Introduction: Refrigerator Shirt

Picture of Refrigerator Shirt

I like to race Radio Control cars here in California in the Central Valley but I get heatstroke symptoms (headache, dizzy, nausea) on 100 degree plus days. (Heatstroke is risky). I was bummed I couldn't race all summer. I then sought a solution and came up with this. It is not a cheap as anyone would like ($410), but it is better than trying to save money by buying cheap, then the merry-go-round of stuff that doesn't work, and then buying the expensive stuff in the end anyway.

The shirt can be assembled in any order, so it isn't really step-by-step. Also, my eBay links can go stale, so I will tell you what to google.

The vest has tubing that you circulate ice water through with a pump. The hydration pack has a reservoir that you half fill with water then add ice. As the ice melts you pour out the excess water and add more ice. A 5lb bag of ice from a convenience store lasts all day.

The shirt works. I can spend all day in 100 degree plus weather and be comfortable. When you first switch the pump on, it fells like jumping into an freezing pool, but then your body acclimates and you don't even know it's working. Then you take it off, and holy crap, you see how hot it is outside.

The design is a coolshirt vest (vest with hose sewed in), a pump, a battery, a switch and a hydration pack.

Step 1: Hydration Pack and Coolshirt

Picture of Hydration Pack and Coolshirt

You can pick any pack you want. I got one that hold 3 liters and is meant for bicycling. Less than 3 liters probably would not work. 3 liters is like 100 ounces. The military ones are the most expensive but seem the best quality. This is the one I bought, it was about $68:

Coolshirt makes the vest with hoses sewn in. I called the saleman at coolshirt for a recommendation. Here is his contact info just in case. You can buy from him so you don't get the wrong thing, or save money and do the research yourself.



I bought a large sized coolshirt vest, 2 female connectors, and a bottle of maintenance additive for total $240. I bet you can get cheaper if you shop around. I then bought 5 feet of 5/16" inner diameter tubing at home depot. I then cut the tubing in half and pushed the female connectors on one end of each piece. These will plug into the coolshirt. One tube I connect to the pump (sump, inlet at bottom), that will pump into the coolshirt, and the other piece of tubing will be the return.

Step 2: Pump, Battery and Switch

Picture of Pump, Battery and Switch

Here is the pump. It is small, like 6 inches long. Tom at coolshirt recommended it. The model is Comet Elegant. They are made in the UK for tiny RV's. I bought mine for $30. The inlet for the pump is on the bottom. I attached one end of the tubing to the top outlet. I put a zip tie on it just in case. Here is a link but it can go stale, so google "Comet Elegant pump". You just push the pump down to the bottom of the hydration pack reservoir.

It is a 12V pump, so a 3 cell Lipo battery can power it (3 cell is called 3s). I bought mine at a hobby store. I picked a large capacity (5000mAh) and cheap $62. The pump is rated at 2.8A but when I measured it, it was 1.3A. The math for how long the battery will last is:

5000 / 1300 = 3.8hrs

You will need a way to charge it. The hobby store can sell you are charger. I will buy a second battery to go all day.

I then just ran wiring from the battery to the pump and a roller on/off switch. You can buy wire and switches at these places:

Batteries (get RC car type)

I have this charger because I use all types of Lithium Polymer Batteries (Lipo) for my projects.

Step 3: Final Notes

You can save money on this project if you are creative. You have alternatives for every part. The refrigerator shirt can be improved by adding a control unit, instead of just a switch. You can PWM the pump motor speed. You could add a sensor and buzzer when the battery need charging. A more energy efficient pump could make the battery last longer. You could make this shirt for your grandparents, so the could garden in the heat. You could make a system for riding your bicycle or motorcycle or any outdoor sport. The possibilities are endless.


CasingNinja (author)2015-08-09

Do you have a total weight on this project, materials, water, ice, etc?
I travel around a lot and currently working in AZ on civil engineering projects. I have tried cooling vests (non powered) with the block inserts before when I ran pipe on drilling rigs, but they were way too bulky and heavy; not something you want with long periods of fast paced work.

BillW1 (author)CasingNinja2015-08-09

It is pretty light. The water capacity is 3 liters (100 oz), that is where the weight is. You could use a lot of twist ties to keep the hoses from catching. The hydration pack has straps which holds everything together and down tight. You could use a sport hydration pack made for physical activity. You could add straps if it was still not perfect. My opinion is you could work on it until it meets your needs. One problem is the ice lasts for 45min. So to keep working, and not stop to replenish the ice, you would need a larger hydration pack.

