Protecting Your Core
Vests provide more warmth than most people realize, and even help keep your extremities warm. How is that possible? When your core temperature starts to drop, the body reduces blood flow to your extremities, increasing blood flow to the core in an attempt to protect your organs 1. By keeping your core insulated and warm, blood flow remains constant to your extremities, keeping them warmer. That is why often a long sleeve shirt with a good vest (and the right gloves, hats and pants) are enough to keep you warm when being active in cold temperatures.
Vest Versatility – The Best of Both Worlds
Not only do vests work to keep your core insulated, your arms are free from bulky sleeves of insulated jackets. When you are engaged in activities where you need a full range of motion – chopping wood, setting up camp, stacking boxes in a warehouse – vests keep your arms free while still providing warmth. Vests also take up less pack room, so as the day warms and you can remove layers, less space will be taken by storing the vest than a jacket.
In milder temperatures, or when very active, being too warm can be a concern. You’ve produced enough heat that your jacket is too warm, but it is still too cold to wear only your base layer. A vest can solve both problems and take the place of light or mid-weight jackets.
When a Vest Works Best
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but vests tend to work best in milder temperatures or when you will be active in colder temperatures. Vests are great when hiking, bicycling, running, setting up camp or fly fishing. This is because these types of activities are vigorous enough to keep your body temperature up. A vest is perfect in such cases because they give your arms more freedom of movement and keep your core warm.
When temperatures are much colder, vests serve as a great mid-layer between a long sleeved base layer and your outer jacket, and it also provides you with the most versatility. For example, if your activity isn’t as vigorous or physically demanding, such as ice fishing, bird watching or a casual hike, vests are a great way to stay warm as a mid layer. Plus, since they help keep your core warmer, you can always remove your outer jacket and just keep the vest on for a short time to cool off (or vice versa). Also, when camping, sleeping in a jacket can be uncomfortable and restrictive; a vest is a great addition to sleeping attire in a sleeping bag for added warmth without discomfort 2.
How to Choose Your Vest
Vests come in a wide range of materials with different insulation levels and different features, such as waterproof pockets, detachable hoods, and more. When choosing a vest, consider the temperature, your other layers and how active you will be.
How insulated or heavy a vest will be should be your first consideration. Lined or insulated vests provide a measure of insulation for when temperatures are very cold, while a lighter-weight fleece may be okay if you are in milder temps. The weight or insulation of the vest you choose should also match your activity level. If your activities will be more demanding physically and may cause you to sweat, choose a lighter-weight vest.
Your second consideration should be the material of the vest, especially the outershell. For example, while fleece is good for its weight and breathability, it will also retain more water if you face rain or snow. In those cases, look for a water-repellent or waterproof exterior, like a softshell vest or a puffer vest with wind-tight/water-repellent polyester shell. By choosing the right vest for your weather and activities, you’ll be surprised at how versatile and comfortable a vest layer can be.
1. Dusek, Scott. “The Science of Warmth.” http://www.summitpost.org/the-science-of-warmth/359562
2. “I Don’t Know How to Wear a Vest.” https://backpackinglight.com/forums/topic/54452/