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G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Saturday, November 14, 2009

QuikSilver Heated Vest - Review

May 16, 2010 - Final Update - Issue resolved.
First the good news. I contacted Quiksilver warranty services via email and heard back from them within two hours. The service rep Paul, worked quickly (pun intended) and professionally. Within four days I had a free and fully warranted new battery. Now the bad news...it wouldn't take a charge. That made for three batteries in total that just did not work. Bottom line: the batteries are not ready for prime time.

But...more good news. Paul again worked quickly and professionally, contacting Freeline store manager Tara Mel, and arranged for a complete reimbursement of costs for the vest. Tara contacted me directly by phone and told me to bring in the vest and they would refund all my money. Two things: Quiksilver did a great job, and dealing with Freeline was once again (as always) an extremely positive experience.

I still think the heated vest is a great idea. When it worked, it worked really well and I would like to have another one. But they have to get the battery issue solved. I'll take another look at this product next Winter with the hope that they will have come up with a bombproof energy source that will hold up over the long run.

April 30, 2010 - UPDATE #1 - Two defective batteries in six months.

The first battery would not take a charge after two months. It performed well up until that time. The retailer, Freeline Surf Shop Santa Cruz CA promptly gave me a new battery to replace the defective unit. The new battery worked for about four months before completely malfunctioning. The rest of the vest has held up well. When the heated vest works, it's great. The problem is the batteries.

(NOTE: Freeline offered to give me another battery but I declined, preferring to deal with Quiksilver directly. This isn't Freeline's problem. With warming temps I won't really need the vest. But this does underscore my recommendation to purchase this product through a retail shop, not online.)


I currently (4-30-2010) have an email in to Quiksilver warranty services, awaiting their instructions. I suspect that the batteries on this unit, were just not ready for prime time. In my review below I mentioned the "issue" with the activation switch/button. I would not be surprised if the first generation technology for the power supply wasn't fully vetted. That's why the first run was "limited" production, and the vests were difficult to get.

I'll update again as I find out more. Until then, Caveat Emptor!

About the reviewer (me): I get cold really easily, therefore all the heat I can get (within reason) I'll take. I'm 62 years old, 5'9" at 150 lbs. Very little body fat, therefore not much natural insulation.

I started my research by reading the review on Surfline, and then calling Freeline to see if they had the vest in stock. John had the vest but didn't know much about them except to say that there had been a lot of interest in the product. He told me that Peter, who was working that afternoon, had worked on the prototype R&D for Quiksilver, and that he could answer my questions.

Long story short...I met with Peter and Jamie Mitchell (who was in town for the Nelscott Reef contest and Peter's tow partner, and also worked on the vest prototype) and they gave me all the basic info on the vest. I tried on my size and fired it up. It felt great and I bought one on the spot. The following is my review after wearing the vest five times in various surf and weather conditions from small surf in sunny weather to several early morning, large wave, cold offshore wind sessions.

The Surfline Quiksilver vest review was a good one, which surprised me a bit. I agree with just about everything their reviewer said.

I'll start by playing off Surfline's final paragraph: "Is it worth $200? That's your call. But yes, this vest definitely works. While I don't think it'd be enough to make your 3/2 equal in warmth to, say, a 4/3 and booties, it certainly keeps you warmer. And that could potentially extend your winter session, or convince you to paddle out on a really cold day."

Here's what the vest is NOT: 1) A replacement for anything in your current cold water ensemble (including rash guard, insulated undergarments, etc.) or especially boots, or hood of preference or gloves. 2) A replacement for a heavier wetsuit...i.e. don't expect to be as warm in a 4/3 as you are in your 5/4 if that's what you usually wear.

Here's what the vest IS: A nice addition (or augmentation) to your current cold water ensemble that adds an element of toasty warmth and probably will keep you out in the water more comfortably for a little longer than if you didn't have one.

Bottom line: This vest makes surfing in cold water a little more tolerable, and will make you more comfortable.

