Keep Your Family Warmer with High-Tech Clothing

Perhaps you've heard about hats, coats, scarves, and gloves imbued with almost science fiction tech designed to keep you warm. With temperatures dropping, you might be tempted to turn to this type of clothing for keeping your family toastier. With some garments, you can toss them into the microwave to warm them up, whereas other products rely on battery-powered heaters. Or even thermal reflective technology.

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You and your kids might get relief from the bitter winter cold with some of these products, but don't expect miracles. Some products are still having growing pains, and users' experiences vary. Yet nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? If you'd like to explore these approaches to staying warm, here are the basics of what you need to know.

Battery-Powered Heated Gloves and Socks

Shopping for the right battery-powered gloves and socks can be challenging because you'll find so many products, manufacturers, and technologies in these two categories. They're not exactly inexpensive, either, gloves costing anywhere from $60 to $400 and socks clocking in from $15 to $300.

Most battery-operated gloves and socks use simple metal wires to deliver heat to various parts of your body, such as your fingers or the ball of your foot. Some pricier models rely on carbon or metal fibers woven into the fabric for more uniform heat distribution.

When it comes to gloves, you'll tend to find fibers within an inner fabric lining for ski gloves, hunting gloves, or work gloves. Some gloves are even thin enough to let you use a phone without taking them off, or to work as an warming liner for your own bulkier gloves.

Verseo's ThermaGloves, currently priced at about $120, is one example of these thinner gloves.

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Among gloves and socks based on metal wiring, multi-stranded steel wires are less prone to breakage than copper wires. The multi-stranded wires also provided better heat retention because they are insulated with Teflon.

Batteries tend to last anywhere from a few hours to several days before needing to be swapped out or replaced, but that highlights a problem with this tech: Your gloves now take batteries. Typically, the batteries fit inside compartments at the tops of the skis and gloves. And depending on the gloves, batteries might be alkalines, rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH), or even lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries.

Generally speaking, akalines can only heat a small area. NiMH batteries work better over a larger area, but don't last as long. Gloves powered by lithium ion batteries, such as those from Gerbing's Heated Clothing typically work best, spreading a lot of heat over a wide area, and with good battery life.

Other cool features to look for include LED indicator lights and multiple power settings.

Battery-operated gloves and socks for children are virtually impossible to find, although older kids can sometimes wear adult sizes.

Thermal Reflective Hats, Gloves, Jackets, and More

Inspired by older thermal reflective blankets, thermal reflective winter clothing uses an inner layer of cloth containing small dots of silver to reflect back some of your body heat to you. Columbia Sportswear, a company that dominates this particular space, claims that its version of thermal reflective technology, OmniHeat, produces an "average of 20 percent more warmth."

Columbia offers a lineup of Thermarator hats, gloves, headrings, and neck gaiters based on OmniHeat. The hats and globes are available in men's, women's, and youth sizes, whereas the headrings and neck gaiters are one-size-fits-all.

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Many of Columbia's jackets, coats and snowpants combine this thermal reflective inner layer with a water resistant OmniShield shell (and sometimes with another layer, such as down). These, too, are available in men's, women's, and youth sizes. Jackets and coats are priced between about $100 and $250, and snowpants at $110. The thermal reflective tech also shows up in Columbia's boots for men and women, priced at around $120.

Some other manufacturers have also played in thermal reflective space, including Nike.

Microwaveable Heat-Retaining Scarves and Wraps

Available in various shapes and sizes, tech-enabled scarves and wraps are heatable in any microwave oven. The scarves can either swaddle you with warmth while you're out walking or hiking, or soothe a sore neck or shoulder while you're lounging around the house. Pricing ranges from around $15 to $35.

Actually, it's the oven that supplies the tech here. The scarves come with inserts filled with rice, wheat or other grains to retain the heat picked up in the microwave. Love it or not, the inserts often also include substances like ginger, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and cloves to add some aromatherapy (though in some cases the scent might be barely detectable).

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If you're going out to work, or to visit neighbors, keep in mind that heat is usually held in for only about an hour, so you won't get any extra warmth on the way home (unless your office is outfitted with a microwave in the kitchen, or your neighbors doesn't mind if you use their microwave).

Heat from the microwave is retained only in the inserts, generally placed in the neck area. Yet some products also come with microwaveable hand warmers (which you can stuff into the pockets of the shawl), or with matching microwaveable slippers. Some products can also work as cold packs after being placed in the freezer.

Make sure to follow manufacturers' instructions about how to heat (and/or cool) a scarf. You certainly don't want to singe your daughter's new scarf when she's just about to head out to a friend's place!