Keeping Toasty: An In-Depth Guide to Heated Jackets

As an avid skier and winter explorer with over a decade of cold weather experience, I get asked constantly: "What‘s the best way to stay warm when it‘s freezing outside?"

My answer is always the same – invest in a high quality heated jacket.

Modern heated jackets rely on slim, battery-powered warming elements to generate and distribute comfortable heat across your entire upper body. It‘s like wrapping yourself in a warm hug!

I‘ve tested over two dozen heated jackets first-hand in frigid conditions. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll cover everything you need to know:

  • How heated jackets work
  • Key components and features that impact performance
  • My top picks across performance, style and budget
  • Handy tips for getting the most out of your heated jacket

Let‘s get started!

How Do Heated Jackets Work?

Heated jackets contain thin wires or panels that heat up when powered on, spreading warmth across your core body.

Most use lithium polymer batteries to power the heating elements. These batteries come in various capacities, measured in milliamp hours (mAh). Higher numbers indicate longer runtimes.

Popular battery capacities range from 2,200mAh on more compact models to 10,000mAh or more on premium jackets.

Brands strategically place the heating panels in areas prone to feeling cold first – typically the upper back, chest and sleeves.

Higher end jackets offer multiple adjustable heating zones to target warmth where you need it most.

Heated jacket diagram

Diagram showing common heating zones in a battery powered heated jacket

Heating Technologies

There are a few common types of heating elements used:

  • Carbon fiber panels – Thin, flexible sheets that distribute warmth evenly
  • Metal wire coils – Affordable but prone to breaking over time
  • Etched metal foil – Lightweight option without hotspots

Here‘s how the main heating technologies compare:

Technology Pros Cons
Carbon fiber Flexible, even heat distribution More expensive
Wire coils Affordable, simple construction Hotspots, durability issues
Metal foil Consistent warmth, no hotspots Heavier than carbon

I strongly prefer carbon fiber panels or etched foil sheets in my heated jackets. Both provide better warmth coverage without irritation from intense hot spots.

Higher quality heating elements make a big difference in comfort and safety. Cheaper jackets often cut corners here leading to disappointingly uneven heat.

Key Features That Impact Performance

Battery Life

Battery capacity determines how long your jacket can provide warmth before needing a recharge. Runtime varies drastically between models.

While jackets boast "up to 10 hours of heat", that‘s usually at the lowest setting which hardly provides any warming effect.

For usable heat on mid-range settings, expect only 2-6 hours for most entry level battery-heated jackets.

Premium jackets with large 10,000+ mAh batteries reliably deliver 8-10+ hours of comfortable warmth per charge.

Faster charging allows minimizing downtime to repower your jacket battery. Basic models take 6+ hours for a full charge while high capacity batteries can require 10 hours.

Advanced quick charging support (like USB-C Power Delivery) makes a full charge possible in as little as 2.5 hours – perfect for quickly gearing up between winter activities.

Below is a chart comparing charge time across battery capacities:

Heated Jacket Battery Charge Times

Average heated jacket battery charge times by capacity

Clearly, a higher capacity battery directly translates to longer lasting warmth between charges. So watch out for exaggerated runtime claims on cheaper heated jackets.

Advanced jackets also include a fuel gauge displaying remaining battery level. This helps avoid unexpectedly losing power mid-activity.

Adjustable Temperature Settings

Nearly all heated jackets offer adjustable heating levels via built-in control panels. Basic models include just low, medium and high settings.

More advanced jackets allow choosing exact temperature values or even controlling individual zones. For example, ramping up back warmth while lowering chest heat.

This added flexibility helps dial in the perfect warmth and power consumption balance for your needs.

Some jackets prevent overheating by capping the maximum temperature through self-regulating heat elements. Going above 105-120°F risks irritating skin so having a safety limit built-in provides peace of mind.

Weather and Wind Resistance

While powering the heating tech takes center stage, you still want your jacket to protect against the elements.

Manufacturers use proprietary materials and seam sealing methods to make their jackets wind and water resistant. These include names like WeatherEdge and WindBlock.

Look for jackets made of softshell or hardshell fabric for sufficient weather protection. These tightly woven materials keep wind and moisture out unlike casual hoodies or fleeces.

