A Travel Vest That Works–Finally: SCOTTEVEST Field-Tested & Reviewed

CVW_SEV_3After many years wearing a photo vest stuffed with lenses and film that made me look like a cross between an Empire Stormtrooper and a stuffed chipmunk I was thrilled to park it permanently in my closet with the advent of digital. For situations where I needed a few pieces of gear in the field the clever Thinktank Skin system belt and pouches were a lighter, cooler and frankly more comfortable solution.

For the small flash card wallet that replaced the stuffed pouch cheeks of film and the many little tidbits of electronics and documents I have wound up using a combination of pockets in cargo pants and safari shirts.

So when our good friends at Edwards’ Luggage told us excitedly about an new travel vest I greeted it with more than healthy skepticism. The last thing I wanted was to go back to looking like the Dennis Hopper character in Apocalypse Now every time I traveled. But in the back of my mind there was some nagging doubt as the constant shifting of documents and possessions during any kind of air travel can be a disaster waiting to happen. I’d already managed to leave a wallet at one TSA checkpoint in the last 10 years and a USB thumb drive at another (fortunately an IronKey model which self-destructs so no data gets stolen)—yeah, okay I’m not perfect, but I do travel 100K miles each year with lots of photo gear and clients to keep track of so two incidents might be a pretty good track record.

Then on a return trip from Texas I “failed” the nefarious full body scan. It doesn’t take much. The system is (in my opinion) fatally flawed because of the privacy precautions. Namely the person looking at your scan is not allowed to be anyplace where they can actually see you. So what he sees as “an anomaly” could be as simple as a handkerchief in a pocket like it was in my place. But if the agents go by the strictest protocol (like they did in McAllen) they aren’t even allowed to discuss what the anomaly is, instead they immediately move to a time intensive and privacy-invading full body pat down. The whole experience was un-fun, even with the TSA folks doing their best to be polite the whole time.

So I started thinking about the ScottEVest. The idea of having a fairly slimly cut vest (so I could wear it to dinner or meetings as needed, or even on the plane) that could hold the myriad of small objects and papers that I wind up with when traveling was getting appealing. So I decided to give one a try.

First Impressions

After unpacking the vest you can’t have any other initial reaction than “Wow, they’ve thought of everything.” From the vest’s structure which allows weight to be distributed evenly to the small “what am I for?” cards in each pocket with some ideas on how to use them the vest designers have clearly analyzed the problem of frequent travelers in detail and resolved as many as possible in one piece of clothing.

The outside “hand” pockets are great for gloves and one has a water bottle elastic. They both have magnetic clasps in addition to zippers for added safety. Outside vest pockets are great for small binoculars or sunglasses in the field (since they stay packed outside the vest) or wallet and passport while traveling. They zip closed for safety. Then there are quite a few interior zippered pockets, some with velcro and one with a built in lens cleaning cloth for stashing phone, iPod, point and shoot camera and a Kindle or even a Netbook.

Hot, Cold or Just Right?

One of the biggest problems with carrying things in a vest is that they add an extra layer in hot weather. I was pleasantly surprised by the way the Scottevest performed even on warm days. I didn’t feel over-heated just from putting it on. Of course there isn’t any magic and it is another layer of cloth, but it is well designed not to make things any worse. I was also happy that it kept me just that little bit warmer on cool mornings so that I often found I didn’t need to burden myself with a fleece, instead relying on the vest.

So if you tend to get cool and often wear a vest or light sweater the Scottevest may be the perfect travel replacement for your current garb. And even if you don’t normally wear a vest it is about a low impact a version of one there is.

What About All Those Pockets?

Just like with a new suitcase or camera bag it takes a little while to develop a system for what you put where in the vest. There are (by their count) 22 different pockets and places to stash things in the vest. For the most part I used the pockets the way they were designed, but in some cases I switched things around. To give you an example of what I had in the vest when it was fully loaded on regional flights, here’s the list:

  • Left “hand” pocket: Hat, other “stuff” as needed
  • Right “hand” pocket: Small water bottle, gloves
  • Lower Right Inside Pocket: Headlamp, Reporter’s Notebook
  • “Sunglass/Camera” Inside Pocket: My Point and Shoot Camera
  • “Vest” Outside Right Pocket: Sunglasses or binoculars
  • “Vest” Outside Left Pocket: Wallet & Passport
  • Right Inside Clear Pocket: Smartphone
  • Left Inside Clear Pocket: Klipsch S4i Headphones in Case
  • “Bluetooth” Left Inside Pocket: My Jawbone ERA Bluetooth Headset (tight fit)
  • Large Left Inside Pocket: iPad, Tablet or Netbook, or Camera Flash
  • Smaller Left Inside Pocket: Spare phone battery, USB charger
  • Rear Pocket: Empty or my Fleece jacket
  • Left Pen Pocket: Half-height Reading Glasses
  • Right Pen Pocket: Pen

Other Features

One appealing feature is what Scottevest calls their “Personal Area Network” or PAN, which amounts to having routes for the wires of your headphones from the tablet, phone, and iPod pockets. Personally I haven’t wound up using this feature since I also want to use my headphones without the vest (for long flights in particular I prefer putting the vest in the overhead and just keeping my phone & earphones with me as well as stashing my wallet in my pants pocket for safe keeping on the flight) but if you enjoy keeping the vest on consistently the route for the wires and the small pockets for stashing your earbuds should come in handy.

The pocket closures are also intelligently designed. The phone pockets feature a side zipper for easy access but also a velcro piece on the top. At first that doesn’t make much sense since your phone isn’t likely to jump out by itself but the first time you grab the vest off a table and the top half heads towards the ground you’ll be glad your phone is safe. Similarly the magnetic closures on the outside “hand'” pockets may seem like overkill since they already have zippers, but it is so easy to forget to re-zip the pockets when you pull your hands out so the magnetic clasp really cuts down on accidents.

Getting Your Own Vest

Our friends at Edwards’ sell both the Men’s Scottevest (in tan, called Sand or black) and the Women’s Scottevest (in a beautiful Rust, called Red, that Lorrie chose for hers or black) online or at one of their four California store locations for $100—and you won’t find it cheaper anywhere else.

If you’re not interested in a vest but want to stash more gear in your pockets, ScotteVest makes a variety of similar garments as fleeces, jackets or hoodies that you can also check out.

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Joined: 2006-05-25
Awesome Review!

Nice review David. Thanks a lot for posting it! Glad that the Travel Vest is part of your style.  You can see more awesome clothing at www.scottevest.com 

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