Ruffwear is an outdoor dog gear brand based in Bend, Oregon, founded in 1994. The company is dedicated to creating gear for outdoor adventures and is guided by performance, adventure, and sustainability principles. They are committed to conducting business to maximize the good they can do in the world while being conscious of their impact on the planet.
Why would a dog need help cooling down?
Some would argue that wolves or hunting/guarding/herding dogs never needed a cooling vest or a cooling mat, and they were all fine, so all these products are just the result of the “dog mom culture.” But let’s pause for a moment and consider the changes in our dogs’ lives.
Once upon a time, dogs lived outside 24/7, so they had weeks/months to get used to the weather warming up at the beginning of the season. These days, family pets spend most of their time in an airconditioned or at least a somewhat temperature-controlled environment, making it much harder for them to handle the heat when they go out.
Historically, dogs napped during peak heat in the shade, avoiding unnecessary exercise on hot days. These days, however, we might have to take the dogs for a quick walk during our lunch break, and we take them with us for vacation, kayaking, etc. There are also service dogs and working dogs who need to work even when it’s hot.
There are also many widely different breeds with different needs and limitations nowadays. Originally dogs were bred for practical reasons, but as we all know, in the modern ages, most breeds were more bred for looks which took them far from those original working dogs/wolves.
Dogs are involved in our lives in very different ways than they used to, and many of them need help adjusting to the situations we put them in.
Does that mean all dogs need a cooling vest/cooling mat or another cooling product? Absolutely not, but learning about these products and knowing when and how to use them can save dogs’ lives.
Do Cooling Vests Really Work for Dogs? How?
Evaporation-based cooling vests work by creating a big surface for evaporation. They utilize the same process when humans sweat to cool down because when the water changes from liquid to a gaseous state, it pulls energy from its surroundings, creating a small temperature drop.
You could achieve the same effect if you soak the dog before heading out for a walk, but wet fur can cause rubbing and hot spots on long-haired, double-coated dogs, while short/thin-haired dogs dry too fast for this to be effective over a longer period. I always carry plenty of water when hiking, but it can be hard to pour it on a double-coated dog effectively. Most of the water sprayed on the coat usually just repels, and half an hour later, the dog is dry again. This makes using water directly on the dog very ineffective and unrealistic if you need to carry all that extra water.
A cooling vest makes applying water much easier and more effective while it provides a longer-lasting cooling effect.
However, the effectiveness of the evaporation process will depend on humidity levels. On a humid day, the evaporation will be very slow or even non-existent, so instead of cooling the dog with the vest, they just have an extra layer warming them. On the other hand, if the air is dry and there is a strong wind, the evaporation process will be speedy, and the cooling vest might overcool the dog first and then stop working soon after.
If you want to read more about the pros and cons of the different cooling products, check out our article, discussing many options!
About the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest
The Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest has a three-layer construction that leverages evaporative cooling to regulate the dog’s body temperature. Its light-colored top layer also helps by limiting exposure to the sun, that’s especially helpful for dark-colored dogs. The vest underwent a recent upgrade when Ruffwear improved its abrasion resistance and water absorption to make it more effective and durable.
It covers a much bigger surface than their Swamp Cooler Harness, featuring the same materials and cooling technology, but the vest is a looser, relaxed fit on purpose, so it can be worn over harnesses utilizing the leash attachment point on the back. The big cut for the legs ensures that it doesn’t restrict movement even though it covers the shoulders and most of the chest area for effective cooling.
Its main features:
- A tri-layer material:
- the exterior polyester mesh layer deflects intense sunlight and heat while providing an optimal surface for effective evaporation
- the middle Polyester non-woven felt layer acts as a moisture reservoir, ensuring consistent cooling
- the inner dry-weave polyester mesh lining keeps the dog cool and the fur dry, contributing to a comfortable experience.
- Enhanced Visibility: Reflective trim for low-light conditions.
- Leash opening on the back
- Easy On/Off: The vest has a big neck opening and hidden ITW Nexus Waveloc side-release plastic buckles on adjustable straps around the chest.
Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest Review
Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest is a well-made, light cooling vest for dogs with a hard time with heat. Its intentionally loose design makes it easy to fit on dogs with different body shapes and even use it over long pulling harnesses.
It provides extensive coverage to protect the dog from the radiating heat and sunshine and to optimize the cooling effect, but it is still a light, non-restrictive mesh vest, so even gear-shy dogs get used to it easily.
As you see in the photos, this is not a tight-fitting vest and is a bit loose around Zulu’s neck, but it stayed in place well and she didn’t mind wearing it at all.
The mesh material makes it easy to pour water over it since it soaks it right in without any repelling effect. The period of cooling highly depends on the heat, wind, usage, humidity, etc., but it did stay wet for an extensive time (usually 2-6 hours) in our area.
I usually applied the water while laying it on the ground to distribute it evenly, then shook off the excess water/let it hang for a few minutes, and then put it on Zulu to avoid her being damp under the vest over an extensive time. It stayed wet for long hours without soaking the dog.
When checking the Swamp Cooler Vest with a thermal camera, it is easy to see how the cool and reflective material pops against the environment even though this wasn’t a particularly hot day.
The bigger question is always what happens under the cooling vest.
The below thermal image was taken a few minutes after Zu wore the vest for merely 5 minutes.
While the vest creates a cool environment, the relaxed design also leaves room for airflow under the vest, making the heat cam photo a bit less dynamic than with snugly fitting cooling gear where you can see the material’s imprint after use. You can see where the vest stood out a bit on Zulu’s shoulder and waist - not cooling the fur as much.
It is hard to determine how well a cooling product works objectively, but my feeling is that even though the vest is not pushing against the fur for a more dramatic cooling effect, it does provide a cool area under its entire surface. Also, having airflow under a large vest like this seems to be a good idea to help with drying and potential moisture build-up, which is less of a concern with a harness that covers a lot less of the dog.
The Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest is a well-crafted cooling solution for dogs struggling with heat. Its loose design ensures easy fitting for various body shapes and compatibility with harnesses. The outer mesh material seems durable and we haven’t had any quality issues with it but it is not designed for running through dense undergrowth.
This light, non-restrictive mesh vest delivers ample coverage to shield dogs from heat and sunshine while optimizing the evaporative cooling process. The vest’s mesh material readily absorbs water and maintains an extended cooling effect without making gear-shy dogs uncomfortable.
Where to buy
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Many of you asked for the dog’s measurements in reviews to better understand the different products’ fit, so I’m sharing Zulu’s below for reference.
Shoulder height: 19 inches (50 cm)
Weight: 29 pounds (13 kg)
Widest chest circumference: 24 inches (60 cm)
Neck circumference for collars: 13 inches (33 cm)
Back lengths: 17 inches (44 cm)