That being said here's what I experienced. The vest has two settings: high (about 129 degrees F) and low (about 113). High is HOT! I haven't surfed in water cold enough to warrant keeping the battery setting on high for more than a few minutes. (Water temps here in NorCal in Santa Cruz around in the mid-50's currently.)

I have two wetsuits: an O'Neill Mutant 4/3, and an O'Neill Mutant 5/4/3. I usually break out the 5/4 when the water temps stay consistently in the 55 degrees and less range. Above 55 degrees and I'm in the 4/3. I use these two wetsuits all year round. As a side note, normally I'd be wearing my 5/4 most of the time now, but have stayed in the 4/3 to "test" the vest. So far so good, I haven't been cold except for the following.

My shoulders and top of my chest got cold when I wore the vest only, and chose not to wear my insulated (fleece) Mysterioso short sleeve shirt. The vest is light but durable polypropylene and on it's own offers little in the way of insulation against the cold. This was remedied when I put the Mysterioso shirt back into my ensemble. No more cold shoulders or chest.

The theory behind the heating elements (pads) placement is as stated in the Surfline review...the elements are over the kidneys which are supposedly close enough to the surface of the skin that blood circulating through the kidneys will be warmed and therefore warm the entire body. I'm really not sure about that claim.

The heat feels like a nice comfortable heating pad placed on the lower back. (Unless their pee circulates up, the peeing in the wetsuit analogy wasn't very accurate.) The heat feels good on the lower back and would probably help to keep those muscles loose in cold water. This alone could extend your surfing time which leads me to the demographic this wetsuit fits.

I've got several friends who bought the vest real quick. So of the people I know who have the vests (all of whom like the vest), all three are over 50 years old. So I'm thinking this is definitely an "old guy" item. Kids don't get cold do they?

Overall I like this vest because I like almost anything that works to keep me a little warmer on those cold water, overcast or freezing cold offshore winds days. Although it's not a replacement for your current ensemble, it has kept me in my 4/3 a little longer than if I didn't have the vest. But DON'T think for a second you can surf barefoot or without your hood in cold water if that's what you wear now. And you probably won't be able to wear a thinner wetsuit during the colder times of the years just because you have the heated vest.

In terms of cost I think there is a limited market for the vest and it probably did cost a few dollars to develop. It appears to be well made and well thought out. The charging unit, the battery and the fittings are solid and sturdy. The vest should last a long time if you take care of it...which goes for just about anything. (Click here for the Quiksilver website.)

A few caveats: 1) Dimensionally the battery 4.5" X (about) 2" X 7/8" thick. It fits in a snug pocket on the right side of the vest, and rests just above the hip bone. It bulges out a little on the side of the wetsuit and if you're looking for it, you can see it. Wearing it caused me no discomfort what-so-ever. I can carry my wide (23") little 5-11 mini-Simmons on my right side no problem. The vest absolutely does not interfere with surfing or paddling. But like wearing anything hard and fairly large like the battery, falling on it, or having it jammed into your side would not be pleasant. It could definitely cause an injury that would not occur had the battery not been in place. I think the chances of injury from the battery are somewhat remote but...ya takes your chances however slight.

2) The three position button on the battery allows for: Press Once-High (one vibration); Press Twice-Low (two vibrations); Press and Hold-Off (a series of six (6) quick vibrations). I found the vibrations somewhat difficult to detect, perhaps due to a lack of sensitivity in my skin at the waist. Therefore I hold the battery steady with one hand, and press the button with the other hand, specifically to feel the vibrations.

Once the battery is on, turning it off by accident is almost impossible. However, an accidental changing of the power setting (especially from low to high) has happened to me several times. So I've had to go through the heat mode cycle to see what the setting is...again. While the hold for off feature is excellent, an update or upgrade would be a slight detente or wait (press and hold for one-half second for example) to change heat from high to low and vice versa.

