Cargo pockets must have been invented with photographers in mind. In fact, most photographer’s vests — or gilets, body warmers — are simply a collection of cargo pockets held together with fabric panels.
Of course, there’s more to a gilet than pockets: fabric choice, front closures and design all make a difference. But the placement, closure and quantity of pockets are usually key.
What you need depends on how much gear you will carry on your person. If you’re planning to pocket lenses, camera bodies and attachments, look for a gilet with a reinforced neck to help carry the weight. If you’re likely to be carrying a camera around your neck, consider a collar to prevent the camera strap chaffing bare skin.
A photographer’s gilet is worn as an outer layer, so consider fabric choice. Cotton absorbs sweat, stains and water and is slow to dry. Synthetics, including polycotton, nylons and durable Cordura, offer high abrasion resistance, are faster drying and usually weigh less than the equivalent volume of cotton. Many also have wicking mesh linings and DWR (durable water repellency) fabric treatments, which move sweat from your skin and resist water.
1. VAUDE Farley Vest
A lightweight, waist-length vest in technical fabric, this is ideal for travelling and warm weather use, although it also fits over insulated layers. The nylon material is the same family as that used by Royal Robbins: it is soft and quiet, dries rapidly, shrugs off wind and water and offers UV protection, with a mesh lining for wicking and airflow. Pocketing is slim-line and varied: a few have minimal bellowing (some mesh, some solid), others are overlaid, in a range of sizes including small pouches for memory cards and lens cleaners. There’s a good range of easy access closures: Velcro tab, zip and open pouch. However, almost all the pockets have narrow openings: Duncan, testing a size large, found it difficult to get his hands into them. The collar is well shaped for use with a camera strap and protects the neck from sunburn.
Mesh vents at the back and sides keep things cool, especially if the studded tabs at the sides are released to let the mesh gape. A top choice for travelling — if the pockets are a good fit for your hands.
2. TAMRAC World Correspondent’s Vest
On one hand, this has everything a photographer could ever want in a gilet. On the other, it’s made of cotton. Now, cotton is the right fabric for hot, dry conditions (like California, where Tamrac was founded), but in Britain’s damp climate, fibres that repel water and wind and dry quickly are more practical. Synthetics are also more abrasion-resistant than cotton. That said, the design and features of this garment are impressive. Pockets cover every eventuality. Ten on the front include two deep cargo pockets with partially-elasticated tops and Velcro flap closures, so contents like lenses remain secure even with the flap up: brilliant!
A large patch pocket across the back is easily opened although not accessible under a camera pack. However, access to hand pockets is restricted by being oversewn by the side adjustment tabs. Large, vertical mesh vents encourage airflow down the sides. Four D rings provide safe accessory attachment points and snap-down epaulets keep camera and bag straps from slipping off the shoulder. A superb garment for serious photographers working in dry, warm climates.
3.ROYAL ROBBINS Field Guide Vest
A superb gilet for photographers and bird watchers, from one of America’s favourite travel brands. It blends easy-care fabric with well designed pockets, with sizes and styles for men and women. The nylon outer is water, wind, stain and UV resistant and dries rapidly. The wicking mesh lining promotes airflow and whisks away sweat in hot weather. The front zip has pullers at both ends so can be unzipped from the base to allow access to lower clothing layers. The deep V-front is very comfortable as there is no collar to clash with lower layers; instead, the back of the neck is padded for comfort when pockets are loaded. Oh yes, pockets: 13 outside, four inside. They include stud-fastened bellowed pockets near the hem, each backed by deep, zipped pockets, huge zipped chest pockets, open stash pouches at the sides and a pocket right across the back with zips on both sides. Inside pockets are bagged with lightweight fabric to reduce bulk, with zips, Velcro and tab closures. Side tabs allow fit to be tweaked. Honestly, they’ve thought of everything.
4.COUNTRY INNOVATION Venture Waistcoat
This is rather more rustic than the others, in feel and finish. It’s made from simple polycotton and is unlined, so interior seam stitching and finishing are exposed. While it doesn’t have the finesse of a fabric like Supplex nylon, it is quiet, flexible and comfortable to wear. Shoulders and yoke are lightly padded to improve comfort when pockets are loaded. And there are plenty of them: 12, by my count. They are large, easy-access and practical: big, bellowed pockets with stud closures on the outside, slimmer, zip-secure alternatives on the inside, at chest height and inside the lower cargo pockets. Hand warmer slots sit behind the lower pockets. The cut is loose but with a simple tab at the back to pull it closer. It’s about the same length as Tamrac and Result gilets, easily covering the hips, with a two-way . zip at the front. A water-repellent coating is initially effective but H needs refreshing after a couple of washes. There are sizes for | both men and women.
5.RESULT PERFORMANCE Lance Bodywarmer
Definitely one for the colder months, Lance is warm and waterproof (although seams are untaped). The combination of polyester wadding insulation, a solid lining and a PVC coating on the rugged outer, make it somewhat stiff and heavy. Duncan’s initial comment was: ‘It feels like a flak jacket.’ The PVC coating isn’t breathable so you don’t want to work up a sweat. Ten exterior pockets include handwarmer slots and small (useless) open slots on the outside of the cargo pockets; discounting them, the exterior tally is six. They worked with map, phone, notebook and memory cards, but I didn’t risk anything valuable like lenses. Inside pockets are unbagged, zipping open to reveal the polyester wadding! The cut is correct for a winter-weight gilet: length is generous with a dropped tail, elastication over the hips enhances the fit, and a high collar and elasticated armholes fend off wind and drizzle. Details like an unlined collar, which presses a sweaty PVC coating against your neck, might be overlooked once you’ve clocked the price tag.