The British summer is a cruel mistress. It’s either dank, grey and raining, or so hot you practically melt on the way to work. An umbrella takes care of the former, but it’s difficult to stay cool in the heat.
When a fan just doesn’t cut it, or simply isn’t practical, here are some of the best gadgets to keep the sweat at bay during work, rest and play.
Evaporative cooling systems have been around for a while, and are a decent alternative to air conditioning simply because they don’t need any special installation or pipes to get rid of the heat. The downside is that they only make a small dent in the temperature.
The Evapolar evaLight is the most effective evaporative cooling system I’ve used, managing to take the temperature down by as much as 6C even in the humid heat of a very sweaty London. That meant it was outputting air at around 23C in 28C heat, which doesn’t sound all that cool, but was enough to take the edge off and stop me sweating.
It’s a small personal device that has to be relatively near to you to be able to feel it, but at lower levels it’s really quite quiet. Using it is easy: fill the tank with water and plug it in. A rotary bezel around the display changes the speed of the fan and while the screen shows the temperatures and physically depresses to change settings such as the colour of the lights or turn them off entirely for a night mode.
It’ll work using almost any 2A USB power adapter (one is included in the box), and even some portable battery packs so you can take it with you. It takes around 750ml of water at a time and lasts around four to five hours before needing a top-up. Careful trying to carry it with water in it though, as the tank is not sealed and spills out of the top pretty easily.
Verdict: the next best thing to a personal air conditioning
Price: from €145
Another take on the non-air-con cooling system is the Geizeer, which uses a large PC fan to blow air onto an ice pack to cool a small area around it.
The small wooden box has a mesh of holes in the top and cuts in the side to let the air out and is quite an attractive little thing. The bottom half contains a rechargeable battery and space for the ice pack. The top half, which is held on by magnets, contains a fan. Line up the dots on the outside and the fan starts. There’s a small switch on the fan to vary the speed, from practically inaudible to more powerful but with more noise.
It’s dubbed a personal cooler, and that’s because you have to sit really quite close to it to feel any effect. The air being projected out of the four sides of the device is a little cooler with the ice pack in place than without, and enough to take the edge off the hottest of days if huddled around it, even it if isn’t anywhere near as effective as the Evapolar.
It works best when sitting at a desk, and looks like a piece of furniture rather than a fan. In fact, the only giveaway is the bright blue ice pack. It’s a shame it’s not coloured black instead.
Verdict: portable and looks like a piece of furniture, but very small area of effect
Techniche evaporative cooling vests and jackets
Evaporative cooling isn’t limited to a desktop fan, but can also be incredibly effective built into clothing. Using nothing more than the power of water, the Techniche Kewlshirt keeps you cool even in the hottest of days.
It works as you might expect. Soak the vest in water and the special fabric acts like a sponge. The inside of the vest is waterproof to keep you dry, while air passing over the jacket causes the water to slowly evaporate cooling the surface of the jacket and you within it.
It’s really quite effective. But you don’t have to take my word for it – the company supplies cooling vests to some of the top F1 drivers for use in hot climates. It needs some airflow to really work, which means it’s not quite as effective on a stuffy train, but it’s still cooler than not wearing one.
While it’s brilliant for running, there are a few downsides if you were strap one on for your commute. You look a little foolish in what’s essentially a tank top, and the water-filled patches on the outside of the jacket will soak anything that comes into contact with them, which means you can’t wear a bag or touch anything on your chest or back, although it still works fine with a sports jersey over the top of it.
On the hottest commutes, though, I think it’s probably worth wearing to not be a sweaty mess, and there are a variety of different vests and jackets by Techniche using the same system, including ones designed for cycling and general purpose jackets.
Verdict: stay cool under the pressure of exercise, but difficult to pull off for anything else
Techniche evaporative cooling wrist wraps
If you don’t think you could pull off a full evaporative jacket, or it’s simply not practical, the next best thing is a set of cooling wrist wraps.
They look like big sweat bands, but are made of the same material as the evaporative jacket. Soak them in water for two minutes, squeeze out the excess and strap them on. They cool your wrists and therefore the blood pumping through them, creating something akin to an internal cooling system.
With enough airflow they’re downright chilly sitting there on your wrists and are better than nothing, even on a packed London tube train. The brilliant little things were cooling enough to stop me sweating profusely walking home in 30C heat, but they have similar downsides to the jacket: anything that touches them instantly gets wet, but after one trip and a wet trouser leg I soon learned to not soak things.
They’ll last about three hours on the hottest of days between water top-ups, but take forever to fully dry, so you’ll need somewhere to store or hang them up when you get wherever you’re going.
Verdict: gets you through the hottest commutes and handy for runs
Techniche Cool Towel Pro
If you’re looking for something to cool you during a workout or activity, there’s also an evaporative towel, which works slightly differently.
Stiff as cardboard when dry, the towel soaks up water and then displaces it onto your skin as you towel down. That way your skin has a fresh layer of cool water that evaporates and cools you down. It’s not as practical as a vest or wrist bands, but is ideal for cooling off quickly mid-workout.
Verdict: Good for workouts, not much more than that
If evaporative cooling doesn’t cut the heat, the Tie Chilly might help out and without making anything it touches wet. The super-simple neck sash comes in a range of colours and is held together with magnets at one end.
The tie comes with a reusable ice pack, which you simply soak in water then stick in the freezer. Slip the frozen strip in the zippered mesh pocket and put the tie on to directly chill your neck. It’s definitely enough to take the edge off the heat to work, but you might struggle to find a freezer to chill the reusable icepack at work.
You will also probably look a little silly with what looks like a small scarf around your neck in the height of summer, but it’s better than sweating on a packed train.
Verdict: Great for some instant cooling, but only if you’ve got a freezer handy
Makita Fan Jacket
Price: from £125 (battery holder £16; battery £44)
For those times that you really need to wear a jacket in 30C heat, or you’ve just always wanted a crazy jacket with an internal cooling system, the Makita Fan Jacket is the garment for you.
A softshell jacket with pockets in all the right places, the garment looks pretty normal from the front. Turn around and you will find a twin-fan pack zipped into the small of the back, there to blow a constant stream of air into and around the jacket to keep you cool.
It is powered by one of Makita’s power tool batteries, which lasts for ages, and does what it says on the tin, inflating the jacket a bit like the Michelin man and keeping you cool.
It makes a racket, the battery weighs quite a lot and you certainly look a bit odd (I would not wear it on the London tube – the fan and battery pack could possibly raise suspicions), but needs must for beating the heat.
Verdict: ludicrous, but works