Monday, June 10, 2013

Arm Coolers for Summer Cycling: A Look at Rapha and DeFeet

DeFeet Armskins Ice
It is probably safe to say that most cyclists are not strangers to arm warmers. But what of their hot-weather cousins, the arm coolers? Those are a rarer beast. Worn with short sleeve jerseys, arm coolers are lightweight sleeves designed to protect from heat and sun. In intensely hot weather, wearing them is supposed to keep you cooler than cycling with bare arms or in a long sleeve jersey. So, do arm coolers work? Having tried the versions from DeFeet and Rapha, I believe they do. Here is more about them.

DeFeet Armskins Ice
Sun Protection: SPF 50 
Fabric: olefin/nylon/spandex blend
Country of Manufacture: USA
Price: $45

The DeFeet ArmSkins Ice are designed for both sun protection and abrasion protection. They are made of a rather thick, densely woven fabric that evokes medical compression wear. The texture has a striking silky sheen to it when new, though it subdues after some use. 

DeFeet Armskins Ice
The ArmSkins Ice come in two sizes: S/M and L/XL. I fit the former. Pulling these on for the first time, the fabric is so dense it feels almost reluctant to stretch. But once in place, having these on is comfortable and non-constricting. For me the length is sufficient to overlap with cycling gloves.

The ArmSkins are constructed as seamless tubes. To stay up, they use a roll-top design instead of elastic or silicone grippers. The roll tops work fairly well to keep the sleeves in place, though on long rides I do adjust them occasionally. Personally I like the roll-top: Unlike silicone grippers - it does not pinch, squeeze or chafe the skin on my upper arms, especially on long rides in hot weather. 

DeFeet Armskins Ice
Developed for temperatures over 80F and well into the 100s, the fabric of the ArmSkins Ice is described as being activated by air-flow, the "densely packed fiber molecules" causing "rapid heat exchange. If I understand correctly, the claim is that the material does not just protect the skin from outside heat, but actually sucks and expels heat from the body. According to DeFeet, the dense weave also offers abrasion protection in case of a fall or scrape - more so than a leather jacket. A technical discussion in this review describes how all of this works in greater detail. 

In use, the ArmSkins Ice feel cool to the touch, even in intense heat and sunshine. But moreover, once in a while I get the sensation of cold flashes along my arms. This happens in the absence of any breeze, but it does happen more when I ride fast, which probably means it is caused by increased air flow. To feel a chill on my arms in 90F heat and direct sun is quite something. I cannot comment on the abrasion protection, but the cooling properties of this garment are impressive. Wearing the DeFeet ArmSkins Ice feels like having an air conditioning system wrapped around my arms. 

Rapha Arm Screens
Sun Protection: SPF 50 
Fabric: polyester/elastane blend
Country of Manufacture: Turkey
Price: $45 

The Rapha Arm Screens are made of a stocking-thin fabric. They weigh next to nothing and, crumpled-up, will easily fit into the meagerest of jersey pockets. Pulling them on, the material hardly registers between the fingertips. 

Rapha Arm Screens
The Arm Screens are shaped, with bonded seams running along the inside of the arm and articulated elbows. Reflective logos sit just above the wrists. 

The sizing (XS-L) is similar to Rapha's arm warmers - which is to say, they run small. However, they are also very stretchy, so there is some leeway. I am a US woman's size 4 with arms of average thickness and below-average muscle tone. I can fit into the Small, but the Medium feels more comfortable - with no sausaging effects and with length to spare. For those unsure about their size, I would suggest erring on the larger side: The longer length will ensure there is no gap between the Screens and your cycling gloves. 

Rapha Arm Screens
The Screens stay up with the help of elasticised bands, which are as thin as the rest of the fabric. There is no silicone gripper and, compared to other designs, the hold is gentle - not pinching or squeezing the skin at the top. But the bands have worked well for me so far. For example, they kept the Arm Screens in place for over 15 hours straight on a recent long ride. The fabric feels delicate, though after some weeks of rough handling I have not snagged it yet. 

