Beat the Deep Freeze With Milwaukee’s ToughShell Heated Jacket
Not a bad way to treat yourself to something nice.
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As a staff writer here at The Drive, I get to work on a variety of projects. One of them is our regular Deals segment, in which the team updates readers on sales from all over the internet on parts, tools, and other products to help make their lives better. Recently, I highlighted the Milwaukee heated jacket. My ever-powerful overlord must have wanted me to put my money where my mouth is because next thing I know, the jacket showed up at my front door with the command to go out in the dead of winter and put it to the test.
I don't know what I did to make him so mad, but it turns out this jacket is pretty killer. Who's laughing now, Mr. managing editor Jonathon Klein?
All jokes aside, this is a good opportunity for me to give you the scoop on a jacket many of you want but are reluctant to pony up for. While I might make a living now behind a computer screen, I've paid my dues working in warehouses, digging ditches, loading trucks, and doing all sorts of other manual labor jobs. You can appreciate the great benefit a heated jacket affords when dealing with the elements is part of making a living. However, $350 is a lot of money for something that’s just going to get chewed up. My goal is to give you some insight into whether the Milwaukee Toughshell heated jacket is a worthy investment.
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Unboxing the Milwaukee ToughShell Heated Jacket
Yes, the jacket came in a box. I expected it to come in a bag like any other article of clothing bought online, but Milwaukee didn't skimp on the packaging. Unboxing was a straightforward endeavor; the jacket was folded neatly inside along with some instructions and warnings regarding the heating system. I also received a couple batteries with a charger.
What's an unboxing without a quick test? In this case, testing was simply putting the jacket on to check the fit. The most important thing to keep in mind about this jacket is that it's on the bigger side. I believe this is to accommodate additional layers, which makes sense. You may want to consider going a size smaller than usual if you don’t want to wear layers under it.
I took the time to figure out how to hook up the battery and use the heating function. As usual, I skipped the directions and tried to figure it out on my own. It wasn't long, however, until I was back in box, poring over the instruction manual. It turns out there's a compartment on the jacket to house the battery, right next to the left front pocket. Actually, there is one compartment with two openings.
Once I figured that out, setting up was easy. The controls sit on the left breast. One is for the carbon-fiber heating elements in the pockets, and the other is for the chest and back. A long press of either turns them on, and a few quick presses modulates heating levels. The first tap is the warmest, the second is slightly less warm, and the third is the least. The buttons illuminate in different colors to tell you which setting is on: red, white, and blue. The warmth of the light corresponds with the heat setting.
Getting After It With the Milwaukee Jacket
Good: Durable, comfortable, water and wind resistant, long battery life, short battery charge time
Bad: Battery placement can be painful, drafty without layers, expensive
My professional life may strap me to a laptop most days, but there’s no shortage of things to do outdoors. When the jacket arrived, I was in the middle of replacing the valve-stem seals of the 440 powering my 1969 Dodge Charger project car. The heads were bolted on, but there was still plenty to do with the intake, headers, starter, exhaust, carburetor, and everything in between needing installation. I opted to wear the jacket through several other projects that kept me out in the frigid weather.
I live in northeast Pennsylvania, where the final days of winter provide elements of all four seasons at any given time. The jacket faced temperatures ranging from 10 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with snow, sleet, rain, and sunshine scattered throughout. While it's usually a frustrating experience, it gave me the opportunity to get a real feel for what this jacket offers and if it's a suitable option for year-round use.
I can tell you that it’s a warm jacket you’ll end up ditching once temps are north of 60 degrees.
Because this is a battery-powered jacket, simply wearing it wouldn't be enough. Milwaukee claims this jacket's battery can last for up to six hours of continuous use. I knew it was important to give you guys the scoop on just how long the charge would last when wearing this on the job.
What’s Good About Milwaukee’s ToughShell Heated Jacket
Before getting to the bonus features, let's talk about how this functions as a jacket. After all, it's not worth a darn if it's not a decent piece of clothing to work with. The good news is that it certainly is. The ToughShell heated jacket is comfortable, has plenty of pocket space, and is certainly something worth wearing even if you don't intend to use the heating elements.
As for the fit, there are things to like and dislike. What I like is that it does not limit motion whatsoever. Even with layers of clothing, I didn't feel restricted when working with my arms over my head or in any other awkward position. It is somewhat bulky, and that does make it difficult to work in tight spaces, but that's the norm for any kind of winter jacket. Also, it is a presentable article of clothing when it's cleaned up, which is a nice touch for contractors or others who need to retain a professional appearance on the job.
The polyester Toughshell is impressive. It’s wind and water resistant, which made a big difference while I worked under the car, mud and snow creeping into any opening they could. (Unfortunately, I don't have a garage, so all repairs are done outside.) The jacket held firm against the many sharp edges that snagged the sleeves as I worked, and there weren't any blemishes from rocks and debris after I wrestled with the starter and exhaust. It does show dirt, but it's machine washable.
