by Diane Spicer
Hiking vests are an often overlooked safety item for women hikers.
Aren't they just fashion statements?
They can be a cute hiking outfit for walking around town, maybe.
Walking down a trail, they are way more than a simple fashion statement.
Visualize your core body temperature as something valuable, a thing to be protected and nurtured at every step along a hiking trail.
I'm sure if you were asked what "normal" body temperature is, you could recite the numbers that indicate how much heat is inside of you.
Your body works hard to burn your fuel (food) to generate that heat.
37C or 98.6F, in other words. (Just checking.)
Going out into the elements i.e. hiking, you are asking your body to maintain its high internal temperature (relative to the outside) no matter what Mother Nature decides to throw at you.
Smart hikers know how to help stabilize their core temperature:
And now you must add this one to your list:
Waiting until you're cold to dig through your pack for more clothing will cost you energy in the form of calories and body heat.
That's where hiking vests come into the picture, to help insulate your vital organs stored in your torso.
Modern fabrics for constructing worthy hiking clothing have many appealing qualities:
But don't use just any vest you might find in the bargain bin.
Instead, look for a fleece vest that is built to stand up to the trail.
Fleece vests for hiking should give you all of these features:
Here's a North Face vest that delivers all of that, and more.
It, or something similar, should be in your pack, if not on your back, as protection against heat loss in cool, cold, rainy, windy, or all of the above conditions.
These vests should have all of the features mentioned for the fleece vests, plus a few more:
Optional: hood, and inner chest pocket(s).
My Trail Co makes a lightweight 700-fill down vest.
Down hiking vests have higher price points than fleece, but also deliver more in terms of keeping you toasty warm when they get damp.
They are also great at keeping you warm once they're completely wet, thanks to the new feature of water repellent coatings on the down.
A rule to steer by:
Lots of quilting keeps the feathers in place and working hard to trap your body heat.
Here an example of a down vest with all of the bells and whistles you'd ever need, including lots of color choices,
Note that I use my fleece vests for spring and fall hiking when the wind isn't blowing, and my down vest for year round windy and/or cold snaps.
Because it's so compressible, my down vest is in the bottom of my pack year round.
Speaking of extreme hikers...
For extreme weather conditions or prolonged exposure to the elements, it's important to have versatile and well designed high performance hiking clothing.
This vest by Arcteryx does not mess around with making a fashion statement.
Instead, it concentrates on trapping, and concentrating, your torso's body heat.
This hiking vest incorporates all of the best design features listed above, and uses weather repellent nylon fabrics that you're going to have to pay a bit more for.
Don't spring for this vest unless you're going into unpredictable or really severe weather conditions.
Or you're chronically cold and know you need to consider hiking vests with extra oomph.
Don't think of this piece of fabric known as a vest as merely another piece of clothing!
When I'm not wearing my vest, I use it as:
A hiking vest will keep you, and your trail treasures, warm and safe without even being zipped up.
Pick one out for your next hike and be amazed at how versatile it can be.
Need more ideas for a hiking clothing layering system? Go here.
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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer.
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