No matter how tough you are, Richard Negus believes Harkila's new electric jacket should be part of every sporting wardrobe
Just down the road from me lies the pretty little village of Mendlesham. It has a pub, a school and a few streets of ancient timber-framed houses, so commonplace in my part of Suffolk. Not a lot goes on in Mendlesham.
However in 1943, the peaceful idyll was transformed into a vibrant hotbed of gum-chewing and jiving, ‘oversexed and over here’ young American warriors. The pilots and aircrew of the USAAF’s 34th Bombardment group flew hundreds of sorties out of RAF Mendlesham. Each crew of 10 brave young men, flying in their thunderous B17 bombers, facing fearsome anti-aircraft fire and the ever-present threat of Luftwaffe attack.
To alleviate the dangers on the way to their target, pilots would fly their machines at the freezing limits of their planes’ altitude capabilities. Thus if the Nazi flak or pilots didn’t get them, frostbite was an ever-present threat. To remedy this the Americans developed an enormously bulky electric flying suit that the crew plugged into their aircraft’s power supply.
For any Gun who thinks themselves a good shot, I would like to challenge them to bag an angry Focke-Wulf travelling at 400mph, armed only with an unwieldy open-sighted .50 calibre machine gun. Then try this wearing a hybrid between a Michelin-man suit and an electric blanket.
Remarkably they did; we won the war and Mendlesham has gone back to its peace and quiet.
While electrically heated clothing is not a new thing, I am trialling the latest in such gear. Härkila Heat uses some very clever modern fabric technology. The V-necked waistcoat version appears at first glance to be nothing more than a sage green-and-black polyester gilet.
However, look at the lining and it shines silver — this is Thermo Poly Shield, which is lightweight and quick drying. In the back and lumbar region of the waistcoat lie some pads that produce heat and the Thermo Poly Shield reflects this around your torso. The pads themselves are invisible to touch and sight.
The waistcoat can be folded up and treated like any other item of clothing, including being put in a machine washing. It runs off a 10,000mAh power pack (not included) which, once charged, plugs into a little cable in the left-hand pocket. You obviously do have to remove the power pack before you pop the waistcoat into the washing machine.
To activate the system there are two options. First, you can simply press the button on the front left of the jacket. Press once and the button turns blue, warming the jacket up to 38ºC, press twice and the amber light indicates a 46ºC. Pressed three times and red light has you basking in 52ºC, which will keep you toasty inside. You can watch your fellow Guns as they turn blue at the nose and green at the gills in envy. The jacket can maintain that temperature for about seven hours at an outdoor temperature of 0ºC. To save energy, the heat membranes automatically go into standby mode once the jacket has reached the set temperature.
There is also an app for your mobile, which connects with the waistcoat via Bluetooth, enabling you to use your phone as a thermostat to set the jacket to the temperature you require.
Härkila makes a range of clothing for the field — indeed, the Danish company’s strapline ‘By hunters, for hunters’ is unambiguous. Its clothing is designed for those of us who rub our hands gleefully when Tomasz Schafernaker puts on that apologetic expression he favours when his forecast turns frosty.
Participating in British fieldsports guarantees that you will be both cold and wet more often than not. It is the moist element of our weather, when combined with electricity, that immediately set alarm bells ringing in my head.
However, my fears were unfounded. This gilet’s working parts are fully waterproofed and the power pack that I used is rubberised. It even had a little torch fitted as an extra bonus, not to mention a compass that was I felt more of a gimmick than anything else.
Not including a power pack as standard could be seen as less than generous, but many of us in the countryside now carry one to recharge phones and other electrical gadgets out in the field, and the Härkila Heat is compatible with any such power source.
I have worn this waistcoat on the foreshore and I can truly see its benefit. It essentially replaces the usual mid-layer of warm clothing. I switched it off as I tramped the sweat-inducing miles along Aldeburgh beach and across the marsh to get to The Lantern. Once I had set up my hide and hunkered down in my preferred spot, the wind and rain started to bite. I switched it on and in moments I was pleasantly warm.
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Costing £199.99 for the model I tried it may not be a cheap option, but its uses are innumerable — on the peg, on the foreshore, watching my son play rugby or simply getting rid of the aching pains in my back. This is one of those rarities that truly will help you to shoot better, because at the touch of a button you are comfortably warm yet unrestricted by bulky layers of clothing.
It is the lack of bulk that I admire most in this piece of technology. While game Shots will doubtless buy the Härkila Heat, I believe the Danes may have landed on an idea that will also find favour with the more adventurous sportsman or woman.
Wildfowlers, stalkers and rough shooters also like to be warm, yet the active nature of our sport means we cannot work effectively when encumbered by multiple layers. This clever kit solves that issue with aplomb. If only a Härkila Heat had been available to the bomber boys of Mendlesham in 1943 the war may well have been over by Christmas.