Summer is a wonderful season for adventuring with your dog and enjoying the sunshine and warmth. The heat, however, means there is a greater risk for your dog to overheat and become at risk for heat stroke. While being active in warmer weather, it is important to take the necessary steps to protect both you and your dog. Ensuring your dog has enough water to remain hydrated is very important and using a product like a cooling vest can be very helpful.
We were given the opportunity to test Ruffwear’s Swamp Cooler in a size small. Farley was right on the cusp for sizing as she has a chest girth of 27.5” so we opted to size down as a cooling vest performs better when it fits snuggly against your dog’s body. The size small was the perfect fit, it adjusted to fit snuggly without being too tight for comfort or movement during our adventures. The cooling vest was tested on a hikes, walks, dog park outings and agility trials for one month. We tested the cooling vest in temperatures ranging from 27 degrees Celsius to 32 degrees Celsius (80F – 90F).
The Swamp Cooler is designed to provide protection from the sun and cooling through evaporative cooling. Evaporative cooling can be described as that cool feeling you get when the fresh air hits your skin after you get out of a lake or a pool. As the water evaporates, a cooling effect is sent to the dogs body through the vest. The downside to evaporative cooling is that it doesn’t function as well in humid environments. This is because the water isn’t evaporating as quickly or in very high humidity the water doesn’t evaporate at all. Ruffwear has put their cooling gear to the test using FLIR thermal technology and found that areas covered by the cooling gear went from a temperature of 106F to 74.3F – click here to see the images from their test.
The Swamp Cooler is currently offered in one colour, graphite grey, and is available in six different sizes providing options for dogs with girths between 13”-42”. The Swamp Cooler consists of three layers: the first to reflect the heat and facilitate evaporation, the second to store water for evaporation, and the third layer transfers the cooling effect to the dog. This means the jacket is thicker than other jackets we’ve tried but it is still quite light for its size.
The first time we took the vest on a hike I put it on Farley without wetting it first. When it was on her I poured about 1.5 liters of water onto the cooling vest and it wasn’t quite enough to soak through to the bottom layer. Even though the vest is a size small, it provides full body coverage for a 50 pound lab so it isn’t as small as some of the other vests on the market. The bottom remained completely dry so I removed the vest and poured water underneath it to make sure Farley was getting the full cooling effect. After our hike we decided to explore other ways to wet the vest in a more effective manner. If you start your hike near a lake or a stream you can fully submerge the vest making the initial process of wetting it more effective. We were able to submerge the vest into a tub of water at an agility trial and this made a noticeable difference in the efficiency of the vest. Our fellow Explorer Redford, who reviewed the Jet Stream, used a Nalgene bottle to wet their cooling vest and found it to be very effective. If you aren’t able to fully submerge the vest before you use it you may find that you’re using a lot more water to get the coat as damp as it needs to be.
Once the vest was sufficiently wet, Farley did stop panting after 5 minutes even though we were in direct mid-day sun and it was a fairly warm day. I placed my hand between the vest and Farley’s back, you could feel the cooler temperature, but could also feel the vest starting to warm up due to the sun. The vest remained wet for approximately 45 minutes in direct sunlight. When the vest was used in hot temperatures but not under direct sunlight, it stayed damp for over five hours. For us the vest worked well once fully wet and Farley did begin to run over and slip her head into the vest without prompting during hot days.
The vest is designed to easily slip over the head and buckle on each side under the chest. This allows the vest to be adjusted to fit both small and large chested dogs. There is a hole on the back of the vest for leash attachment to a harness, although putting a harness underneath the vest would reduce the amount of direct coverage that the cooling vest provides. Our recommendation would be to put your harness over top of the cooling vest instead. There is also an attachment point for Ruffwear’s Beacon Light which is a neat function but not useful for us as we primarily use the vest during daylight hours.
The Swamp Cooler has held up to all of our adventures without issue. It has been brushed up against scree and tree branches and showed no sign of wear or tear. We did notice a foul smell to the vest after use despite leaving it to air dry prior to storing. Running it through the washer did eliminated the smell and the vest showed no signed of wear. Although the cooling vest is thicker than other brands, this may assist in the durability and longevity of use. The mesh-like outer layer was more tightly woven and higher quality material than other vests on the market, helping prevent daily wear and tear.
Overall the Swamp Cooler appeared to help cool Farley’s body after approximately five minutes and lasted for close to forty-five minutes on a hot sunny day. We are lucky to have a lot of water sources on our adventures so we were able to easily find an adequate amount of water to soak the three layers enough to provide a cooling effect. We will likely use the Swamp Cooler in locations where we have access to running water or a water source. If required to use my own water, I would consider another option for Farley.
The Swamp Cooler would be best for: active dogs who need a durable product, dogs who get too hot and would benefit from full body coverage, dogs with access to a lake/river/stream/tub to dunk the vest in or have an adequate supply of water with them
The Swamp Cooler may not be ideal for: those with limited water access, dogs who live in high humidity environments
Farley’s measurements: Girth 27.5″ / Back Length 20″ / Weight 50 lbs
Swamp Cooler size: Small
Review by: Dogs That Hike Explorer @farleythelabrador