The "proprietary stretch Swiss fabric" used to make these is a polyester/elastane blend with "coldblack technology to keep the fabric cool against the skin." It has also been subjected to "anti-microbial/anti-bacterial treatment." Beyond this, Rapha does not elaborate. But whatever the technology is, it works. Wearing the Arm Screens pretty much feels like not wearing anything at all. I do not notice them on, other than that my arms feel cooler. Compared to riding bare-armed, I do not feel the heat or the burn of the sun's rays against my skin. Perspiration does not gather on any parts of my arms and removing these after a long ride, they are dry. The Rapha Arm Screens protect from sun and heat, while feeling weightless and comfortable on all-day rides. 

Rapha Arm Screens
Identical in price point and SPF rating, the arm coolers from DeFeet and Rapha offer different technologies to deal with intense summer weather. A benefit specific to the DeFeet ArmSkins ICE is their added abrasion protection. A benefit specific to the Rapha Arm Screens is their weightlessness. Perhaps an obvious caveat - but both tend to get dirty in use, so do not expect them to remain bright-white for long. 

Similar products worth checking out include Voler Sol SkinsPearl Izumi Sun Sleeves, Novara Sun SleevesSugoi Arm Coolers, Craft ProCool Compression Coolers and DeSoto Arm Coolers - though I have not tried any of these myself. 

50 comments:

  1. I just bought some REI-Novara arm sun protectors and have been quite happy with them. When I start to feel too hot, I squirt some water on them and it keeps the cold on the arms longer, and then (i would guess), the evaporation effect also cools.

    And they are only $20! we'll see how long they last though.

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    1. YES! This is the Trick. Once it gets above 90 degrees just go any water fountain and douse the sleeves with cold water until they are drenched. I do this to my pearl izumis and it gives me 30-45 minutes of pure coolness. I also have a oregon research long bill sun hat that I douse with water and it's literally like 40 minutes of air conditioning in 90 degree weather. It dries out in 45 minutes but just find another water fountain and do it again.

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  2. I mentioned these, of course, when you said long sleeves only.

    The DeFeets are terrible IMO.

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    1. You did. I'd tried a couple at that point, but didn't like the grippers. The grippers on these two don't bother me.

      What don't you like about the DeFeets - too thick and compressiony, or does the cooling effect not work?

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    2. Too thick, cooling effect is nada. They're more like light arm warmers. Arms get all sweaty. The purpose of coolers is to which the sweat out to allow for moisture evaporation. These allow it to condense inside.

      As I mentioned before, however, a effective pair like Craft plus DeFeets allow for striping one pair as the weather gets warmer. The inner one is basically a base layer for your arms.

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  3. What make are the jersey tops you and Pamela are wearing? They look good!

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  4. DeFeet, made in USA; Rapha, made in China.

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    1. Good point, I've included the countries of manufacture now. Though the Rapha coolers are made in Turkey, not China.

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    2. Turkey has always been a massive exporter of towelling and fine linens, some of the best is made there.There is a good chance the Defeet fabric is imported from Turkey and then cut and sewn in the US.

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  5. I use the Pearl Izumi sun sleeves. They're about half the price of the products you review. They do seem to cool, but I've wondered whether this might be a placebo effect. Mainly I wear them because I detest having to slather sunscreen on my arms all day. Now if they could only invent a sun-mask.

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    1. I am sorry to say that every Pearl Izumi product I've tried so far (shorts, jersey, tights, even gloves!) has given me a rash. I don't know whether it's the fabrics or the dyes they use, and admittedly I have somewhat ridiculously sensitive skin that is rash/allergy prone - but at some point I just decided to stop risking it. That said, I am glad others are able to enjoy their well-priced product and I did provide a link to it in this review.

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    2. They have face masks. try amazon. Search Coolibar UPF 50+ Face Sun Shield and Outdoor Research Sun Runner Sun Hat

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  6. As someone that hates using sunscreen (for both environmental reasons and just plain hating rubbing cream on my body), I'm not sure I will ever understand arm coolers or warmers. I just wear long sleeve jerseys of varying thicknesses to match the weather. I much prefer having one "integrated" piece rather then deal with separated sleeves. So long as I'm moving, the a summer-weight long-sleeve jersey never feels too hot either. I tend to also still wear a 100% wool baselayer shirt until it gets above 90. If it's a long day out, I wear white silk long underwear too, up to 90f still.

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    1. Summer rides door to door I happily use an inexpensive Patagonia spf long sleeve shirt.

      But I can certainly see using these if I am riding to a destination where I might want to wear a nice short sleeve short without stanky sun screen all over my arms.

