Best photographers' vests and jackets: 6 tested
9th Feb 2012 | 14:58
Jackets and vests to protect your camera equipment
Photographer's vests and jackets explained
When shooting outdoors, especially on long photo shoots, you'll often need comfortable clothes that protect you and your camera from temperature changes and bad weather.
Equally as important, they need to feature plenty of pockets in order for you to be able to store essential accessories. That's why a photographer-friendly vest or jacket is useful.
The exact features you need will largely depend upon your individual style of shooting and photographic genre. Nevertheless, here are the key features to look out for when choosing a photography jacket or vest:
Make sure you try before you buy wherever possible, or if you're buying online pay close attention to the manufacturer's sizing guidelines. Also look out for features such as draw cords at the waist/hem, adjustable sleeves and so on, since these all help you to tailor the garment to your shape for the highest level of comfort.
Windproof fabric, taped seams, waterproofing treatments such as Nikwax and Teflon coatings, generous flaps to protect pockets and well-proportioned hoods with visors are all desirable when it comes to keeping yourself protected from the elements.
If you're a cold-weather photographer, you could consider a specialised winter garment rather than an all-season jacket, or opt for a lightweight version that you can use as part of a layering system.
Breathable fabrics and built-in vents around the back and under the arms will enable moisture to escape, helping you to stay dry and comfortable.
Check that the jacket offers enough pockets for your individual needs, and that the method of fastening them suits your photographic genre (ie avoid Velcro if you need to stay quiet while shooting).
Paramo Aspira Smock
Paramo Aspira Smock - £290
We tested the ladies' version of the Paramo Aspira Smock, but there's a smock available for men too, costing £300.
Both are offered in a range of colours, with our test product featuring an attractive blue design with silver reflective piping. If you want something even more striking, ladies can opt for the hot pink instead, while men have the choice of more muted red, green and blue hues.
Available in sizes ranging from S-XL (and XXL for men) the Paramo Aspira Smock features a generous cut that enables multiple layers to be worn underneath while maintaining freedom of movement, and draw cords around the waist and hem enable you to customise the fit to suit your shape.
Designed with the more intrepid outdoor enthusiast in mind, the jacket boasts a number of features to enable climbing accessories such as helmets and harnesses to be worn, with a large adjustable hood that easily provides plenty of protection, whatever headgear you're wearing.
The integral wired visor does an excellent job of keeping rain at bay - a particular bonus if you wear glasses.
As well as being stylish and practical, we found the Paramo Aspira Smock to be warm and fully waterproof, protecting us from the worst of the British winter weather. The insulation offered is very effective, although this makes the smock more suitable for cold weather use alone - we suspect it'll be too warm for milder conditions.
There are plenty of good-sized pockets, including two internal 'dry' chest compartments for you to stow your memory cards, filters, GPS device and/or other accessories.
Upper arm vents provide a means of temperature control, while the two-way zip on the front of the smock offers further ventilation and easy, one-handed access to the internal pockets.
In addition to a range of other pockets that are quick and easy to access, removable foam pads around the back offer protection and airflow, keeping your back cool if you're wearing a camera backpack.
Billingham PhotoVest - £195/$299
With classic styling, the Billingham PhotoVest will appeal to a broad range of photographers, but it's the practical advantages that this versatile garment has to offer that really piqued our interest.
Based on the 10-year-old original PhotoVest, the updated version is still designed to give photographers fast access to their kit, but benefits from the latest fabric technology (Cordura 500) to offer improved performance and comfort. The result is a lightweight, comfortable vest that affords plenty of freedom of movement.
The material is supple and enables you to move quickly and quietly - a plus for wildlife photographers - although the lack of colour choice (it's only available in light khaki) might prove to be restrictive if you're looking to camouflage with your surroundings.
The ventilation flap around the back enables some airflow and helped us to stay cool during periods of physical exertion in chilly weather, although we envisage that the thickness of the material might make it less suitable for use in warmer climes.
The range of pockets on the vest (eight in total) means that you can carry a fair amount of kit, with the weight and bulk of your spare lenses and accessories spread across your body rather than being concentrated on your shoulders, back and neck as it would be with a bag.
The extra-large compartments are protected from moisture by flaps, with some featuring zips for added security.
Being able to quickly scoop a lens or flashgun out of a pocket rather than having to remove and rummage through a bag meant that we were able to work more intuitively. All in all, it's a well-made product that should offer wide appeal.
Stealth Gear Extreme Photographers Jacket2
Stealth Gear Extreme Photographers Jacket2 - £259.99/$411
If you're an intrepid outdoor photographer who's often found crawling through the mud, scrambling up windswept peaks or tracking sensitive subjects through woodland, then this jacket was designed for you.
It's not lightweight, but this robust jacket exudes quality in terms of design, the materials used and its construction.
Rather than going down the fashion-led route that some photography clothing manufacturers have adopted, Stealth Gear's products are squarely aimed at serious wildlife photographers who need to blend in with their surroundings.
To that end, this jacket features 'forest green', rustle-free 100% polyester micro-suede with DuPont Teflon: a material that feels soft to the touch and enables you to make quick, quiet movements, while offering complete protection against the wind and rain.
The array of pockets and compartments spread across the body and sleeves of the jacket means you can distribute a lot of kit between them, potentially dispensing with the need for a bag if you're travelling light.
