March 21, 2011

Ergodyne N-Ferno 6900 Warming Vest - Review

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If you're ever on the look-out for some high-concept work clothing, there's no where else to go other than Ergodyne. Melding science and gear, this company has a stunning selection of clothing and accessories that seem like they come straight from Dr. Bunson's Muppet Labs. Take, for example, their N-Ferno Warming Vest. This is a lightweight vest that can be inflated with Argon in order to increase its insulating properties. So yeah, it's pretty much like any old vest you can get at T.J. Maxx.

A while back they sent us one of these vests to use and test out. We've done quite a bit with it and we've now reached our conclusions...

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So the deal with the vest is that it's made out of a lightweight nylon fabric that's ribbed in a vertical pattern. And when we say, 'lightweight' we're not kidding. The whole thing doesn't even tip a single pound on the kitchen scale. It weighs less than, well, just about everything.

At the chest is a zippered pocket and in it is a little hose port. The vest comes with a filling valve and three small canisters of Argon. To use, attach a canister to the filling valve, then attach the valve to the vest and pull the little trigger. This releases the gas into the vest. If there's too much gas in the vest, simply release some through the little dial at the chest. If you overfill the vest (not recommended), the vest will release the excess gas through the release valve.

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A few facts about Argon (from the instruction manual)...

1. Argon is weightless.
2. 4.5 mm of Argon has the same thermal conductivity of 14mm of fiber insulation.
3. Argon is non-toxic and non-flammable.
4. Gas tight means wind-proof.
5. Fiber insulation loses up to 40% of its loft in the first year...Argon doesn't.

ergodyne_wearing.JPGAt this point, it's starting to become obvious that this vest is a pretty slick idea. But ideas are ideas and practicality is another thing. So what did we think of actually wearing the vest?

First off, it keeps you crazy warm. It's sort of weird actually, because it hardly weighs anything, but it made us very toasty in all kinds of bad weather situations. We mostly used it as a middle layer with a shirt or two under it and a jacket over it and it really does keep a significant amount of heat close to the body. It's great too, in that it keeps you warm where it matters (your core), and still lets you have free arm movement.

The vest is comfortable in most situations (more on that in a bit) and fits well. When it's filled, it does flare out a bit at the bottom which may not conform with your own particular fashion tastes, but it's our experience that fashion tastes don't mean so much when it's 10 below out.

There are some things to consider though. First, the more gas that's in it, the stiffer it gets. When it's completely full, the vest is pretty stiff. In this situation, spending the day on our feet was not problem and we didn't notice this stiffness, but when we started doing a lot of ground level work crouching down a lot, it became a bit of an issue. Also, sitting in a truck we noticed it. Because there's no give in the vest, sitting or crouching down meant that it naturally wanted to ride up to our ears, which isn't ideal. This issue is greatly reduced as the vest has less and less gas in it. We're actually wearing the vest right now (at about 1/2 full), sitting in front of the computer and we can hardly detect the stiffness. In our eyes, it comes down to the fact that when it's cold enough for us to inflate the thing to full, a little discomfort when we're getting in and out of the truck isn't going to worry us that much.

Also, the vest desperately needs a hook loop sewn into the collar. Because it can get so rigid, it doesn't fold over a hook like any other piece of clothing, so there's no good way to store the item, other than standing it up on its own making it look like the invisible man lost his legs and is now living in your coat closet.

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The vest is also is a piece of clothing that needs maintenance, and by that we're talking about the constant supply of Argon canisters that you need. One canister can fill a large-size vest about three times. Once filled, the vest will remain so for about a week while being worn, or two months if it's inactive.

But those aren't deal breaker issues at all. If you're framing a house or putting up siding or even hiking or hunting, this vest is going to keep you extremely warm and at the same time it won't add any weight and hardly any bulk. It's pretty amazing really.

This technology isn't all that cheap either, the vest sells for about $230, which sounds like a lot, but for a high-quality piece of outerwear, it's a different story and after using it and knowing how warm it kept us, it's certainly a price worth considering. We're not sure how much Ergodyne is going to be selling additional Argon canisters for, but we found some others at Amazon in the range of 4 for $15.

More information at Ergodyne

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at March 21, 2011 6:12 AM

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