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    2. Patagonia makes a shirt that is "inexpensive"?

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    3. I am not especially a fan of Patagonia, but the clearance racks of the local REI have their last season stuff on huge clearance regularly.

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  7. Protecting the skin is good, mine has certainly become more sensitive to sun and heat as I've aged. But, like everything bicycle/performance specific, the price turns me away. I buy spf long sleeve shirts for less money which also work to stay cool and comfortable on the bike when touring or commuting.

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  8. So a few questions from a total novice on this topic...
    1) Are there leg coolers as well? If not, why not?
    2) What about for the head - when I overheat the first thing I want do is squirt the water bottle on my head. Would this material help with that too?

    Guess what I am getting at is: Is there a particular reason that these products only focus on cooling the arms?

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    1. 1) yes.
      2) Head gear exists for this - same idea.

      Ime the arms transpire body/torso heat less so than legs. Arms are more horizontal, catching more sun/longer.

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    2. There are leg coolers, though they are even more rare than the arm coolers!

      The head... On a roadbike, I just wear my white, well-ventilated helmet and a white cotton cycling cap. Being cotton, the cap becomes soaked with sweat right away in the heat, no need for water! While disgusting, this works quite well in hot conditions. Essentially, you now have a nice wet rag against your head, cooling you off, with the labyrinthine helmet vents providing air flow and additional sun protection...

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    3. The cotton cycling cap is an abomination, synthetic much better for me.

      Triathletes and roadies in the desert SW live in their cooling gear.

      I'd wear the leg coolers and a camelback if there.

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    4. Tilley makes a ventilated cap (intended for fishing) with a long bill and nap such as you would find on a French Legionaire.

      It is well made, light weight, comfortable and keeps the head cool while blocking a lot of sun.

      Most helmets will not fit over it though.

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    5. I've got the De Soto leg coolers and they work well, but they provide a little less sun protection than the arm sleeves (less tightly knit). Also, they're held up by a bit of elastic at the top, which tends to stretch and slip as you ride. But I still notice the difference when I'm riding, say, up the north shore along the water, we're you're very exposed. I've also got a cap with flaps that cover the back of my neck.

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  9. Interesting, I do not know if I would like something tube like on my arms like that. Living in the pacific northwest, warm weather is so fleeting. Even in summer I tend to ride with a long sleeved top on generally a lightweight merino layer as I get cold easily. Last summer was particularly nice and did manage to ride without the extra layer, but was not doing any long rides either. If I get too warm, I take the long sleeved layer off, but generally it goes back on soon enough. Back in the hot summers of yore, I was still too young to be into sensible gear for riding, but I do recall wearing long sleeved light indian cotton gauzy tops to keep the sun off my arms as I most certainly did go off riding in hot prairie heat for hours.
    I guess I automatically recoil at something too tight on my arms and am very fussy about texture. What about the width? Athletic gear for women often forgets that women have muscles too and I have had trouble getting icebreaker sleeves on. I imagine rapha would have that covered(oh no a pun!) It is good to know that you felt they worked and would be welcome relief on long hot rides.

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    1. Rapha women's runs tight in the sleeves in my experience. Fits women like Pamela (model in 2nd set of pictures) perfectly, but mere mortals like me not so much.

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  10. My wife and I have been using the Voler SolSkins all last year (and a few times this season)-- we really like them. the material is medium-weight and high tech looking (not exactly sure what i mean by that). They use smooth elasto-grippers, which we both find comfortable. They keep the sleeves in perfect position.

    The SolSkins also feel cool even on broiling days. The sweat wicks and evaporates thru them, creating a cooling effect. Dribble water on them (or plunk them in a stream) and it's super-refreshing. Eliminates the need to slather sunscreen too!

    Highly recommend!

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  11. I have Sugoi arm and leg coolers and love them. The are paper thin, and work as advertised. They won't stay pure white for long, so expect stains to show up eventually, but they are comfortable, and cut down on sunscreen use (and associated skin problems - sunscreen makes my skin break out) effectively. They are held up by elastic, but do not pinch or bind.

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  12. What about a long loose-fitting white cotton gown, like they wear in the desert?

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    1. I wear flowing gauzy garments when riding an upright bike for transportation, but it doesn't work for me when cycling fast on a roadbike for many miles.

