I love the outdoors but am just really getting serious about backpacking (at an age much later than most); I'm still acquiring gear and figuring things out. So my question is this: Why do vests seem to be so popular as hiking gear? I've never really owned a vest and they don't seem to be too popular in everyday life, so what makes them so great for hiking? Or are they?
I had a couple of conjectures, and I'm curious which if any of these are among people's reasons:
Easy on off and layering (no sleeves getting bunched up)
Keeps your core warm without the extra "unnecessary" weight of sleeves
Regulates temperature naturally when you get hot because blood flows to less-insulated extremities
Lets armpits get air
Basically I'm asking because normally I wouldn't wear a vest, but I thought there's probably a good reason they're so popular. Any big downsides? I guess I worry that during down time my arms would get cold. I would especially worry about this if I were counting on the vest to block wind, but it sounds like many people use them either over or under another wind-resistant layer.
I realize it's a pretty basic question, and I appreciate any pointers in the right direction here. Also, this is my first post in this forum, so sorry if I've posted this in the wrong area.
Your list of vest advantanges seems pretty complete to me.
I only hike in one in very cool weather, and then it's generally either fleece or fiberfill, not down, due to moisture management. But a down vest in camp is (IMHO) the most warmth for weight of any garment. Layered between a longsleeve shirt and a shell jacket it provides excellent core warmth while not piling on a third (or fourth) sleeve. Better quality brands made with light fabrics and good down are extremely light--just a few ounces--and pack tiny.
For the same reasons, they're great to toss into a daypack for extra warmth while taking breaks. A down vest and lightweight windbreaker make a great system.
Loc: Puget Sound, Washington
I don't use a vest for camping and I can't think of any of my hiking buddies that wear a vest either. I guess it is a matter of personal choice but I don't usually see a vest on most people's gear list either. Based on that, I don't think a vest would be considered "essential." But, what the heck, try it and see if it works for you.
Most hiking I've done is in the summer when the problem is getting too hot. When hiking on a windy day last winter with temps around freezing, I found a shell and long sleeved base layer was enough to keep me warm. Any sort of vest or other mid layer would be for lower activity or colder temps (the latter is unusual in the mid-Atlantic). My main problem is that I produce plenty of heat while moving but I think I tend to run colder than most men when less active.
Long term my plan is to get a nice down mid layer as you suggest, but at the moment my funds are pretty restricted so it might have to wait in favor of a cheaper option.
OldScout: Fair enough. So you all just use a long-sleeve mid layer?
I have a down vest and synthetic vest and use them both. A vest warms your body core. The theory is that if your core is warm, your arms will warm up too. The reason- weight savings. With the new very light down sweaters out there now, the rationale for a vest is a bit less compelling. I really appreciate the vest on cold mornings, but it really is not essential. My Marmot vest has elastic in the sleeves for a tight seal my upper arms. This adds to the warmth a lot. I got into vests when technical climbing, just for the warmth without restricting arm movemet, but that usually is not a problem if only backpacking.
I have a down vest, but it usually only gets used when temperatures drop below freezing. Sometimes, when it's that cold, my midweight longjohn top over my T-shirt isn't warm enough, even with a windbreaker over it, while I hike - but my hooded, "sweater" weight down jacket would be way too hot.
My down jacket is midweight ("sweater" means the same thing.) I rarely need a full-on heavy down jacket or coat, it just doesn't get that cold around here most of the time. But, on those rare occasions when it does, I can layer the vest under the jacket and be plenty warm.
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
You forgot two other reasons-
They look really outdoorsy and manly.
Seriously, I have two-a lightweight fleece I almost never wear and a thin fiberfill of some kind I bought here cheap. They aren't that warm, but I do like the extra pockets. Neither one goes into the backcountry with me. For that I wear a fleece jacket and if colder, a down jacket or the big parka in my photo. A big puffy vest would be nice in some situations, like over my ski suit while riding a chair lift, but not at Patagonia or TNF prices.
Edited by TomD (08/10/1109:28 PM)
Don't get me started, you know how I get.
Loc: Eastern MA, USA
A good option might be a jacket with removable sleeves that can be worn as a jacket, vest, or just sleeves. Plenty of times I've hiked with my back covered by my pack and really just wanted something on my arms.
For this I can use a fleece sleeve/shrug and add a tunic when I wish. This fleece tunic has a neck zipper and can be slung below my hammock for bottom insulation. The system is a bit bulky but cheap and effective.
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
Well, there are a few exceptions. Hehehe.
Campermom- I used to have a pair of arm and leg warmers for cycling. They weren't fleece as I recall, but some kind synthetic with a woven pattern. They were fairly warm and very lightweight. I used them when bike touring in cold or rainy weather.
Edited by TomD (08/14/1101:45 AM)
Don't get me started, you know how I get.
Nick, I'm also a vest wearer. I have a Western Mountaineering down version that squeezes down about the size of a softball and weighs almost nothing. And somehow, under my rain jacket/wind shirt, it keeps me warm enough down to about freezing, and a bit further when I'm wearing my silk longies. And, yeah, I also wear it under the poncho, and the no sleeves to get wet is indeed handy. Hadn't thought of it that way, but yes. Thanks, Samoset. Best, jcp
Rick: Yeah that vest looks like a nice one and much more affordable than the Patagonia ultralight down shirt and jacket. Definitely one for the wish list.
Well, I decided to put all this theory into action and grabbed a no-name fleece vest off Sierra Trading Post for next to nothing. Even if it doesn't turn out to be a great item, it was dirt cheap and should give me an idea of whether I like using a vest.