My initial impression of the heat function is that it's underwhelming. The zoning is nice, but the best thing I can compare it to is when the sun breaks through the clouds on a winter day and creates hot spots on your clothing. It's something you appreciate, but it doesn't present itself as much of a game changer. However, when the ambient temperature is around 10 degrees, it makes a major difference. I primarily wore this jacket with a hoodie or a thick long-sleeved shirt and found that the combination was warm enough to go without the heating element until temps dipped to the low 20s. The heated pockets are very nice touch. It's nice to have heated pockets to quickly restore feeling after handling cold metal with my bare hands. I also took advantage of the pockets to keep small wrenches and hand tools warm. I’m not sure it’s wise to do so since there's probably a chance that sharp metal edges could come in contact with live electrical components.
One great thing about this jacket is that it’s part of the M12 battery lineup. It shares a battery with many other tools in the system from Milwaukee, and it offers decent battery life for the jacket. I found that running both heating zones at full blast gave me about two hours of continuous use. Switching to just one zone at full blast would boost battery life to about three hours. On the lowest setting on just one zone, however, I was able to get eight hours of run time. I did time the settings indoors, but it's safe to say Milwaukee was right about their claimed six-hour run time out in the field.
You might not need to worry about how long a charge will last anyway. These M12 batteries recharge in just 30 minutes. As long as you keep one on a charger nearby, you won’t have a problem staying warm throughout the day.
What’s Not Great About Milwaukee’s Jacket
I normally wear a set of battle-worn overalls or a busted corduroy jacket when I work on my car in the winter, so I'm not about to turn up my nose at this luxurious heated jacket. However, there are some drawbacks you need to know about if you’re considering buying it.
The worst thing I ran into while wearing this was the placement of the battery. If you're a mechanic or frequently do work on your back, you'll have to be mindful of that kidney-busting battery before you get down to tackle a project. It won’t exactly keep you from wearing it, but it’s something that’ll wake you up if you’re not careful.
Because the front left pocket and battery compartment are connected, you can easily reposition it before you drop under a car. It’s a double-edged sword. That connection makes it possible for the battery to wander around, but leaving that front pocket unzipped and bending over will inspire it to make a break for freedom.
The fit is another detail to consider. It's roomier than most, and skimping on layers can be a chilly mistake. I initially wore the jacket with just a T-shirt when it was around 15 degrees outside. It felt great until I bent over to start installing rocker arms. As soon as I did, I got a blast of frigid air. That prompted me to toss on a set of bibs and a thermal. On the flip side, I found that wearing just the jacket with a T-shirt on 40- to 50-degree days was comfortable, making it something I could easily wear through the fall, winter, and early spring.
These are pretty small issues that are easy to live with. What is a bit of a problem is the price tag. The cost of the jacket with the batteries is about $350. That's a lot of scratch for someone on a tight budget. The cost is about what you'll pay for a pair of work boots or tools, but those are required, while a heated jacket is a luxury. Readers also reported that cheaper alternatives work just as well when I first mentioned this jacket in our Deals segment.
Our Verdict on Milwaukee’s ToughShell Heated Jacket
Not having a heated jacket won't keep you from getting the job done, but it's a nice thing to have, and it can make a major difference in your working experience. It's also not something I would regularly buy. I've already got work jackets that do just fine and some nicer ones that are an oil stain away from joining the lineup. That $350 is a lot of scratch, and I'd sooner use it on car parts or other tools.
Working on my car is a hobby, though. If I actually had to face the elements on a regular basis, it might be one of the first things I buy. It's a solid work jacket, even without the heating system. Durability, comfort, and practical features such as resistance to wind and water are all things you want from a work jacket. It is a little more expensive than many other options, but it is part of Milwaukee's M12 system. The fact that it shares the same battery with a lot of other tools you might buy anyway makes it worth that little bit extra.
Will not having a heated jacket keep you from getting the job done? No. It's a nice thing to have, and it can make a major difference in your working experience, but it's not necessary.
- Manufacturer: Milwaukee
- Part Number: 204B-21S
- Battery Type: Milwaukee M12
- Warm without battery
- Long battery life
- Great durability
- Battery placement can be troublesome
- Requires additional layers to prevent draft
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q. Who makes the Milwaukee heated jacket?
A. I can't say who manufacturers the jacket or whether it's Milwaukee's name branded onto an outsourced piece. It's made in China along with many other Milwaukee tools.
Q. How long does the Milwaukee heated jacket last?
A. Milwaukee advertises a battery life of up to six hours on a full charge. However, my experience showed the battery to lose its charge in two hours on full blast and up to eight hours on the lowest setting in a single zone.
Q. Does the jacket come with batteries?
A. You can buy the jacket with or without the batteries. Make sure you select the version that comes with them if you don't already have M12 batteries and a charger.
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