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If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), it’s likely that the sun and heat are your foes.

Even a slight increase in temperature, something as little as 0.5°F (0.75°C), can temporarily worsen symptoms and may induce an exacerbation. Your MS symptoms may also get worse as a result of:

  • exercise or an overly active lifestyle
  • hot showers or baths
  • fever from a cold or other acute illness

In medical terms, this is known as Uhthoff’s phenomenon. Overheating was actually the basis for diagnosing MS prior to the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Since a slight temperature increase can impair nerve impulses enough to cause symptoms, a “hot tub test” was once used to spur on symptoms.

While temporary, such small temperature increases can greatly impact your quality of life.

Cooling vests can help maintain your core body temperature, prevent temperature fluctuations, and reduce flare-ups.

There are different kinds of cooling vests with varying price points and features. Battery- or electric-powered vests, called active cooling vests, can be more expensive but cool the body longer. Gel pack or passive cooling vests don’t provide such long-lasting cooling, but they’re usually more affordable. For this reason, we’ve chosen to include only gel pack and passive cooling vests in our selection. We also included cooling accessories for MS, such as neck and wrist wraps. We chose these items based on customer reviews, price point, and features of the items.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $100
  • $$ = $100-$300
  • $$$ = over $300

Best vest and neck wrap combo

Polar Products Cool58 Zipper Vest Kit with Vest, Neck Wrap, and Extra Packs

Price: $$$

Details: This kit includes a vest, neck wrap, and extra cooling packs, making it an ally in taking care of your MS. The cotton twill cooling vest uses packs that you can make cool again with just a bucket of ice water. It’s a bit higher in cost, but it could be a choice worth considering if you’re traveling, camping, or spending time anywhere a refrigerator or freezer isn’t available.

The vest gets high marks for its customizable fit and unisex design, and it’s appropriate for a variety of sizes, activities, and climates. It’s designed to be discreet and can be worn either over or under your clothes. It’s also machine washable.

Pros

  • good for use in outdoor environments
  • can be worn by people with most body types

Cons

  • expensive
  • transportable polar cooler is sold separately

Best for multiple style options

First Line Technology Standard Basic Cooling Vest

Price: $$-$$$+

Details: This vest has a two-piece, over-the-shoulder design meant to work well for a variety of activities. It’s also designed to offer comfort while lounging.

There are three material options for this vest: polyester, polyester mesh, and a flame-retardant material.

Pros

  • lightweight
  • machine washable

Cons

  • requires side extenders, sold separately, to accommodate larger sizes
  • available in only black or white

Best for reducing moisture loss

Arctic Heat Body Cooling Vest

Price: $$

Details: This lightweight vest uses embedded gel and can stay cool for up to 2 hours. It mimics the body’s natural cooling process through its two body-cooling fabrics. The inner fabric is designed to eliminate sweating and moisture loss.

Created with the athlete in mind, this performance vest might work better for people who plan to be involved in active or outdoor activities for shorter periods of time. Available in sizes XS to 5XL, it also may suit larger body types better than some one-size-fits-all vests.

Pros

  • can reduce body temperature up to 30 degrees
  • very lightweight
  • does not restrict movement

Cons

  • only provides cooling for up to 2 hours
  • cooling time can be reduced by high environmental temperature or body heat

Best undetectable

ThermApparel UnderCool Cooling Vest

Price: $$

Details: This one comes in at under 2 pounds. It’s designed to be thin enough to wear under your clothing, but also attractive enough all on its own to look like basic gym wear. With wide holes for your arms and neck, it allows for freedom of movement.

The UnderCool vest uses small, thin cooling packs that can keep you cool for about 90 minutes. It comes with an extra set of cooling packs as well, so you can simply change them out to extend your time outside or in the gym. Made of nylon and spandex, it’s machine washable.

Pros

  • can be worn discreetly under clothing
  • can also be worn over clothing for convenient cooling on the go
  • optional gender specific sizing ensures a good fit for certain body types

Cons

  • only cools for 1 to 3 hours

Best size range

StaCool Under Vest

Price: $$

Details: Unlike some other vests, the StaCool Under Vest was designed specifically for people with MS in mind. This vest uses four ThermoPak gel packs and provides 3 hours of cooling relief per ThermoPak set.

