Cooling vests (CV) are often used to reduce heat strain. CVs have traditionally used ice as the coolant, although other phase-change materials (PCM) that melt at warmer temperatures have been used in an attempt to enhance cooling by avoiding vasoconstriction, which supposedly occurs when ice CVs are used. This study assessed the effectiveness of four CVs that melted at 0, 10, 20 and 30 °C (CV0, CV10, CV20, and CV30) when worn by 10 male volunteers exercising and then recovering in 40 °C air whilst wearing fire-fighting clothing. When compared with a non-cooling control condition (CON), only the CV0 and CV10 vests provided cooling during exercise (40 and 29 W, respectively), whereas all CVs provided cooling during resting recovery (CV0 69 W, CV10 66 W, CV20 55 W and CV30 29 W) (P < 0.05). In all conditions, skin blood flow increased when exercising and reduced during recovery, but was lower in the CV0 and CV10 conditions compared with control during exercise (observed power 0.709) (P < 0.05), but not during resting recovery (observed power only 0.55). The participants preferred the CV10 to the CV0, which caused temporary erythema to underlying skin, although this resolved overnight after each occurrence. Consequently, a cooling vest melting at 10 °C would seem to be the most appropriate choice for cooling during combined work and rest periods, although possibly an ice-vest (CV0) may also be appropriate if more insulation was worn between the cooling packs and the skin than used in this study.