Tretech (author)BillW12016-03-05

...throw a peltier thermo-coupler or two in there, and you can lose most the water

RobO7 (author)2015-09-11

Hi Again, Bill. I spent yesterday trying to "get up to speed with with Lipo battery chargers". I can see from the RC Forum I'm not alone I'm not alone with feeling a bit uneasy. I'd appreciate if you might be able to guide me with the size/type charger you use. My sense is that a balance charger but-- better to ask someone experienced & using the same size Lipo battery I'll be using!

Thanks again for all this help (:

BillW1 (author)RobO72015-09-12

I have a charger that does not balance the cells. I haven't had problems. On the charger I have, you type in the capacity of the battery, in my case 5000mAh, and it automatically charges at 5A, which is a safe rate. A precaution is charging in a safe spot, like the sink, and hanging around until it's done. There are also fireproof bags you can buy that contain the battery. Only an RC racer may try to charge faster or push in more charge. Then there is a lot more risk of fire.

I am putting a 10A fuse inline with the battery to protect from short circuits. This is a precaution I think is wise. A short could rapidly heat the pump or wire. It could cause a battery fire. How bad I don't know since it hasn't happened to me.

rorris1 (author)BillW12015-09-21

Sounds like another good idea, so I got that fuse & holder coming. What kind of battery charger did you get exactly. That's the last thing I'll need. The balance charger I mentioned is a bit too complex for me. As always, your input's greatly appreciated!

BillW1 (author)rorris12015-09-30

I have a Duratrax Onyx 230 charger but they have upgraded it to 235. It is an easy to use charger and it balances. All Lipos come with a 2nd plug and this is the balancer plug. So you plug in the charging plug and then the balancing plug. Here is a link:

Here is a video on how to use it.

There may be a cheaper charger, since this is a pretty good one. I have lots of projects with many different size Lipos, and this is handy.

RobO7 (author)BillW12015-10-01

That is a nice charger. I opted for the Acucell 6 (upside cheaper, downside have to use 12v power supply). The confusion came from just reading the manual and not having the right parts on hand power up the charger to program it. Once I did that it worked great. One thing I noticed with the RC LiPo battery manufacturers (same for cell phones too) is they do the same marketing ploy of using varied connectors.

PS: Liked that coiled wire you had pictured-(again --good idea!). I found a DIY article online for heat forming a straight cable. (maybe you coiled that cable yourself too?). If not here's that link:

rorris1 (author)2015-09-10

LOL! I got a chuckle when I read your line: "When you get EXPERIENCE with the system". Water everywhere is something I'd like to avoid.
Your comment about my making an Instructable with the changes I might make with mine is a great idea!
The way you made your instructable impressed me with its simplicity. My aim is to balance simplicity with 'ease of use'. For now your idea is solid enough.
Still have to get batteries. So I'll keep in touch through Instructables one way or the other. Thanks o<[:0)

RobO7 (author)2015-09-09

Hi Bill!

Got another questions if you don't mind.

Do you just have the inlet & outlet hoses come out the fill opening of the

bladder to the vest?

Just ordered the cooling vest. (Got that osprey

vest and the pump already). I want to get everything

together to try before the cooler weather sets

in around central PA in the next month or two.

Thanks again!

BillW1 (author)RobO72015-09-09

Yes. I just pushed the hose on the pump and pushed the pump down to the bottom of the bladder. The return hose sits about 4 inches inside the opening. To hold the hose in place you could drill a small hole in the side of the opening and then use a a zip tie to hold the hose. Mine stays in place pretty well, but if the return hose pops out it will pump water everywhere.

When you get experience with the system and make adjustments, you could make an instructable on your improvements.

RobO7 (author)2015-08-19

Hi. I thank you for this instructable. I'm heat sensitive and tire rather easily. I have one question about HOW OFTEN do you have to replenish the ice? You'd mentioned being in 100 degree temps.I just want to get a better idea if it would meet my particular situation. Another gent here mentioned he has M.S. and uses an ice vest. I've had M.S. for over 32 years and use ice vests as well. I try to stay active by being a caring clown for kids, elderly and disabled. The vest I have uses refreezable inserts but it's challenging having to remove my clown shirt and switch into another vest (still easier than switching out the individual packs though!)..

I've started looking into purchasing all the items you'd mentioned. Your input will be greatly appreciated!

BillW1 (author)RobO72015-08-19

It is kind of difficult to say. The ice for me lasts half an hour to 45min. Using a hydration pack means I have to take it off to replenish the ice. I use a 3 liter hydration pack but there are much larger ones. I usually don't check how much ice vs. water, but I could have just enough water to make the pump work and the rest ice. When I made this vest, no one could answer these questions for me. I had to approximate and adjust to get the solution, and I can always keep improving on it.