The colossal lower pockets on the front of the jacket feature zipped sides to enable expansion, so you can stash items as large as a professional camera body - plus several lenses - and have them to hand at a moment's notice.
Seemingly innumerable extra internal and external pockets provide plenty more space for memory cards, spare batteries and other accessories, too.
Back ventilation, extra padding and reinforced panels around the elbows and shoulders, plus the innovative 'Sit-Anywhere-Seat' that unzips from the back to give you a dry place to perch are just a few of the numerous touches that add up to a high-performance jacket that does everything an outdoor photographer could want – and more!
Matin Photographers Shooting Vest
Matin Photographers Shooting Vest - £65
This lighter-weight garment is better suited to warm weather shooting than some of the other jackets in this test, although you could just as easily team it up with your winter layers to keep on using it all year round.
Constructed from lightweight poly/cotton material, the Matin Photographers Shooting Vest features a Teflon coating for water resistance and – internally – a cool mesh lining for added breathability.
The cut is shorter than that of some other vests, providing a closer fit that some may favour over some of the longer and occasionally bulkier alternatives. The added benefit of this is that the weight of the larger kit is stowed around your hips, feeling well balanced with all of the pockets fully loaded.
To improve the fit further, adjustable straps - fastened with metal poppers - provide scope to tighten or loosen the vest around the waist. The shoulders of the vest feature popper-fastened loops to help secure your bag strap(s) - if you're carrying one - a useful feature that counteracts the somewhat slippery nature of the vest's material.
Externally, there are two good-sized pockets towards the bottom hem, each featuring a Velcro-fastened flap and elasticated opening to enable larger items such as lenses and camera bodies to be slipped in easily. Internal padding provides some protection for your hips too.
Three further differently-sized pockets - also with Velcro-secured flaps - provide additional storage space for small lenses and other accessories, and there's also a removable laminated press pass holder attached to the left-hand chest pocket.
A smaller zipped pocket - ideal for memory and/or business cards, for example - with a handy key ring attachment, is also provided.
Around the back there's a large, secure, zipped pocket with an additional Velcro flap that's ideally sized to accommodate a medium-sized telephoto lens: this also provides some balance for the kit stowed in the front pockets, although we would have preferred it if there was some padding in this area, as there is around the front.
Two further good-sized internal pockets, plus a smaller zipped pocket, offer space for any additional accessories.
Overall, this is a reasonably priced, snug-fitting vest that feels very comfortable to wear.
Country Innovation Rover Jacket
Country Innovation Rover Jacket - £325
One of the unique attributes of the Country Innovation Rover Jacket is the double-layered Ventile material from which it is constructed. 100% cotton, the fabric originally came about during World War II, with its wind and water-repellent properties proving to be highly useful in the manufacture of fighter pilot suits.
Country Innovation recognised the benefits of using a natural fabric that's wind and weatherproof while still breathable, and integrated it into some of its latest products.
The jacket is surprisingly light given its overall bulk, and – with its careful craftsmanship and attention to detail in terms of the design – feels like it's really built to last. Available in men's and women's versions, it features a longer cut for extra protection from inclement weather, with drawstring waist and hem adjustment to ensure a snug fit.
During one particularly torrential downpour, we really appreciated the generously-sized, detachable hood, which features several points for adjustment and a wired peak.
Coupled with the Moleskin-lined high collar on the jacket and the high front-fastening on the hood itself, you can easily protect almost the entirety of your face from the wind and rain.
The jacket offers a decent selection of pockets – both internally and externally – with zips on some for any items that require a bit of extra security. The remaining compartments feature water-repellent flaps and – particularly in the case of the two lower front pockets – are well-proportioned and offer useful fleece-lined side access too.
The one drawback is that the top opening is rigid (rather than being elasticated or expandable), so can't accommodate really bulky items such as a pro camera body. However, they're generous enough to take most medium-sized lenses/ flashguns.
Domke Photogs Jacket/Vest
Domke Photogs Jacket/Vest - £154/$150
This is the lightest of the full jackets we had on test, plus the sleeves can be unzipped to convert it into a vest, making it particularly versatile too. The Domke Photogs Jacket/Vest – thanks to its lightweight nature – packs down relatively small when not in use and, with 16 pockets in total, offers plenty of storage capacity whether you're using it as a full jacket or a vest.
Both the jacket and lining are made from machine-washable, 100% cotton fabric, keeping it light, soft and breathable, while – with its pre-washed, weathered-looking khaki finish – it looks unobtrusive.
The material also means it's rustle-free when you're moving about, making it less likely that you'll spook any wildlife, although some of the Velcro-fastened pockets will need to be avoided in situations where stealth is required.
The generous front pockets feature a bellows-style design to accommodate larger pieces of kit such as camera bodies and/or lenses, plus there's a good range of additional pockets with varying dimensions liberally spread across the front of the jacket, as well as inside and on the sleeves.
The clear plastic press pass holder that attaches to the right-hand top chest pocket (which can be detached when you're not using it) along with the pen-holder slots and convenient business-card sized pocket on the arm hints at this jacket's suitability for photojournalists and travel photographers in particula. However, this relatively keenly-priced jacket will serve enthusiasts and professionals of just about any persuasion.
Longer-style tailoring and drawstring adjustment around the waist are further noteworthy features, and the jacket also incorporates a lightweight water-resistant nylon hood that rolls away into a zipped collar compartment when it's no longer required.
Liked this? Then check our Essential camera accessories
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