It can be worn either under or over clothes. It’s slightly heavier than other options and weighs roughly 5 lbs. with the ThermoPaks. This is something to keep in mind when determining whether it’s right for you.

Pros

  • designed for people with MS
  • comes in a wide range of sizes
  • zippered for easy on and off

Cons

  • heavier than most cooling vests

Best for fabric choice

Polar Products CoolOR Adjustable Zipper Cooling Vest with Long Kool Max Pack Strips

Price: $$

Details: This vest uses frozen water-based cooling packs that fit into insulated pockets. The cooling packs, which should be kept in the freezer until solid, are made of biodegradable materials and are reusable for years. They stay cool for up to 4 hours at a time.

The vest weighs 4–6 lbs., depending on the size you purchase. You can choose between cotton and nylon for your vest fabric. Both are machine washable. Because of its lower price point and ease of use, this is a popular choice for those affected by heat sensitivity.

Pros

  • cooling packs last up to 4 hours
  • machine washable
  • cooling packs are biodegradable

Cons

  • freezer packs must be frozen solid prior to use
  • heavier on the body than most cooling packs
  • polar cooler and freezer container are sold separately

Best for businesses

Maranda Enterprises FlexiFreeze Ice Vest

Price: $

Details: The FlexiFreeze ice vest is insulated with neoprene, to keep external heat out. It claims to be “the lightest, thinnest, best performing, and most cost effective cooling vest.” This vest is only available to be purchased in bulk, making it a good choice for businesses.

Rather than gel packs, ice is used as the cooling mechanism. As the ice melts, it draws heat out of your body. When the ice sheets are removed, both the vest and panels are machine washable. It comes with either a Velcro or zipper closure.

Pros

  • uses ice to draw heat out of the body
  • machine washable
  • thin and lightweight

Cons

  • not available for individual sale

Best for cyclists

Alpinestars MX Cooling Vest

Price: $

Details: Designed for sports, this evaporative vest uses a polymer-embedded material that absorbs water, and then slowly releases it in layers of fabric. Unlike a cooling mechanism, it relies on an evaporative process and wicking action to keep you cool. It may keep you cool for several hours.

Lightweight and sporty, it allows for plenty of movement and functions more like a sleeveless T-shirt than a cooling vest.

Pros

  • made from mesh and polyester for breathability and cooling
  • ergonomically designed armholes
  • more affordable

Cons

  • may not provide enough cooling for some people
  • cooling fabric is only sewn into the sides and top of the garment back

Best lightweight cooling vest

TechNiche International Ultra Evaporative Cooling Sport Vest

Price: $-$$

Details: Among the least expensive options, this lightweight pullover vest can provide 5 to 10 hours of cooling relief per soaking. This vest absorbs sweat and releases the moisture slowly through evaporation. Evaporative vests may be best for low-humidity climates.

This vest is specifically designed for runners, cyclists, and motocross riders. It’s a great option for those with a more active lifestyle. It comes in a variety of colors and sizes, is customizable, and can be machine washed.

Pros

  • affordable
  • machine washable
  • lightweight

Cons

  • evaporative vest may not be appropriate for all climates

Best evaporative cooling vest

Ergodyne Chill-Its 6667 Evaporative Cooling Vest

Price: $

Details: This evaporative cooling vest works by using evaporation to cool down the body. For it to work, you must first soak the vest in cold water. Embedded polymers in the fabric soak up many times their weight in water. The cold water is then slowly released via evaporation.

This super-lightweight cooling vest comes in lime green and gray. You don’t need any cooling packs or heavy accessories. After soaking in cold water for 2 to 5 minutes, its cooling power lasts up to 4 hours.

With mesh side panels designed to provide breathability and a water-repellent inner liner, this vest can be worn over your shirt. Just wash it by hand and use it again and again.

