26 on Gull Lake's Hole-in-the-Day Bay. Stafford volunteers for the event through the Central Lakes ATV Club and helps monitor traffic coming in and out of the contest area.
"I've used them three times now to stay warm and I have noticed a difference," he said. "I start with it on high to get them warmed up and then put it on low and my feet never got cold. This pair has a heating pad on the bottom and it permeates throughout my whole sock/boot. They work good. I would recommend them."
Stafford's electric socks have a 3.7 volt battery pack that goes into a little pouch of the sock. The pouch is resealable and the battery pack is rechargeable. The socks have a remote control so Stafford can easily turn up the heat, or lower it, without having to dig out his socks to get to the battery pack.
Stafford also purchased a pair of gloves, but had to return them as they were too small. He said the gloves were from the same company and he did try them once and they kept his hands warm, so he exchanged them for a larger size.
"The new pair came in and they work well," Stafford said. "They keep my hands warm, the interior is very soft. The battery pack in small and is located near the wrist. There is a battery pack for each glove. They don't seem bulky."
Stafford said he would recommend the Mobile Warming brand for the socks and gloves. He said he hasn't considered purchasing a heated vest because he already has a warm jacket and gear to keep his core warm.
A Digital Trends review mentions an 8K Flexwarm heated jacket for $286. The jacket can warm up to 122 degrees in just six minutes and can stay powered on for as long as 13 hours depending on the temperature settings. It also has "Venture Heat Heated Base Layers" for $150 that a person can wear under their jacket. The website states the item is machine washable and is made from stretchy materials designed to move with a body during active outdoor activities. The clothing sits close to the skin, helping provide temperature and moisture control.
According to the "Top 5 Heated Jackets" published on Homethods Reviews, the top five are Ororo mens jacket, Makita multi-pocket jacket, Bosch mens coat, and DeWalt has two jackets-12-volt or 20-volt battery heavy duty coat and women's heated jacket.
Living in Minnesota, having this gear certainly can be handy.