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    2. I was thinking of a kind of heat-poncho. It might take a while to catch on with sporty riders. It would have to be given a catchy name, like "The Ghost."

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  13. I have to have arm coolers in Florida. Can't ride without them in the summer. Thanks for the review. I've been wearing some I found online but they aren't holding up very well. In the South I tend to want looser and lighter coolers than dense fabrics. I also wear seersucker shirts. They work great in summer.

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  14. Arm coolers?! Crazy talk. No way will I give up my sweet tan!

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    1. There is a high incidence of skin cancer in Florida, where I live. I'm into arm coolers for the comfort, as well as the protection. Its really hot here.

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  15. This article is right on time as I've been looking for something like this to protect my skin without having to use sun screen all of the time. I'm considering the REI and Pearl Izumi brands because they both have a UPF rating which is supposed to protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. Did either of the tested brands offer the UPF rating? Did you find anything to suggest how many washings or sun exposure hours these are good for?

    Thanks for article.

    Bill

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  16. Voler SolSkins have a UPF rating of 50+. I bought them last year for $40, but the Voler website has them on sale for $27. Go for it!

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  17. I have no need to cover my arms in the sun, but I'm intrigued by the cooling technology. Do they make entire jerseys out of this sort of stuff? I could use something like that here, where the temps are pushing 100F. Meanwhile, in sub 10* humidity, cotton, loose and woven or snugger and knit, does quite well as long as you are moving.

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    1. DeFeet makes a base layer ("UnD Ice") out of the same fabric as the ArmSkins Ice. I have not tired it.

      Rapha's men's Pro Team jersey is made of the same fabric as the Arm Screens. I have this jersey in white (my summer club jersey). It works for me.

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  18. I, too, don't need my arms cooled. But yesterday was my first hilly ride this year in heat -- 95 degrees in Austin. I REALLY wanted to take my helmet off. I didn't. Because I am a big believer in helmets... but I would love something that keeps the head cooled...

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    1. Funny. I am not a helmet believer, but usually wear one when roadcycling. On hot summer days, my head feels cooler in my cycling cap + road helmet than bareheaded.

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  19. "Do they make entire jerseys out of this sort of stuff?"


    --


    Good question! Why have special cooling fabric on your arms, while much larger areas of your body are covered with "regular" jersey fabric? Is the arm cooler fabric really more effective than lightweight jersey material (aside from being white)?

    I seldom wear long sleeve jerseys when it's warmer than mid-60s, so I might give that a try. I doubt, however, that this will be the product to nudge me over the line to pay the "Rapha premium".

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  20. "I REALLY wanted to take my helmet off. I didn't. Because I am a big believer in helmets... but I would love something that keeps the head cooled..."


    --


    I wear HeadSweats and similar synthetic knit caps/head wraps under helmets year round; in the winter, they go over my ears (behind the ears in the summer). With a shaved head, they take the place of sunscreen. I prefer the type with an absorbent and wicking sweat band, to keep sweat out of my eyes. Some have a flap that shades the neck as well.

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  21. High latitude dwellers need to use every opportunity they have to get their vitamin D. You'll get more cancer and more disease from a deficiency than you'll ever get from too much sun.

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  22. Regarding helmets, old Land-Rovers in Safari spec had a second skin on outside of the roof to keep the sun off and allow air to circulate between the skins. I prevented the inside getting too hot.

    I would wonder if a light coloured helmet with plenty of space between the shell and your head would have a similar effect.

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    1. Yes ime. An extra helmet pad in three front works wonders for airflow.

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  23. I just received my new DeFeet armskins in the mail. I'll give them a try soon.

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  24. Interesting that these are made from synthetic/cotton type materials. Surely if they were made from natural silk or even a silk blend (to make them elastic) it would give you one pair of armlets which kept you warm in winter and cool in summer, not to mention silk being extremely thin and light.

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  25. Jeffrey LangloisJune 14, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    I've been a cyclist for many years in Florida and I'm glad to see fabrics like these being developed. I ride for cardio strength as I have a mitral valve prolapse and working that muscle is very important. One of the biggest problems is that a lack of efficiency of my heart means my cooling system is less effective than others. This makes me prone to sweat much sooner than others. As I dive into this world of "air-condition fabrics," is there any company that sends a sample piece to test before making a larger purchase?

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  26. I wish you would try the new Craft sleeves. They are marketed as 6 degrees cooler.

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