Underarm gusset panels enhance range of motion and breathability during aerobic winter activities.

Controls and Connectivity

Heated jackets position their control panels in one of two places:

  1. On the front chest
  2. Attached to the sleeve cuff

Chest panels allow easily adjusting settings while worn. But slimmer fitting jackets often lack space here.

Wrist controllers offer more adjustability and room for features without adding jacket bulk. However, they aren‘t quite as convenient to access mid-activity.

Premium jackets add wireless Bluetooth connectivity for controlling heat settings right from your phone. This allows creating timed heating profiles that automatically adjust warmth levels.

While cool in theory, I‘ve found smartphone control relatively gimmicky in practice. Just another thing to charge and fiddle with.

The best solution remains simple physical buttons in easy reach. Rugged metal toggles work better than capacitive touch when wearing thick gloves.

Finding the Best Heated Jacket – My Rating Methodology

After evaluating dozens of battery heated jackets hands-on, I developed a weighted rating system to compare overall quality:

  • Heating Evenness (20%) – No irritating hot or cold spots
  • Temperature Flexibility (15%) – Granular controls from subtle to intense warmth
  • Battery Life (20%) – 8+ hours of usable heat per charge
  • Weather Resistance (15%) – Windproofing and waterproofing ability
  • Durability (10%) – Withstands daily wear and tear
  • Style (10%) – Attractive, flattering aesthetic
  • Value (10%) – Performance justified by price

I compile those grades into a final percentage score with 100% being a perfect heated jacket.

While subjective, these weighted criteria reflect what I and most winter enthusiasts find important after living with heated jackets daily.

Below I reveal my top picks across performance, style and budget based on extensive testing through brutal Vermont winters.

Best Performance: Milwaukee Heated Hoodie

Milwaukee Heated Hoodie

Leading rugged workwear maker Milwaukee enters the heated jacket game with their high quality heated hoodie.

Don‘t let its casual appearance fool you – this jacket pumps out a chart-topping 164°F maximum heat thanks to integrated carbon fiber heating panels connected to Milwaukee‘s heavy duty M12 battery.

It also includes:

  • 3 warming zones – back, left chest, right chest
  • Granular temperature control from 104°F to 164°F
  • Wind and water resistant Hydrapore shell
  • Machine wash safe
  • Up to 10 hours run time per charge

Through my testing, the Milwaukee heated hoodie has earned the top spot for performance and versatility.

The removable battery conveniently recharges using Milwaukee‘s extensive M12 infrastructure without tying you to proprietary chargers.

While it carries a premium price tag, I appreciate that Milwaukee stands behind it with their usual 5 year warranty. That‘s rare for heated jackets, especially with such power and features.

For these reasons, I rate the Milwaukee heated hoodie an impressive 93% making it my newest winter favorite for outstanding overall performance.

Shop the Milwaukee Heated Hoodie here.

Best Value: DEWBU 7.4V Heated Fleece

DEWBU Heated Fleece

If dropping $200+ on a heated jacket gives you pause, allow me to introduce you to DEWBU.

This upstart heated apparel brand focuses squarely on delivering maximum value using direct-to-consumer sales.

That cost efficiency shines through with their comfortable 7.4V heated fleece jacket – my favorite budget friendly option.

It looks like an ordinary full-zip fleece but integrated carbon fiber heating elements provide targeted warmth across the torso and back triggered by an inconspicuous side pocket controller.

Despite the fleece material, underarm venting prevents overheating while retaining considerable wind resistance.

For under $100, the DEWBU 7.4V heated fleece sacrifices little delivering:

  • 5 selective temperature settings
  • 8 hours of battery life per charge
  • Machine washable shell
  • Underarm venting
  • Battery percentage readout

Considering the price, my expectations were admittedly low but I found myself reaching for this jacket constantly making it a value leader with an 86% rating.

If no-fuss affordable warmth tops your priority list, go try the DEWBU 7.4V heated fleece here.

Best Style: ORORO Madison Women‘s Lightweight Softshell Heated Jacket

I get it – even gear nerds care about looking good on the slopes!

That‘s why I was thrilled to see ORORO update their best selling women‘s softshell heated jacket this season both inside and out.

