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In a hot, semi-humid climate, it can sometimes feel impossible to keep Enzo, my Border Collie–Cattle Dog mix, from overheating. If the temperature is above 70 and the sun is shining, his thick, dark fur absorbs the heat, and he runs out of steam quickly. When it gets especially hot, my usual practice of carrying a collapsible water bowl around and avoiding hot pavement just doesn’t cut it.
I decided to invest in a dog cooling vest to keep Enzo’s body temperature down—and that’s how we came to review the popular Swamp Cooler Vest, an athletic water-holding shirt from popular dog brand Ruffwear.
How Does the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest Work?
I decided to test the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler vest because I was already a fan of the Ruffwear brand (our Front Range harness has held up for over five years!) and it was moderately priced. It’s an evaporative cooling vest, meaning that it uses the evaporation of dampened fabric to help keep your dog’s body temperature down—similar to how humans sweat.
The Ruffwear vest is designed with three polyester layers: a wicking outer layer to reflect heat, an absorbent middle layer to collect water, and mesh lining to keep your dog’s fur relatively dry.
The vest slips over your dog’s head and has side-release buckles surrounded by fabric to avoid chafing and fur-pulling. The vest also has an opening on the back for a leash and a clip on the front if you want to attach a light.
The Swamp Cooler comes in a wide range of sizes (XS to XL, or 13 to 42 inches in girth) and can be worn on its own or over a harness. The relaxed fit of the vest means that it’s a good option for breeds of unusual shapes. (Note: Ruffwear recommends sizing up if your dog is between sizes, but some pet parents report that sizing up resulted in the vest being too large to fit their dog snugly enough.)
The effectiveness of dog cooling vests in general and how often they require water to re-cool largely depends on the climate you live in and the weather on a given day. In muggier environments, the water evaporates less effectively, so the vest won’t work as well.
We found the Swamp Cooler has a lifespan comparable to other evaporative cooling vests: it needed re-wetting on a 70 degree day about every two to three hours.
What’s the difference between the Swamp Cooler and the Swamp Cooler Zip (formerly called the Jet Stream)?
The biggest difference between these two Ruffwear options is in the name: the Swamp Cooler has two side-fastening buckles, while the Swamp Cooler Zip has a zippered closure and is slightly more form-fitting. In general, the Zip is crafted for more high-intensity adventures, with oversized arm holes for full range of motion and a spandex back panel.
Though the regular Swamp Cooler held up well to our testing on hikes, the Swamp Cooler Zip may be a better fit for outdoor adventures. It’s likely more durable due to its spandex outer layer (though we haven’t put this to the test yet!).
Testing the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest
We reviewed the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler by first putting it to work inside our house on a series of 100+ degree days. Our window air conditioning unit couldn’t keep up, and it was sweltering even indoors.
Enzo was initially skeptical of wearing a dampened vest—he loves swimming but prefers to encounter water on his own terms. Fortunately, he forgot that he was wearing it pretty quickly and seemed much more comfortable after about 30 minutes.
I noticed he wasn’t panting or as warm to the touch while wearing it around the house. I kept him off the furniture so he wouldn’t dampen it, which wasn’t a problem, since he preferred the cool hardwood floor anyway—but pet parents with couch-friendly pups may want to invest in a furniture cover or limit this vest to outdoor-only use.
Next, Enzo wore the Swamp Cooler vest on a two-day, fifteen mile hiking trip in the North Cascade mountains (with much more reasonable temperatures, thankfully).
He already has an affinity for laying down in cold streams if they’re available, but his fur dries so quickly that the cooling effects are usually short-lived. Having the vest on ensured that he could retain some of that relief for a longer stretch of our hike.
Despite the relatively long mileage, the vest didn’t chafe Enzo’s fur, and he seemed unbothered by wearing it for hours at a time. I was a bit nervous about the outer mesh layer snagging on branches/rocks, but it held up well.
The vest did look pretty dirty post-hike—Enzo has an affinity for rolling in patches of mud—but we popped it in the washer, and the dirt came out nicely.
Review Results: A Cooler, More Comfortable Dog
The Swamp Cooler was a success both around the house and on a long outdoor hike, reducing Enzo’s visible signs of discomfort—especially panting.
The concept did take some getting used to: Enzo typically doesn’t mind apparel, but he doesn’t like having water dumped on him and wasn’t wild about the vest the first time I put it on. That’s likely to be part of the challenge with any dog cooling vest, and I was pleased to see he was less resistant each time we brought the vest out.
I’d recommend trying the vest on when it’s dry to get your pup used to the feeling of wearing it before you introduce any water.
The Swamp Cooler also scored high marks for durability and washability, making it a strong choice for outdoor adventures.
What we liked:
- Relaxed fit and no chafing
- Lightweight and durable fabric
- Easy to use side buckles for a customizable fit
- No freezing or other prep required for use
- UV protection and stylish design
- Easy to wash out dirt and dust
- No D-loop attachment. Since there are no leash attachments, your dog will likely still need to wear a harness underneath. If your dog’s harness is particularly padded, this extra layer may negate some of the cooling effects. Consider the Ruffwear Cooling Harness instead.
- Requires access to water, so isn’t the best fit for a dry hike or the indoors.
- Light color options mean more grime, but the vest is machine washable and cleans up well.
- Not very effective in very humid climates. Evaporative cooling systems may not be the most effective option for pet parents in very humid climates, since the moisture in the vest won’t evaporate as effectively. If that’s you, try an ice-based vest.
- No Velcro in the front: My dog doesn’t mind this, but in general dogs who don’t like having things slipped over their head may not love this option.
Final Verdict: The Swamp Cooler Vest Is Great for Hikes and Outdoor Adventures
The Ruffwear Swamp Cooler vest was a great option for hot weather and offered hours of cooling for Enzo. It has a comfortable fit, evaporates slowly, and is made with high-quality materials. We think it’s an excellent option for hiking and outdoor adventuring in the summer.
Who will like the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest?
- Dogs who hike near water or spend time on the beach
- Pups who generally don’t mind wearing coats or life jackets
- Unusually shaped dog breeds
- Dogs who need sun protection
Who might not like the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Vest?
- Dogs who need super durable, snag-proof vests for intense activities like trail running. The Ruffwear dog cooling harness or the Swamp Cooler Zip both have slightly sleeker designs that may make them better suited to sporty endeavors.
- Dogs who need to stay cool indoors. The cooling vest is likely to dampen any surface it comes in contact with, so isn’t the best for dogs lounging on furniture.
- Pups with short fur or who are prone to skin conditions; it’s possible the prolonged dampness could cause irritation. A dry reflective vest or freezer-pack cooling vest may be a better option.
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