RobO7 (author)BillW12015-08-20

Hi Bill,
I appreciate your reply. I always do our caring clown gigs with my wife who I know wouldn't mind topping off the ice. We live in the central PA area where the temp's aren't as severe (so might last an hour or so?). I'm keeping an eye out for some brightly colored hydration vest so it could be part of the whole clown persona. I was thinking of just extending the drain tube to rid myself of the melted ice. Our gigs never last longer than I can (which is about 2.5 hours).
BTW that pump you mentioned "The Comet Elegant"-- Did you get it in the U.S. or have to get it from England?. Thanks again!

PS: I've got a bunch of images on our website. You can see (perhaps) I'm usually wearing an icevest when I do clowning.
. Here's the link:

BillW1 (author)RobO72015-08-20

The Comet Elegant I got on eBay for $30. You can find their website (UK) with a little effort and see what other pumps they have, then maybe get them on eBay. You could definitely integrate the shirt in your clown outfit. You could add food coloring to the water and some extra tubing and do something zany. You would be the only clown doing it for sure.

RobO7 (author)BillW12015-08-21

Thanks Bill. I checked getting one from England but the shipping is double the cost of the pump. I think that Ebay idea's the way to go. Thanks again and have a great weekend!

bomboy (author)2015-08-16

i like it! cool idea man.

t.rohner (author)2015-08-12

Pretty cool

After reading "bicycling science" written by some MIT guys, i wondered if it's not possible to convert the thermal energy into mechanical.

(This book says, that while a average athlete is putting 350W mechanical into the pedals, 850W in heat needs to be dissipated to the environment.)

So if it would be possible to convert these 850W to mechanical energy, this would be helpful. Even at a low efficiency of 30% or so. Maybe with a hydrocarbon solvent, that changes its phase a little below body temperature. Then use the vapour on a steam machine or a Stirling or a turbine.

ajarb (author)2015-08-09

Would in be possible to do this using a radiator and pump as in a water cooled PC? Instead of using ice

Clemtasm (author)ajarb2015-08-11

Not in this case. Heat flows from hot to cold. The water exiting the vest should be not hotter than body temperature, 98.6F (unless there is solar heating because the vest black in color). If the air temp is 100F, the radiator will just heat the fluid further... unless it has some sort of evaporative cooling mechanism.

BillW1 (author)ajarb2015-08-09

I did a lot of tedious research to find out what really works before spending money. It seems the phase change only (ice to water) shirts are much cheaper, but don't cool enough. I think the radiator might not cool enough. Unfortunately, to know for sure, I would have to try it, or do hard engineering calculations. Trying is best because that is the proof in the end.

Slot1Gamer (author)2015-08-10

I wonder if adding a radiator would help?

wlabrosse (author)2015-08-07

not to be mean but the company I work for makes this item, with pants, hood, pump, storage bag for this system it looks like the vest you have the picture of...before you try to sell on e-bay you may want to check if you are infringing on copyright laws.

jswann2 (author)wlabrosse2015-08-08

what company is it? I may want to purchase one.

wlabrosse (author)jswann22015-08-08

Med-eng we are part of safariland group and primarily known for bomb suits the one from "hurt locker" was made in our location.

walshlg (author)2015-08-06

Nice tutorial - very practical, how long does the ice last? Any thoughts on using 2 battery packs in parallel to double power time?

BillW1 (author)walshlg2015-08-06

The ice melting depends on the heat and the size of the reservoir. About 45min in 100 degree heat for 3 liters. I plan to outfit my motorcycle with a cooler. This could potentially last all day. Well, the 5000mAh battery lasts 3 hours and it takes maybe 40 minutes to charge. So, by alternating 2 batteries, I could go all day.

pjhrtr (author)BillW12015-08-08

Well sir, if you are working on the motorcycle linkage and will be taping into that battery power, would you consider use of a Peltier Thermal cooling plate (as used for cooling computer processors) instead of hiking around all that ice & water? Then again, having ice water handy in a camel pack is not bad at all, and Peltiers tend to draw a few amps. Not so much the water pump. To me the goal is to see how lightweight & efficient the design can be for more mobile applications, but if you're seated atop all that horsepower, you're able to design in more novel A/C features! Do keep us posted...

mp 15-22 (author)2015-08-04

hi just wanted to say I really like the vest but a little pricy for me though. it gives me maybe a new instructable to make though. just a suggestion for you I know you said your in California in the heat. If your in sun also you could buy a small solar panel that would run your pump all day without having to charge or change batteries. The solar industry has boomed so much you could get a mini panel you could mount to the hydration pack and you would have more rc time. Just wanted to give you that thought. If you have any questions about what type of solar panels just message. thanks and good luck with the vest

