07 November 2015

DIY Heated Gear Upgrade

Since I launched my blog 5 years ago with diy heated gloves, much better technology is available to the diyer.  When it was time to remake my gloves a couple of years ago, I chose not to because the wiring was annoying.
Conclusions.  After 5 years, my most used diy thing is those controllers.  I ditched the heated gloves after one too many failures in the field.  It turns out nichrome resistance wire weakens with each use.  My patience wore out so I bought heated liners from an eBay auction for a great price and never looked back.

The consistency and comfort are fantastic.  Combined with my homemade controller it is the economical solution I was searching for when I decided to place that first wire order.  Last cold season, I used my fleece jacket with the single stranded resistance wire.  It worked great until the single strand broke after multiple heat cycles over its two or three season life.  Before that it was the nichrome wired jackets and liners.

I have been happy with all of my diy heated clothing when they worked.  The drawback to diy is it's unreliable rendering it a temporary solution to a seasonal problem.  As with anything, it never broke on the way home either but soon after adding power for the next use.  Each fix improved my skills.  For that alone this has been a worthwhile project.

The next step for me was to find out if there were any new options since I learned how to do this and then decide if I should wait for another closeout at Cycle gear to get heated clothing I'd read performed below expectations because that's what I can afford.

Carbon Tape Heated Vest
New Tech.  Depending on the length or severity of your season, this unreliability may be acceptable.  It has been to me which is why it took me so long to re think using resistance wire for the heating element.  After the last break, I renewed my search for a better heating element.  I think the carbon tape is one of them except that I never got the motivation to even put it in a vest or on a glove.  In fact, the prospect of sewing it is what sent me to eBay looking for something else.

Before I found that eBay listing, I discovered so much had changed.  Wire as the heating element can be replaced by any flexible fabric with resistance.  Carbon heat tape is all over eBay and the internet with various diy projects for the motorcyclist.  I bought some to use in my heated jacket but never did.  Too much sewing.

Living during a time when we have access to worldwide markets has opened up another option:  heating pads.  No, not your grandmother's or sister's heating pad but carbon tape sandwiched in fabric with copper strips.  Now this looks like something I can use without a sewing machine or weeks with the needle and thread.

I placed my order after freezing during my last day ride when I'd mistaken my summer gauntlet gloves for winter gloves.    I get cold all over again just thinking about that mistake.

Minutes out of the envelope, I'd ripped the resistance wire out of the fleece jacket and pinned the new heating elements in place.

I was optimistic this would be the least complicated DIY Liner I've done to date.  Now, if I could only remember what to do...

DIY Heated Jacket Liner 4.0(?) Upgrade.  The old resistance wire came out in several sections revealing breaks that I didn't realize were there in addition to the obvious one where the "element" was connected to the "harness".  These pads will be wired the same way as the resistance wires in series.  A little quality time with my multi-meter allowed me to figure out it'll be about the same wattage as with the resistance wire too.

The carbon heating elements I got have copper pads visible and ready to attach wires to.  Hopefully I've done this enough now so it'll be right the first time.  This jacket is comprised completely of copper wire:  the speaker wire to connect the elements together in series and the elements that have a copper strip built in.

I chose not to buy a kit or pads with wires already attached.  Don't ask why, if you're reading this you already know I like to do things the hard way.  I will admit now though if it had not been for Cycle Gear not having the heated vest with the controller in stock back when it was on clearance, I would not be doing this now.  Curiosity or not, I'm ready for stuff that always works.

I'm going with a 5 pad configuration:

This actually is the layout I used for the 4ft sections of nichrome wire layout the second or third time I made a jacket liner.  Of course that was so many broken connection ago so who can be sure which time.  Since I had so many broken connections, I've decided to rebuild the "harness" that connects the pads to each other and the controller.
Making these drawings helped me make the harness :)
I know that's the same too but I figure new heating element, new wires.  However, I am not changing the wires to the connector so I didn't draw them.  As before, I'll use the t-shirt between me and the wires.  As I type this, I have to get some more stitch witchery.

Before I post pics of my new harness I want to say how much easier the process has gotten for me.  Because I have some soldering skills I don't hesitate to do it now.  In fact, I'm considering upgrading from my $5 harbor freight soldering iron to a real soldering station.  I have helping hands, a decent supply of solder, soldering paste, flux, de-solder, and a variety of heat shrink.  All that means is it's easier to do stuff now.  I have only bought what I needed.

A length of copper wire is wrapped around the tinned
 ends to make soldering a 3 into 1 cable easier.
When I started out, I only had a soldering gun and the little bit of solder that came in the kit.  I can't solder SMD for crap and recently failed to make a promini based multi protocol module for my hobby transmitter so I can fly all of my toy quads with the same radio.  But I had gained the confidence to try from doing these heated gear projects.

It didn't take me too long to make the harness ready to solder to the pads.  First step in the process is size and cut the wire you need.  I say size because it's always a little longer than you think.  On some of my earlier attempts I cut the wires too short adding even more stress that lead to breaks or wire failures.

This time they may be too long, but I ain't making it any shorter.
Helping hands holds both ends of the wire so no more scorched fingers.

Wiring harness waiting to be soldered to pads then sewn into place.  The pieces of duct tape are
leftover from holding the resistance wire.  They're stuck pretty good so they're part of the liner now.

It took me longer to write this post than to select wire length, layout wires, strip and tin wires, solder them together to make the 5 to 1 harness, and connect to the 5 pads.  All that remains is sewing the harness and pads to the jacket then ironing the shirt over it all.

There are heat element pads with leads attached and some diy kits with all the wiring done.  You have the choice of bike or battery powered now too.  Cruzman and I will be riding with heated feet soon too but don't tell him because it's his Christmas present.

I've done all this because I thought the cold weather was here already.  I love living in the south!  Temps as i type this is 66 degrees and will be for at least another week.  It may be a while before I can do a real world test.

I'll try to get better pics after it's all sewn.

Thanks for reading,
patrice, theWolfTamer


  1. It's been a year now since this post posted.
    Any updates to post?
    Pad placement good/bad?
    Wires longevity?
    Amount of heat adequate?

  2. I can't afford buying heated gear at 300 bucks+ for the jacket liner, pants and controllers... so... I AM VERY interested on the results... I am on the same boat... since i dont have a sewing machine, taking the needle and the thread its a very time consuming task and the problem is ... I dont have that time...

  3. It is interesting, I thought nothing like this ever exist. Btw I would love to read few testimonials before trying it out for real


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