The battery is lithium-ion, the type used in most modern laptop computers. They are durable and long lasting but there are a few rules one should follow or be aware of. Generally those rules can be found HERE. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the short list of guidelines.)

Summary
This is a good product that hasn't been over-hyped (yet) in terms of what it will do. I like it, and I would buy it again as is.

30 comments:

  1. Glad to hear it's working out for you. I've got to send your review to a few of my friends back east.

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  2. Andy,

    I'm sure this thing would be a fine addition to the 40-degree water temp wetsuit ensemble. Trudging across a "white beach" has always presented an interesting picture in my mind. Brrrr!

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  3. Well I just bought one and after 2 sessions the black wire that wrapps the positive and negative ones broke right where it meets the battery. Now I have the positive and negative exposed. also after my session today I saw a bit of water inside the terminals. For the price I expected to have something of better quality

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  4. Bummer Igor...sounds like a total single product defect. Since it is brand new I'm sure your retailer will give you another one no questions asked. Hope so anyway. Thanks for the feedback.

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  5. Kidneys dont just circulate pee. Come on man, just think about it. Your kidneys are responsible fo filtering and reabsorbing the materials in your body which are needed or not. By heating up the microcirculation of your kidneys, the blood (and reabsorbed materials) is returned to your heart, and then pumped to the rest of your body. So, their claim makes sense that because the kidneys are so close to the skin, they are the easiest access point to heating your blood. This may or not actually work, but their claim is physiologically accurate.

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  6. Thanks Dr. Jeff...good to know that it actually is possible.

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  7. Great Review! I am an East Coast surfer and will typically paddle out in anything, year-round. Few shops on the East Coast have the vest available yet but I've put down my deposit for my local shop's first shipment (hopefully coming in before Xmas!). Your review was very helpful and one of the few first-hand reviews I've been able to find thus far. I'm glad to hear you have had a good experience with it, $200 certainly beats shelling out $1000+ for the RipCurl option (H-Bomb). Thanks again, can't wait to give mine a try!

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  8. Thanks Jamie.

    I definitely agree with you re the H-Bomb. A solid "normal" wetsuit with attached hood, gloves and booties with fleece undies and a vest should keep you hard-core Winter east coast surfers (and I say that with great respect after two days here of low 30 degree temps) pretty warm.

    I'm thinking of updating the review re the battery activation button and placement. There should definitely be a two-second delay to activate the battery for the high temp and low temp setting. A four second delay to turn it off would be good. It's just too easy to toggle back and forth from low to high via an accidental bump.

    Battery placement could be better, especially if your habit is carrying your board under your right arm. But choices are limited. Ideally it should be about five or six inches further back, riding more on the back. But then you run into the heating pads. Moving it forward makes you lay on it so that's no good. I'll just have to learn to be more ambidextrous and get "left sided." The "real" problem with the current battery location is the accidental battery activation, which could be cured with the delay.

    Overall though, so far so good, and the rest of the review stands as is.

    Once you get yours, let us know how you like it.

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  9. Im curious about your Mysterioso short sleeve. I went to their site and saw a lot of options. Looks like the M-Tech short sleeve would be warmest, but they also have a shirt that has .5mm neoprene in the chest and back. Which one do you own, or recommend? I'm also surfing santa cruz/ san francisco. Thanks for your help.

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  10. Jeff,

    My Mysterioso is old, and probably needs to be replaced. I've also visited their website and seen the two "grades" of fleece posted. Honestly, I haven't gone anywhere and actually looked at the two grades of fleece, or the neoprene shirt for comparisons sake. In reality, unless it gets really cold again (and we're not even into Winter yet) I'll try and get one last season out of the Mysterioso I already have. (It's been a very good and durable product. I'm guessing it's at least five or six years old and worn every winter since I bought it.)

