Gear Review: Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest
Dogs' biology makes them more susceptible to overheating and dehydration than human hikers, so even though things are cooling down across Washington, a hot fall day with no shade can be plenty hot enough to put some dogs in the danger zone. John Soltys and his dog Treen put the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Cooling Vest to the test, to see how it performed cooling hot dogs on the trail.
by John Soltys
My dog, Treen, my most faithful hiking companion. Like most hiking dogs, she will follow me anywhere and she'll push well beyond where she should. When hiking to the White Bluffs in Eastern Washington I could see her discomfort in the heat. On the way back to the trailhead, she frequently lay down in the tiniest bit of shade to escape the harsh sun and 80 degree temperature, even when we poured the last of our water on her back.
What she needed was a better way to stay cool.
Ruffwear's Swamp Cooler Cooling Vest ($55) works by reflecting the sun and taking advantage of the thermodynamics of evaporation. In other words, get the vest wet and as the water evaporates, it absorbs heat from the dog.
Hot and dry in Echo Basin
To test Ruffwear's claims, we (my six year old son, Treen, and myself) started in Echo Basin near Frenchman Coulee in July. It was 85 degrees when we left the car and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. In addition to seeing tiny lizards and climbers on the basalt rib, we spied a sand dune a mile away. After the fun we had on the White Bluffs, we made that our destination.
After 15 minutes walking through the scrub, Treen was hardly breathing heavily, indicating she wasn't heat stressed. My son and I, on the other hand, were sweating up a storm. The surface of the cooling vest was hot to the touch, but underneath it felt 15 degrees cooler. On the dunes, Treen was able to settle in to shallow pits we dug that allowed her to be off the hot sand.
(In order to confirm that the vest was really working, it seemed only appropriate to put it on my son. Needless to say, Ruffwear is missing the boat if they don't make a child version of this vest.)
Hot and humid in the Cascades
Our next test was near the crest of the Cascades. While the Echo Basin test was hot and dry, this time it was warm (75 degrees) and humid. The climb was steep, but a beautiful lake awaited. Treen immediately dove in, rewetting the vest. An hour from the trailhead, we were both pretty warm.
The temperature difference between the inside and outside of the vest wasn't as dramatic, but Treen was a little cooler. The humid air likely inhibited evaporation and limited the cooling provided by the vest.
Final results and tips for better performance
It takes about a quarter to a half liter of water to get the vest wet enough to be effective. If you're near water, it's definitely much easier to use that to rewet it. (It is supposed to be wrung out before wearing, though, so you'll have to take it off the dog.)
Pro tip: Wet it before you leave for the trailhead and throw it in a plastic bag. It'll stay damp enough and you won't have to leave an empty bottle in the car. Just don't forget it in the trunk.
Treen was definitely cooler using the Swamp Cooler than without. If she could, she'd ask to use it any time the weather was over 75 degrees, and especially in low humidity. She'd probably also ask for some warm weather booties and goggles, too, but that's a different story.