Pros

  • lightweight
  • does not require refrigeration
  • cooling lasts many hours

Cons

  • hand-wash only
  • comes with a Proposition 65 warning
  • not available in small sizes

When you’re really feeling the heat, you might want to add a few accessories to assist your cooling vest. Other times, you may only need a quick cooldown. Either way, there are lots of cooling products to choose from. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Alfamo Cooling Towel

Price: $

Details: This cooling towel comes in four sizes. It can work as a neck wrap, bandana, or in any creative way you like. Because it’s so versatile, it’s a good value for the price. It chills fast and stays cool for up to 3 hours. This towel is available in nearly 20 different colors.

Pros

  • stays cool for up to 3 hours
  • chills fast
  • transportable

Cons

  • users say the small towel is too small to provide much cooling

TechNiche HyperKewl 6536 Evaporative Cooling Skull Cap

Price: $

Details: Give this cap a quick tie in the back and you should be all set for 5 to 10 hours of cooling action. Mesh construction provides a nice airflow and it’s sturdy enough for everyday use. One size fits all, and this cap comes in a variety of colors and patterns.

Pros

  • provides 5-10 hours of cooling
  • durable
  • one size fits all

Cons

  • some users mention receiving the wrong color

Mission Enduracool Cooling Wristbands

Price: $

Details: According to the company, just wet these wristbands and they stay cool for hours. One size fits most people and they’re machine washable. They’re a simple and convenient option.

Pros

  • easy to use
  • one size fits most wrists
  • provides cooling for many hours

Cons

  • some users complain about shoddy workmanship and seams that open quickly

Ergodyne Chill-Its 6700CT Evaporative Cooling Bandana with Tie Closure

Price: $

Details: One of the quickest ways to cut the heat is with a cooling bandana. Just position it around your neck for immediate relief that can last up to 4 hours. This one comes in a variety of styles and they’re easy to wash and reuse.

Pros

  • cools for up to 4 hours
  • durable
  • easy to use

Cons

  • users say the bandana knot can be hard to undo

Regardless of what type of vest you choose, make sure it fits you properly around the torso. A vest that’s too loose-fitting may not give you the desired effect.

Other features to consider include:

  • how long it’ll keep you cool
  • what’s involved in cooling the vest
  • how much it weighs
  • how it needs to be washed
  • whether it’s for passive or active pursuits
  • whether it can be worn over or under clothing
  • attractiveness
  • the price point for its intended use

Beat the heat

  • Wear lightweight, breathable fabrics.
  • Crank up the air conditioner or place fans for a cross breeze.
  • Enjoy an icy beverage and keep a supply of ice pops on hand.
  • Relax in a cool bath or shower.
  • Enjoy the outdoors during the coolest part of the day.

Why do people with MS need a cooling vest?

Heat sensitivity is common in MS. Cooling vests bring down core body temperature. This can reduce symptom flare-ups caused by heat.

How effective are cooling vests?

High quality cooling vests are highly effective at bringing down core temperature and cooling the body off. Variables such as body mass index, external temperature, and the clothes you’re wearing may all have an impact on effectiveness. You may have to experiment to find which one is best for you.

Are cooling vests safe?

Cooling vests are usually safe for most people to use. Check with your doctor to determine if they’re the right choice for you.

Are cooling vests covered by insurance?

Most insurance companies don’t cover cooling vests. However, there are exceptions. Some insurers may cover cooling vests for people who have a diagnosis such as MS. Check with your insurance company to determine if they will cover the cost of your vest.

How long does a cooling vest last?

Cooling vest cooling times vary, based on the product you buy and personal variables. You can expect your vest to provide cooling anywhere from 1-4 hours, on average.

Cooling vests aren’t usually covered by health insurance. Still, it never hurts to double-check with your insurance provider. If you have a flexible spending account (FSA), it’s a good idea to check if the program covers a cooling vest or cooling accessories. Some programs may also help offset the cost, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Military veterans may also qualify for a free Polar Products cooling vest through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The most important thing is to listen to your body and to know your limitations. MS and its symptoms can be successfully managed.

It also doesn’t hurt to be aware of techniques that can help you stay cool without your vest.