    That said...the shirt I have most closely resembles the TSS Short sleeve Coldwater/Weather M-Tech Tops & Bottoms 7.1 oz/sq. yd.($63). For Winter use I cannot imagine getting anything lighter, and this looks like the most heavy weight fleece fabric they carry in the short sleeve shirt.

    I'd have to check out the neoprene pretty closely. The fleece shirt is really comfortable and warm. I don't know how it would compare with the fleece in either warmth or comfort.

    Let us know what you decide to do. I'd be interested in your decision.

    Thanks.

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  11. My friend John sent an email comment to me re the vest he bought. At the time he wrote the comment he hadn't used it, but he since has and really appreciates the heating effect, especially on the lower back.

    Here's what he said in the email: "Saw your good review on the heater vest. I just received one as a gift. Haven't used, but in theory the kidney blood flow thing is perfectly correct. I worked in a kidney dialysis clinic for several years and can attest to the fact that a LOT of blood flows through the kidneys. If your kidneys are warm, it makes sense the blood will be warmer as it circulates away from the kidneys.

    Of course, once that warm blood hits your head, a LOT of heat is dissipated probably just as fast.

    As far as I'm concerned, you are right on with the idea that in conjunction with a cap, booties, etc the heater should serve as a perfect compliment.

    I haven't tried mine yet... all of the above is simply based on what I know about anatomy and physiology."

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    1. Hi Gary - A few things now that some time has passed... ONE: I've used it a few times while night surfing and it worked pretty good. Definitely kept my lower back warmer as long as the batteries lasted.
      TWO: The thought occurred to me while out by myself in the water in the middle of the night... do the heating elements emit some sort of force field that might attract sharks?! They (sharks) supposedly have extremely sensitive organs that can identify electrical impulses. ???
      THREE: As with most rechargeable battery products, the battery life is finite. Actually, in light of the purchase price of this item, way too finite. My battery pack is now defective - I.E. won't hold a charge. I've tried cycling the battery and recharging, etc but it just isn't holding juice. I plug it in, turn it on and it gives off the multiple vibration signal and turns itself off after a minute or two. New battery pack = 85.00 and I'm seriously doubting whether or not it's worth it. So great - I now have a fancy $200 vest with heating pads that don't work. It doesn't have sleeves so it doesn't really qualify even as a rashguard. I'm glad the buyer didn't fork out even bigger bucks for the complete wetsuit!

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  12. how thick is the vest? I'm planning an extended one week surf trip and looking to buy a neoprene rash guard anyways. I figure this would help justify the cost as decent rash guard vests are $50. I was hoping that this could act as a rash guard in the summer and heat in the winter. Is the fabric sturdy enough to act as a rash guard? Is it not a good idea to think of it as one?

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  13. The vest is not thick, it is thin but surprisingly warm by itself. I personally wouldn't think of it as a rash guard, especially a neoprene rash guard, because it is cut like a tank top and the fabric is not neoprene, rather polyester. Most rash guards are cut like a t-shirt. There's also a substantial difference in price. $200 for the vest; $50 for the rash guard.

    If you didn't mind the cut, you could wear it without the battery (controller) but then the connector and wires would be exposed. I don't think that's a good idea at all because of corrosion on the connector's two metal contacts. Therefore you could wear it with the battery.

    Personally, I think they're two different pieces of equipment.

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  14. I currently live in San Diego but moving to Alaska in a few weeks and I've been looking into the best options for keeping warm out there while in the water. I'm thinking of combining this vest with a 6/5/4 suit/gloves/hood etc... I just wanted to see if you're still using the vest and if you know if they've fixed the battery issue. Since Alaska doesn't have the surf shops like CA has, I won't be able to drop by a shop to return a product so I want to make sure I get something that'll work...

    Thanks!

