I have worked in the forestry industry for years and part of the garb that I am required to wear is this vest.
These vests (or similar products) are pretty standard issue for other industries as well. They are often red, with lots of reflective striping to make you highly visible so you are easy to spot by machine operators and other workers in the field. They are covered in pockets for your convenience. For a general purpose vest, I think it meets my expectations, but as an option for professionals who will don this garb for 50 hrs a week, for their entire career, I think some improvements could be made.
Note-the picture above shows the vest empty; however, when loaded for a day of work, they can weigh anywhere from 25-35 lbs. From what I understand, the most important aspect of this vest, is that it is “high-vis”. Some companies will allow you to wear simple, lightweight safety stripes instead or a vest similar to what you see crosswalk crossing guards or road construction workers wearing for this purpose. This cruiser vest though, attempts to fulfill the high-vis requirement while also doubling as a gear cache.
I have been wearing vests like this for almost 10 years now and I have found them to be lacking in a few areas.
My main complaints are as follows:
- With so many pockets (convenience of choice) to choose from, there seems to be a place for everything; but this also means I am carrying the weight of everything I need for the day on my shoulders/neck, opting to fill every pocket with something, with little overall support (inconvenience of neck and shoulder pain).
*it is important to note that there is a frame you can purchase at extra cost, to insert into the vest (like the frame of a hiking bag) complete with straps and clips to secure the load; however, I find that this is simply adding extra materials to a product that already has a surplus of material. These vests get hot and feel bulky while full of tools and gear, the last thing I want to do is add more bulk, especially in warmer seasons.
- A second complaint about this rear pocket is that you cannot see it. Considering it gets such frequent use, this pocket’s main inconvenience for me is that I waste time rooting around in it pulling out things until I finally have the thing I was searching for in my hand. I have watched others do the same. It’s painful to watch someone trying to reach for a roll of ribbon in a certain colour (who carries up to 5 different varieties or more daily) reach in and pull out the wrong roll, repeatedly (or a can of paint, or bug spray, or a notebook, or a field guide to tree diseases, or a water bottle… you get the point, it’s inefficient).
- The vests appear to be designed for broad shoulders. I can’t help but think that this is simply because the industries these are used in have , in the past, been male-dominated and so as women have gradually populated the industry on a larger scale, the manufacturers of these products have scaled down the bulky square vest to a smaller size which is still ill-fitted for smaller frames.
So after multiple seasons of neck pain and tight sore muscles in my shoulders and back, and many moments day-dreaming about tweaking the design, I finally put a little time and effort into making myself a custom product that feels better on my body and doesn’t have a surplus of material to overheat me during warm seasons. I can’t say that what I ended up with is the best version possible, or would please everybody, but I was feeling rather utilitarian at the time and I don’t really care how I look in the woods so I kept it simple. I would definitely make some alterations if I were to be making this available to others. For me, this was a matter of necessity, and it needed to be done quickly.
In the pictures above, I have not yet added the high-vis striping to replace the deteriorated stuff, but after a trip to a fabric store, I bought some reflective striping for a couple bucks per meter and had plenty to re-stripe the old vest pockets. The belt now has stripes and the front and back of the vest are decked out in new high-vis stripes.
How I did it:
I should give thanks to my employer for the donation of this retired vest (at no cost to this frugal gal), usually ranging in price from $100-200 depending on if you choose to get the extra support frame inside.
Based on years of planting trees, I decided that the best place for me to carry the bulk of the weight daily, would be my hips, where I have grown used to carrying up to 50lbs of soil/seedlings. I decided a belt option with a wide clip would suit for the larger pockets to carry that weight. Vinyl strapping for belt about $1.50 per meter and another $1.50 for the clip.
I would be left with a vest meant to carry only those instruments meant for navigation which I would be consulting frequently (map, compass, GPS, pens, markers, pencils and clinometer).
I sliced and diced the vest until the most useful pockets were available for re-attaching to the new belt. The remove the back pocket and enjoy a pocket free, flat-backed vest instead.
So there you have it, an inconveniently bulky one-piece vest converted into a functional two piece option that allows better weight distribution for a happier neck and back. Plus, the vest feels pretty awesome, I liken it to Batman’s utility belt, and it cost under $10 to make.
This is the pile of unwanted, surplus material that I shed in the process.
I’ve seen a few eye brows furrow at the sight of this two-piece ensemble. I attribute that to my leaving the mid-section open. I’m sure if I extended a little material down around my waist, that my colleagues wouldn’t really notice the difference.
So there you have it: If you have something that could use some tweaking, take a risk and alter it to suit your needs.