Heck, have the panel mounted on a hat. The hat is in the sun but it would shield your face, with tje benefit of charging the batteries or running the pump directly. I guess you could even run tubing to the hat to keep your noggin cool XD

Heck, going in that direction, put the solar panels on a sombrero! I mean, so what if no one's doing it... it could catch on. Or possibly a conical hat like rice paddy workers often wear. More aerodynamic with the built-45deg angle for optimal solar tracking. Were we going to catch the wind with a little turbine on top? I'm not being sarcastic... more curious about what our culture might consider fashionable as it moves in greater mass towards energy efficiency!

rf (author)Dashing Rainbow Dash2015-08-06

Nah, charging batteries at home is smaller and lighter.

vincent7520 (author)2015-08-07

superb !!!!

sparten11 (author)2015-08-07

Pump by movement no electronics needed. Bladers on your shoes.

onemoroni1 (author)2015-08-06

This is an awesome solution for many applications. Very well done.

thundrepance (author)2015-08-06

i'm hypothyroid, so this has been a dream of mine since i was young. i get sick from over-heating @ least once every summer ~ D^:> .... this is meant for me!

bbjw81 (author)2015-08-06

I saw somewhere that researchers had found that by cooling the inside of the wrists, significantly increases your level of comfort. It might be worthwhile to incorporate this somehow.
It looks like someone already made an instructable for it.

ruddyeck (author)2015-08-06

you've done excellent, I've been involved in pilot cooling vests/systems for fast jets in the UK and the US and you've have put together a simple and excellent vest. Just one word of caution with pumping ice cold water round your torso, make sure it's a long way from your lower back (kidney's especially) and consider putting more tubes in the vest in parallel so you don't need ice cold water which can also cause vasoconstriction which is not good over long periods. Well done

billbpeters (author)2015-08-06

I am a MS person that uses a cooling vest here in Texas. I bought a construction type vest that uses phase change inserts that can be recharged in an ice chest. They cool some, but not as good as the reusable ice substitute packs that will last for 3-4 hours. Much less expensive to use, no recharging of batteries, no dragging around a cooler with hoses to my vest to get tangled up. There are commercial ones of these that are used for people who have had knee or elbow surgery.

Nickynui (author)2015-08-05

hahaha I live in Oklahoma where it is 114 and 70% humidity, 100 degrees is nothing. but for people who aren't used to extreme heat, this is pretty neat. my dad is a pilot and he built something like this (but with an ice chest instead of a vest)

Dashing Rainbow Dash (author)2015-08-05

Might be nice on days that I go biking when it's like 100 or so. lol

seamster (author)2015-08-04

This is such a great idea. Very nice work!

Any concern with keeping a lipo on your body? I've personally never had any of my rc lipos burst into flames, but we've all see the videos. Any thoughts?

Dustin Rogers (author)seamster2015-08-04

I had a lipo in an old iphone that had swollen up enough to crack the glass and break the motherboard. It was over 1.5" thick when I decided to see if I could get some kind of reaction...from a safe distance. of course. This shot was very anticlimactic. No flames, no explosions, nothing.

BillW1 (author)seamster2015-08-04

Back in the day Lipos had impurities and were flammable. Now they are almost perfect but the reputation stuck. It is very unlikely, but can happen. The real fireworks are from drastically overcharging, which requires custom chargers. Shorting and puncturing can cause a fire. Using a Lipo with a protective case solves the puncture problem. Consumer Lipos, like inside an iPad, has circuitry that prevents shorting and overcharging. This would be a good improvement to the shirt.

seamster (author)BillW12015-08-04

Cool, thank you. Again, great project!

buildandsewandstuff (author)2015-08-04

These things also help people with M.S. (multiple sclerosis) who can get increase in symptoms when they're out in the heat, or exercising.

mrscott (author)2015-08-04


It seems that you may put something like this to good use. In fact a Santa, would be an awesome testament!

beamer.smith (author)2015-08-04

Interesting.. How loud is the pump? I work as Santa late in the year and it get Really hot in that suit.. I've seen other Santas wearing a multi pocketed vest with gel packs in them, but I'd rather like to control the cool I get instead of freezing only areas of my body :)


BillW1 (author)beamer.smith2015-08-04

I can hear it but not loud. Comet pumps has many models of similar pumps. They could have a quiet model, or take the specs for the Elegant I use and look around.

anbusv (author)2015-08-04

Cool idea! thanks for sharing.

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