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  15. Hey Albert,
    I have not purchased another vest after receiving a full refund from Freeline as per my last update. I have not investigated purchasing another vest, it's not cold enough yet. Therefore I have not done any additional research re battery reliability, which is still the key issue. I don't know for sure, but I have to believe that Quiksilver has improved battery reliability. If that is the case, but your battery has problems, you could get a replacement under warranty directly from Quiksilver via a common carrier. That might be your only option depending upon where you are in Alaska. If I was you, and I was heading to Alaska, I'd get another vest. But that's me. Whatever you do...best of luck and I hope you stay nice and warm while scoring some great waves.

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  16. I just got the vest for XMas and it was nice while it worked. It's good to keep a stiff back loose. Something is messed up about this battery though. It doesn't work very well I guess. For $200 bucks this thing better work.

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  17. Agreed! I haven't purchased another one yet. If yours is reliable please let us know by posting your experience here. Thanks!

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  18. Hands down, the best heated wetsuit vest on the market is made by Thermalution. I bought one on special from www.heatedwetsuits.com and it blows my Quiksilver vest out of the water.

    The warmth on the medium setting feels warmer than the Quiksilver Cypher vest on high. It has 2 Batteries instead of one, heats up 20 degrees hotter, and has heating areas in the upper AND lower back area. I've worn mine over 30 times this winter with no battery problems at all. The guys at Heated Wetsuits.com actually have a comparison page, showing the differences.

    You actually feel the warmth of a Thermalution on Low. The two batteries and extra heating area really make a huge difference. I absolutely love my Thermalution. My Quiksilver Cypher Vest stays in the closet now.

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  19. Thanks for the new product info Brian. I'm glad to see there are alternatives to the Quikvest on the market. I read through the info at the cited website. Pretty pricey though, I doubt that I'd spring for one at this time, but if I lived where the water was really cold I'd at least give it a try.

    I still haven't purchased another Quiksilver vest or anything else. I'm doing mostly SUP surfing these days and it's always a bit warmer on the water instead of being in the water as much when you're laydown paddling.

    Take care.

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  20. hmm. i'm having issues with mine too and want to return it, but when i email warranty@quicksilver.com or warranty@roxy.com i get failed message. did you have problems when you emailed?

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  21. AP, I never had any issues with email. Maybe you could try a toll free number or a telephone contact?

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  22. When it works it's great. I took mine back 3 or 4 times last winter before finally giving up. Fortunately I knew the guys at the shop. The Cypher is worthless unless they make it to last at least ONE season.

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  23. Mine wasnt a battery problem but the wires breaking. Got my first one, In Oct. by Dec. was not working. With the warranty, Quiksilver sent me a new one. Did not use it this summer, and when I used it again during the winter, it worked fine. All of a sudden it stopped working again. I contacted quiksilver, but since it was longer than a year, no reply. I wasnt going to buy another, so I took it apart. both wires going into the heating element were broken. They are super thin, and cannot handle normal wear. Great idea, but cheap manufacturing makes this vest not ready for prime time. (I also thought it was my battery, but it was the broken wires) Thought I would pass this on, before someone else throws $200 away.
    pb4sc

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    1. Hi pb4sc,

      My Quiksilver heat vest had the exact issue you are pointing out: After having used it about 10 times, it just stopped working. Quiksilver replaced it, then next year same story, but quiksilver wouldn't replace it this time.

      I opened the battery and found no problem at all: The real problem is the head going through the wires, which will consume and make them weaker through time and thus breaking them right on the battery connector.

      So, my conclussion is: When it works, it's great, but you should not buy it until quiksilver solves the wire problem.

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    2. Sorry, "The real problem is the head going through the wires" should say "The real problem is the heat going through the wires".

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  24. Found this site with a good comparison of all three heated wetsuit vests out there, RipCurl, Quiksilver Cypher, and Thermalution.

    www.HeatedWetsuitReviews.Com

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    1. FYI that site is just a marketing tool from the US distributor of the Thermalution suit. The "review" site is registered to Matt Patton, the same person who owns the site that sells the Thermalution suit.

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  25. Good to know about the heated vests from this blog! It was very informative.

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