Ororo Heated Softshell Jacket

This fitted yet flexible softshell jacket utilizes breathable yet weatherproof polyester paired with spandex side panels for unrestricted movement.

It looks fantastic styled casually or layered under a technical shell making it my favorite for hitting apres-ski happy hour in style.

But handsome looks aside, the ORORO jacket performs admirably thanks to recent upgrades:

  • Re-engineered carbon fiber heating panels
  • Expanded back/core coverage
  • 7.5 hours of three temperature heat per charge
  • Touch controls at the sleeve
  • Attached hood with added warmth
  • Discreet zip chest pocket stores battery pack

For having your gear both function well AND look great, ORORO‘s heated softshell jacket earns an 89% for nailing on-trend style without compromising winter protection.

Pick out your favorite color here. They offer a 30 day free return period to ensure you love the fit and function.

Honorable Mentions

While the jackets above took top awards in their respective categories, a few competitors deserve shoutouts:

Venustas Heated Down Vest – Offers incredible lightweight warmth and 10+ hours of heat for moderate output activities like hiking or everyday wear. At under $140 including battery, it makes an affordable core warming midlayer.

Arc‘Teryx Proton FL Thermo Heated Jacket – This high-end mountaineering shell integrates heating tech into an already phenomenal hardshell jacket design. Windproof Gore-Tex fabric surrounds warming back/core panels that utilize an external battery kept inside your backpack connected by an extended cable. Perfect for ice climbing and winter camping but overkill for most.

Kollea Heated Sweatshirt – Super comfortable and affordable (under $60!) their USB powered heated hoodie uses three heat level back/chest warming embedded in soft polyester fleece fabric . While battery life is shorter than premium options (4 hours max), it makes up for it in cozy casual style on a budget.

Milwaukee Heated Heavy Duty Jacket – An insulated workwear version of my top performing hoodie pick above. Adds outer shell toughness and removable liner for maximum cold and wet weather protection. Uses the same excellent carbon fiber heating system just in rugged jacket form factor priced around $350.

Buying Considerations – Features to Look For

Here are key factors I evaluate when selecting my heated jackets:

Heating Technology – I strongly prefer carbon fiber panels or metal foil sheets for safe, even heat coverage.

Temperature Range – Having a wide thermostatic range allows dialing in subtle warmth up to intense heat.

Battery Size – Higher capacities directly translate to longer runtime. Shoot for 7,000 – 10,000mAh.

Charge Time – Advanced fast charging (QC 3.0, USB-PD) dramatically cuts downtime waiting for a recharge.

Weatherproofness – Softshell or hardshell fabrics enhance wind and moisture protection that basic fleeces lack.

Adjustable Zones – Controlling individual back/chest zones prevents overheating and customizes fit.

Machine Washable – Being able to toss my jacket in the wash makes maintaining it so much easier.

Fuel Gauge – Knowing remaining battery percentage avoids losing heat unexpectedly.

Style – Just because it‘s technical gear doesn‘t mean it can‘t look great too!

Heated Jacket Usage Tips

Here are a few pro tips for maximizing performance from your battery powered heat:

Preheat – Turn on your jacket 10-15 minutes before heading out to allow warming up to full temp.

Layer Intelligently – Place heating panels closest to your base or mid layers for better heat transfer.

Reset Battery Memory – Let Li-ion batteries fully drain then recharge completely every few months to maximize lifespan.

Carry A Backup – Pack an external USB battery pack for recharging in case your jacket dies mid-activity. High capacity 20,000+ mAh models from Anker provide multiple full charges.

Waterproof Externally – Since most heated jacket shell materials resist moisture but aren‘t fully waterproof, use a rain jacket to keep heavy precipitation completely out.

The Best Heated Apparel Keeps Winter Fun

I hope this guide gives you expert advice selecting the perfect heated jacket for staying warm this winter.

Whether hiking snowy trails, bombing black diamond runs, braving bitter commutes or simply shoveling the driveway, today‘s heated clothing provides toasty respite from even the most brutal cold.

Don‘t let dropping temperatures intimidate you from getting outside. With the right gear, you can comfortably enjoy everything winter has to offer.

Let me know if you have any other questions in the comments below! I‘m happy to provide additional guidance to help find your ideal heated jacket.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.